Monday, January 22, 2007
SPOTLIGHT: Southeast Engine (Athens, OH.)
The Ohio University's home bed of Athens sits among caves, trees and hills in Southern Ohio.
It's filled with an interesting mix of old hippies, young hippies and the typical angst-ridden college fraternity crowd, all co-mingling. It's quiet and small and it snows a lot in the winter.
Athens may not be the center of modern rock, but it's home to one of the best bands in the Midwest right now.
Southeast Engine wrapped up 2006 as a year of steady touring for a CD (2005's "Coming to Terms with Gravity" - Bettawreckonize Media), earning them a new legion of fans across Ohio; steadily growing by word of mouth. For the launch of this site, my hope was to include this band right from the start, in "Spotlight: Athens, OH."
The sound of Southeast Engine is both laid back and intense, modern and yet roots, alt-country and yet indie rock. The main point is that they carved out a niche that is unique and multi-layered. Perhaps compare them to Wilco, but in recent years Southeast Engine has blossomed into more depth than that.
Currently the group is hard at work on its third full-length CD and with it could bring further recognition, along with a new direction. As always, the songs begin with chief songwriter Adam Remnant and group arrangement.
"I typically send out a demo of the songs that I've written to the band members so they can familiarize themselves with the songs. When we get together to arrange them, we always try to do what's best for the specific song. The process works best when everyone has ideas. Someone might have a specific idea, or we might relate it to another song that we'll use as a point of reference. There's a process of trying different things until the song starts to click with all of us," Remnant said.
He explained that the new CD is titled "A Wheel Within a Wheel."
"We've been hacking away at it off and on for about a year now. In terms of musical direction, it's more ambitious than our previous releases. Several of the songs have weirder structures with lots of parts/sections packed into short songs. The lyrics are a bit more surreal as well," he said.
Southeast Engine has also expanded the amount of shows it has been performing - hitting new towns and going south and east with their music. Their tours show the spark of a band trying to expand. It's a phase that every group will have to accomplish if it's intent on broader appeal.
"We're always trying to branch out as much as possible. It's exciting to play somewhere we've never played before," Remnant said. "Our set is typically different every night. We're always adjusting it to keep things interesting for us and our audience. We always try to play what feels right in the moment to propel the energy of the show as much as we can."
One aspect of the group is dealing with the Ohio stigma: In an increasingly "bi-coastal" focused music industry, being a band from Ohio trying to make some national noise, can be like dressing up as a tree and knocking yourself down in the woods. But Remnant actually revels in that.
"Ohio is a great place to be in a band. There are plenty of cities close at hand that you can perform in. Also, there are tons of great bands in Ohio. We get a lot of our gigs through friendships we forge with other bands," he said. "Athens is of course great as well. It's a small Appalachian college town. You feel insulated in this corner of Ohio. You're sort of in your own little universe to create something that is your own. It's always reminded me of the mythologies that revolved around The Band when they created the songs for Music from the Big Pink in Woodstock, NY."
Southeast Engine seem headed in the right direction with a philosophy like that.