Reviews

Fall Back Open

Author: Chad Radford
03/10/2004 | Creative Loafing | Live Show Preview
"The songs I write are contemplative, but there's a sense of immediacy to them," says Andy LeMaster, progenitor, songwriter and engineer for the Athens-based, emotionally-consumed pop outfit Now It's Overheard. The songs of which he's speaking constitute the wafting tension felt NOW IT'S OVERHEAD (phot by Brian McCall) throughout Fall Back Open, the group's second full-length offering. "They have the qualities of something mysterious and ominous and urgent, but are also filled with reflection and a general sense of longing. Not every song is a search for fulfillment, but every one is specific in that it's put into a cycle of searching and finding and realizing that what's found is not always what's wanted."
Now It's Overhead released its self-titled debut on Saddle Creek Records in 2001, becoming the first band from outside of Omaha, NE to wear the mark of the Midwestern imprint. Since then, the group has dwelled in the place between reflection and real-time exploration of the sentimental politics of an interpersonal relationship gone sour. Its pensive quest drawing comparisons to the likes of The Cure, New Order, My Bloody Valentine and Bright Eyes, the latter of which boasts LeMaster as an occasional member.
And though LeMaster doubles as both principal musician and producer, the group's core line-up features drummer Clay Leverett, bassist Orenda Fink and keyboardist Maria Taylor. Fink and Taylor spend a lot of their time focused on their own group Azure Ray, and LeMaster bears the brunt of Now It's Overhead's workload. Employing such uneven working methods provides a symbiotic balance that allows both groups to flourish.
What began as a collection of unrelated songs and became a full-fledged band effort, Now It's Overhead's course of evolution can be traced every step of the way. "When I was about half-way through with the songs on the first record, I realized that I wanted to do something more with them," he says. "I had recorded a lot of material that wasn't necessarily meant to go with each other, so I had to go back and add glue to bring the songs together in terms of both production and instrumentation."

In piecing together the recording, somber swarms of bittersweet melodies began taking on a life of their own under a veil of studio enhancement. LeMaster's fragile yet dogged vocalizations solidified around an air of breezy resentment and cathartic healing, all of which pointed brazenly at the life span of a recently cut off relationship - and viewing it from a clear vantage point. Though it was a success, the group's debut album Now It's Overhead wouldn't see a follow-up for nearly three years, during which time the world around the group was changing rapidly. Not only was Saddle Creek gaining in popularity due to the success of it's flagship acts Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint, Fink and Taylor's success with Azure Ray had seemingly eclipsed Now It's Overhead. But LeMaster, who also serves as both engineer and co-owner of Athens' esteemed recording studio, Chase Park Transduction, was steeped in his own work, keeping a watchful eye on his peers while quietly assembling his next outing. "It's definitely a motivator to watch you friends do something really cool and be successful, but it's important to take a bit of a head clearing space before you start coming up with energy to put toward something new," he says.

Fall Back Open emerged with a slightly more aggressive and vastly more thematic approach than the previous record. "I thought, 'Okay, this is the band and this is the sound I want to go for,'" says LeMaster. "From the start, I was shooting for a cohesiveness that wasn't part of the first record from its earliest stages."
Throughout the album, songs like "Surrender," "The Decision Made Itself" and "A Little Consolation" fall into place like a timeline of some traumatic event, much like the songs on the self-titled release. And although both albums are linked by similar qualities, they exist independently of each other in both scheme and scope. "I don't think of either of them as concept albums, they both have just as much of a concept running through them as any other album," says LeMaster. "Fall Back Open is more cohesive from a musical and production standpoint and that's due in large part because the songs on the first one were recorded without planning on them being for a band."

For all practical purposes Now It's Overhead is LeMaster's group. The lyrics, arrangements and production are all the products of his labor, and the songwriting builds around moods fleshed out during the engineering process. Holding down both departments is no small task; even the slightest lack of devotion to either one could deal a devastating blow to the final product. "I have to discipline myself to shift gears like that because it really is like mental calisthenics to go from coming up with a verse to micing a guitar amp," he adds. "Those two parts of the brain aren't connected."
The producer's role is similar to that of an editor whose outside perspective brings a fresh pair of ears to the mix. For just one person to play both roles can have a tremendous effect on the consistency of the recording's quality. But as he explains, it's a convoluted process for which he has developed his own system of coping. "Just the act of having other people play on the songs definitely gives me an outside opinion," he says. "Also, when I'm in a room with someone whose taste I respect and they listen to the music, the feelings I get from me superimposing what I think they're thinking and how I think they perceive it and what they say to me afterward is enough to completely change a song."
Adding further depth to the mix, LeMaster invited both R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe and Bright Eyes songsmith Conor Oberst to add background vocals to a few songs on Fall Back Open (although after repeated listens to the record, their contributions are virtually unidentifiable). "Their role in the music is very subtle," adds LeMaster. "For the particular parts they added there is no need for their presence to be hyped-up and in your face, but people keep asking about them. They serve a purpose, but they aren't overstated in the mix."
Currently in the midst of a five-week U.S. tour, the group's line-up has undergone a few temporary changes due to an overlapping Azure Ray tour. Now it's Overhead has adopted fellow Athens musicians Coley Dennis (guitar, keyboards) and Steve Scarborough (bass), both members of Maserati. Over the course of the next year, Fink and Taylor will rejoin the group for a more extensive U.S. tour, and will be part of the group sporadically throughout a European tour later in the summer.
In the meantime, LeMaster continues pushing himself as well as a few others. Most recently he's been engineering recordings by Saddle Creek acts Good Life, as well as the debut outing from Omaha newcomers Beep Beep. "I just keep trying to challenge myself and do something new as often as possible," says LeMaster. "That means if something succeeds or if it fails, I'll learn something new from just trying to reach a sound I hear in my head."
Fall Back Open

Fall Back Open

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Fall Back Open

Fall Back Open

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