Reviews

Feral Harmonic

Author: Aaron Ladage
10/21/2009 | Pitch | www.pitch.com | Feature
Chris Crisci is creating something from nothing. When it's finished, it will be beautiful and substantive and polished and perfectly angled in all the right places.

And it's not a new album.

"I'm actually building a guitar right now," he says. "I'm trying to build what would technically be like a [Fender] Jaguar or a Jazzmaster or something in that vein, but it's got Les Paul pickups and it's made out of mahogany."

For the frontman of Lawrence bands the Appleseed Cast and Old Canes, this doesn't mean having a six-string custom-built he's shaping a block of wood into the guitar that he'll be using onstage and in the studio.

"Just yesterday, I started routering out the mahogany. I made templates, and the curves are perfect right now. I basically just have to router out the electronics and have someone wire it up for me," he says.

Crisci has never made a guitar in his life. In fact, he had never picked up a power tool until about a year ago, when he built a crib for his firstborn son.

"Since then, I've just been kind of fascinated by the idea of woodworking, and I came up with this idea to build a guitar," he says. "I've gone through two other body blanks they were fir, which is not a good guitar-making wood just to kind of see if I could do it."

Considering what's on his plate right now, it's hard to believe that Crisci has time for a hobby. Besides the aforementioned toddler and the family life that comes with having a child, the prolific musician has just started blueprinting the next Appleseed album with guitarist Aaron Pillar.

But more important, he's been working under the Old Canes banner again.

Released October 20, Feral Harmonic is the hotly anticipated follow-up to 2004's rattling folk beauty, Early Morning Hymns. Before the album found a home on Saddle Creek (the label of Bright Eyes, Cursive and other indie notables), many fans had been wondering if the nearly half-decade gap meant Lawrence's answer to Neutral Milk Hotel was just a one-time thing.

"To be honest, the last four years kind of flew by. I've been so busy with a lot of things I got married, I had a kid, I put out two Appleseed Cast records, did some touring. And in the in-between time, I was able to record Old Canes," Crisci says. "I don't consider this a hobby, but those other things are big obligations, and you can't shirk those."

For Crisci, family life in particular has meant a fundamental shift in how he approaches all of his music.

"It's incredible how much time a kid takes. I have to be more deliberate about the time I have to put into recording or writing anything," he says. "It used to be that I could go out, get drunk, wake up at noon, and have eight hours to mess around and do whatever I wanted. Now, I stay home, go to bed early, wake up early, and I still only have, like, an hour a day to really delve in."

In fact, the album wasn't anywhere near completion when Crisci started talking to Saddle Creek a year ago about picking it up.

"Talking to them and getting the recording agreement squared away with them was really the catalyst to finishing the record," he says. "I was just kind of going along, not really knowing what I was going to do about a label. I would slowly work on it, but there was no sense of urgency. And then once I hooked up with Saddle Creek, there was that reason to get it done."

Harmonic is worth the wait. Recorded in Crisci's basement studio, the album is an eclectic, lo-fi carnival ride, punctuated by oddball instrumentation, such as wind chimes and what sounds like rain through a drafty window.

Throughout the multiyear recording process, Crisci would lay drum tracks first, then add layers of instrumentation and vocals. Though Crisci did the heavy lifting, much of the Lawrence music mafia contributed to Harmonic, including drummer John Anderson of White Whale, original Old Canes pounder Tyler French and the Appleseed Cast's John Momberg. Others, including Hospital Ships' Lucas Oswald and Jordan Geiger (who also contributed to the first Old Canes record) and Drakkar Sauna's Jeff Stolz, provided vocal and instrument parts.

On the Old Canes' fall tour (which kicked off October 13 at the Jackpot Music Hall), the band's lineup finds Momberg and Stolz trading off on drums during the West Coast and East Coast legs, respectively, with Oswald, Taylor Hollenbeck and Fourth of July's Kelly Hangauer backing up Crisci full time on the road.

Despite the fluid roster behind it, though, Harmonic proves that Old Canes isn't merely a side project of Appleseed Cast. Rather, it's a completely different glimpse at Crisci's multi-faceted musical personality.

"I understand the 'side project' moniker, and I think it's applicable in the fact that I'm in a bigger band," he says. "But how I view writing music is, I like to write a lot of different things, and the stuff with Appleseed Cast has caught on the most; the outlet was there. But I grew up playing music since second grade, and there are a lot of sides to me that I'd still like to explore."

Maybe it's that need for exploration that spurred the sudden interest in woodworking.

"When you start finishing the project and you start seeing the curves, you realize the design of it is just kind of beautiful," he says. "I really feel like it's the same way with music. You get the guitar and some vocals down, and you might be happy with it, but it's when you put the tambourine on it or the whole harmonica part that's when it really becomes something amazing."
Feral Harmonic

Feral Harmonic

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Feral Harmonic

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