Reviews

Dark Light Daybreak

Author: Shem Fleenor
08/10/2006 | Independent Florida Alligator | www.alligator.org | Feature
Artistic integrity and musical success are two terms seldom used in the same sentence.

"The greatest thing about R.E.M. is that they haven't relinquished their artistic integrity a bit," said Now It's Overhead creator, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Andy Lemaster.

He's a good judge of R.E.M.'s character.

Lemaster, the floppy-haired Southern gentleman from Athens, Ga., has had an up close and personal vantage point of the groundbreaking trio since he was a kid.

Though Lemaster signed with one of indie rock's most renowned labels in 2001, being asked on tour by Michael Stipe was an awe-inspiring experience.

"He heard the first album and liked it," Lemaster explained. "I met him in Athens a while back. When our second album was coming out, they were getting set to go on tour, and asked us to open for them."

Lemaster jumped at the chance.

The experience helped propel his music into a broader, brighter stratosphere. The exposure helped the indie collective shed its status as just another band in a long line of fledgling Athens bands trying to crack into the music business.

At the core, the group will always be an Athens band, but the tour with R.E.M. helped them garner a national following consisting of people outside the grassroots indie scene.

Chloe Dolandis, an accomplished songstress and co-host of Nickelodeon's "Friday Night Slime Time" had never heard Now It's Overhead before Sunday, but she expects to be listening a bit more in the future.

"It's really well-produced," she said. "It's true to form indie - good enough for the pretentious indie f----, yet palatable enough for lovers of 'The O.C.'"

Like R.E.M., Lemaster started out playing dingy dives and house parties in and around Athens.

Like R.E.M., Lemaster garnered success without compromising his artistic integrity.

He's worked with Saddle Creek Records labelmates Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, The Faint and Azure Ray.

His baby, Transduction Studios in Chase Park, Ga., has recorded R.E.M., The Glands, Chris Martin and Drive-By Truckers.

Now It's Overhead's 2001 self-titled debut album and 2004's "Fall Back Open," were both critically acclaimed. Both albums were studio-based and heavily produced, giving it an almost classical, yet electrified structure. Lemaster wrote nearly every note for every instrument heard on both projects.

The new album, "Dark Light Daybreak," broke away from the dreamy, gooey, wavy gravy wall of sound of its predecessors.

"This album is not quite as soft," he said. "It's a bit more in your face, a bit more aggressive. It's fun to rediscover your sound on each new album."

"Dark Light Daybreak" is more live-oriented. The songwriting is more direct and organic than the first two ventures.

Lemaster is the chief architect of "Dark Light Daybreak," but the band, drummer Clay Leverett; bassist Orenda Fink; keyboardist Maria Taylor; guitarist Brad Register and bassist Curtis Brown helped establish a more awakened sound.
Taylor McKnight / Alligator
Now It's Overhead performs Monday at Common Grounds.

Now It's Overhead is Lemaster's brainchild, his canvas. His signature is all over it.

But the collective forms like Voltron in the sense that the parts are interchangeable. Each musician brings their own set of strengths and weaknesses. The only constant is Lemaster. He's the abbot of the clan.

The album doesn't hit shelves until Sept. 12, but he already considers it a success.

"Just getting the album done accomplishes 99 percent of my goals," he said.

He's vigorously working towards the other one percent.

"I just want to work harder than before," he said. "I want to step it up a notch, spend more time on the road getting our music out there to people who want to hear it."

Lemaster and the rest of the band have been "getting out there" everyday since June 24, when their current U.S. tour kicked off.

They headlined a 33-city, 10-week marathon of music and tree-lined highways.

"It's been a great success," he said. "The people have been great. The venues have been full. The band has been amazing. Nobody has punched anyone out - which is nice."

Slight glitches in the zigzagging mission across the country have popped up.

Drummer Clay Leverett stopped at a gas station somewhere on the West Coast to fill up the tank. He went inside to prepay.

An hour later, the gaslight on the dashboard sparked red.

Leverett forgot to put gas in the tank after paying for it.

In hindsight, Leverett's dyslexic gas-and-go was a minor setback, dwarfed by the joy received from playing packed houses in New York, Los Angeles, and Omaha, Neb., where Saddle Creek Records is headquartered.

The only thing standing in the way of the band and their much-anticipated homecoming was their show Monday at Common Grounds in Gainesville, and Tuesday's show at Jack Rabbits in Jacksonville.

Monday, the group performed with the same vigor and enthusiasm they would have had if they played at Pianos on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Pianos was Lemaster's favorite tour venue.

"New York is heaven on earth," he said. "You've got the world at your fingertips."

Though he was excited to play New York at the beginning of the tour, he was just as enthusiastic about performing in Gainesville at the conclusion of the adventure.

"Gainesville is a great city with great bands," he said.

His favorites include Paper Crane and The Mercury Program.

"Gainesville is Florida's version of Athens," he said.

Monday at Common Grounds, Lemaster and Now It's Overhead lived solely in the moment, thoroughly enjoying themselves and the experience of getting paid to not compromise their artistic integrity.

Lemaster, dressed in all black, took the stage just after midnight. He and his baby-blue Gibson guitar swayed back and forth for nearly an hour.

"During shows, we just worry about playing the best we possibly can," he said. "Besides, Gainesville is always a good show."


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