November 15, 2015
Throughout the last four decades, Athens, Georgia, has consistently remained a hotbed for new music talent. Unlike some music scenes, it refuses to fade away and defies a clear label. From the opening of The 40 Watt Club in the late ‘70s, the city has been a part of the new wave explosion with the B52s, the college indie rock of the ‘80s and ‘90s with R.E.M. and the roots rock of The Drive by Truckers in the 2000s, just to name a few. The community continues to nurture and help develop music of all genres. Since the release of their debut album Hampton’s Lullaby, in 2010, the torch has been been carried on, in part, by Futurebirds.
Like many of their Athens counterparts, Futurebirds is not easily labeled. They blend folk country with psychedelia and the harmonies of mid-‘70s rock and roll. Following up their breakout record, 2013’s Baba Yaga, the band has recently released Hotel Parties. It’s a collection of music influenced by long stints on the road, lonely hotel rooms and longing for home. Not every night can be an epic hotel party, as we find out in our conversation with guitarist/singer Carter King. We had a chance to chat before a show at The Bowery Room in NYC. Before their upcoming show at The Visulite theater in Charlotte, we discussed the new record, van break-ins, Roky Erickson cover shows and the many varieties of hotel parties, with a brief interruption by a chance sighting of Andre 3000 on the streets of New York.
CLTure: I wanted to start with the van break-in last week in Chicago. You guys got hit while you were doing your show?
Carter King: Yeah. It was a grab and go. We had a lot of equipment in there, a lot of personal items.
CLTure: I know some fans started a GoFundMe account to help you recoup some of your loses. How does it feel to have loyal fans like that behind you?
Carter King: Yeah, man. A friend of the band started that to help with the expenses of replacing equipment. We’ve had many fans contribute and it’s been great– feels good.
CLTure: The night of the break-in, you guys were doing a Roky Erickson show, covering his The Evil One record. How did that show come together?
CK: Yeah. It was last year when we were there for a show. I got that album for my birthday. We were just jamming it constantly. It was playing all the time. And we just decided, ‘We should just cover this thing.’ We’ve got a lot of ideas in this band.
CLTure: I bet that was great!
CK: Yeah, it was. There were guys out there just absolutely shredding. I think there’s a download of it out there somewhere someone put up.
CLTure: Yeah, I found a few songs on YouTube. It looked like it was an amazing show.
CLTure: Talk about the new record, Hotel Parties. How did you land on that name for the album?
CK: It just kind of spoke to our life of touring and what goes on after shows. Most nights aren’t crazy. There are many different kinds of parties. Some of the best parties are three or four people hanging out talking about music or whatever.
CLTure: So the last Futurebirds hotel party, not a lot of broken furniture and cars in the bottom of swimming pools?
CK: (Laughs) Oh, all of them! All of them! No, we like to vary the tone of our parties.
CLTure: As much time as you spend on the road, I’m assuming there is quite a bit of songwriting done while touring?
CK: Well, some. Not a lot, really. I’ll occasionally write then, but most of it is done at home. Then we all get together and bring what we have. The new album, we’ve been writing those songs over the past three years.
CLTure: Your songs are all credited to the band as a whole. Are some songs more collaborative than others?
CK: We all bring what we have for everyone to hear. Like, for the last record, we went to Thomas’ (Johnson) grandmother’s house in Athens. We start playing and listening to what we got and we just take it from there.
CLTure: Athens music scene has stayed relevant for 30-plus years. I like that you never know what’s coming next from the city. If I read about a new Athen’s band, I really have no clue what they’re going to sound like until I’ve heard them. How important was the band forming in that environment to the direction your music has taken?
CK: Yeah, it’s been great. I don’t know if it’s necessarily affected our direction. But, the support of the people and other musicians is like no where… (stops mid sentence) Oh, there’s Andre 3000. Andre 3000 just walked right past the van. He’s a fellow “ATLien.”
CLTure: Very cool. You never know who you’re going to run into in New York City.
CK: Yeah, really. But anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, Athens. Yeah, it’s something we definitely enjoy. It’s a great environment and community.
CLTure: How are the new songs sounding live? Are you pleased with how they are coming together?
CK: Yeah, they sound really good. Some of them sound a little different from the record. But, they sound good and the crowd’s have gotten behind them.
CLTure: How do you guys approach a show? Are you a set playlist throughout the tour kind of band or do you like to mix it up?
CK: We mix it up quite a bit. It get’s a little bit boring playing the same setlist night after night. There are some bands that that works for and there are some benefits to it. You can come up with some great leads into each song. But we get a little bored with it and like to mix it up. We’ll have some songs we pair up for a tour and some that we like to group together. But it’s a different show every night.
CLTure: What are some of the songs or records that you heard growing up that really grabbed you? Anything that you specifically remember hearing for the first time that influenced you?
CK: My dad was really into Southern bands like The Allman Brothers, so I heard a lot of that. I remember my sister was a big Dead head– and still is. I heard a lot of their music from her. Anything else that grabbed me the first time– there are many but nothing is coming to mind now.
CLTure: It looks like you guys have a nice holiday break from the tour coming up in a few weeks. Do you have any big plans?
CK: We’re playing a show in Atlanta the night after Thanksgiving. So, we’ll all meet up there, where a lot of us are from originally. Then, just kind of refueling and reflecting on what’s happened on this tour over the last few months. Eat a lot of Turkey.