Glide - February 6, 2006

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The Undertow Orchestra
Publication: Glide Magazine
Author: Shane Handler
Date: February 6, 2006

"Catch it while you can" is a ripe slogan for the upcoming Undertow Orchestra tour. Featuring four of today’s most under the radar, yet prolific singer-songwriters: David Bazan (Pedro The Lion, Headphones), Vic Chestnutt, Mark Eitzel (American Music Club), and Will Johnson (Centro-matic), each collaborative stop finds the eclectic cast sharing the stage, rotating between each other's material, and serving as backing band on various instruments for each other's tunes. And as if that’s not enough, Scott Danbom (Centro-matic) will join the Orchestra on piano and violin.

Assembled by Bob Andrews of Undertow Music, along with promotional assistance from Paste Magazine, the tour begins February 8th in Athens, GA, makes its way through the eastern U.S., and concludes back where it started on March 1st at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse. On choosing the foursome, Andrews explains, "it was pretty easy... they are all fans of each other and I was sort of the common link. One guy would tell me how much he liked the other guy. So I figured they would all like playing together."

Simple enough, but what separates The Undertow Orchestra apart from previous singer-songwriter collaborations like the recent Conor Oberst, Jim James, M. Ward tour, is the actual full band concept of The Undertow Orchestra. "I saw some of those shows and thought it was a great idea. I love all of those guys," says Andrews, "but I was hoping they’d all play together more and not just play their own songs solo. There was a little bit of that. But the Undertow tour will be all four guys playing together for the entire show, switching instruments, backing vocals…it’ll be much more of a band vibe."

As for special surprises on the tour, Andrews hints that Bazan is friends with Horatio Sanz, who might make an appearance selling shirts at the New York City show. Regarding the high expectations that precede such a unique tour, Andrews comes clean admitting, "I think there’s a tremendous artistic growth that comes from collaborating with people. You force yourself to learn new things, play differently, listen differently. So I hope all of the guys will come away from this with a few new tricks up their sleeves."

Bazan, Eitzel, Chestnutt and Johnson reflect the mission of Undertow Music while proving that sometimes you have to work to find the best music under the radar. "We want to work with artists that we love, respect, and can call our friends," says Andrews. "We want to help these people create situations where they can make a decent living while maintaining creative control over every aspect of their music."

With final preparations for the tour underway, Glide caught up with each member to catch their thoughts on the unveiling of The Undertow Orchestra. Dates are listed below …catch it while you can.


David Bazan
Primary artist and musician behind the Seattle based indie band Pedro the Lion, who broke up in early 2006. He released four full length albums with Pedro the Lion since their formation in 1997. Bazan plans to record his first solo record in early 2007.

Lyrics you've written that you consider your best work and are most meaningful?

all empires eventually expire and when they finally do it's never pretty/so just sit back and wait for the attacks especially in the major cities/ please hold my hand sweetheart/ daddy's got you/ momma's out in the car/ and she packed your favorite blue shoes/ here they come exploding like the sun ringing in my ears like independence/ i agree this doesn't favor me still bullies ought to get what's coming

Most anticipated collaboration on the tour?

It's really kind of a toss up. They are all really talented dudes who I admire greatly.

Favorite song by another Undertow Orchestra member?

Well I like songs by everyone but the first one that popped into my head is the song "Woodrow Wilson" by Vic Chestnutt so that one must be the best.

Backing band instrument you're most looking forward to playing?

Drums

Most anticipated Undertow Orchestra tour stop?

I love Florida. I think the hottest gone wildest girls in the world are in Orlando. Wait, we are not going to Florida? I quit.

Biggest misconception about David Bazan?

He's a really nice guy.

Last great concert you've seen?

Deerhoof were pretty great when I saw them this fall.

Current post Undertow Orchestra plans?

Try to write some more songs, record them and then tour.


Vic Chestnutt
Known more commonly in rock circles for the two albums he recorded with Widespread Panic as Brute, Chestnutt delivers his tunes with a powerful voice from a humorous and self-deprecating perspective. His songs deal with such revealing issues as his clinical depression, drug and alcohol abuse and shoplifting habits. Chestnutt’s life has become an open book through his autobiographical and poetic words. Chestnutt has released ten full length solo albums dating back to 1990.

Lyrics you've written that you consider your best work and are most meaningful?

"Christian charity is a doily over my death boner," from "Vesuvius." "Like a puppy on a trampoline / what do you mean? / bewildered," from "What Do You Mean?"

Most anticipated collaboration on the tour?

I’ve known Mark Eitzel much longer than the rest of them so I guess I’m most excited about working with him.

Favorite song by another Undertow Orchestra member?

Right now, I’m particularly fond of Eitzel’s "My Pet Rat St. Michael".

Backing band instrument you're most looking forward to playing?

I think I’m going to dig playing my Omnichord, a little electronic autoharp.

Most anticipated Undertow Orchestra tour stop?

I love New York!

Biggest misconception about Vic Chestnutt?

That I wouldn’t know.

Strangest thing an audience member has said to you?

I really enjoyed it when an audience in Europe somewhere started yelling "Judas" when I played loud electric guitar.

Last great concert you've seen?

Shit, I can’t remember the last concert I attended.

Current post Undertow Orchestra plans?

I’m scripting a feature film with an amazing animator Brent Green.


Mark Eitzel
Frontman for cult favorites American Music Club since 1983, Eitzel gained notoriety for his talents as a composer, combining punk, folk and lounge music to form a large body of beauty and darkness. Eitzel was renowned for facing his demons on stage during the band’s shaky history, as he exited the band on numerous occasions. AMC reunited for Love Songs For Patriots in 2004, while Eitzel released his latest solo effort – Candy Ass in late 2005.

Lyrics you've written that you consider your best work and are most meaningful?

Impossible to pick between the lyrics that meant something to me and the lyrics that meant something for others... I think the latter are most valuable. Probably something like "Western Sky" or "Johnny Mathis' Feet" or "Patriot's Heart".

Most anticipated collaboration on the tour?

All of them because I think it will kick my songwriting in the ass...

Favorite song by another Undertow Orchestra member?

Have so many - Probably "Florida" by Vic Chestnutt

Backing band instrument you're most looking forward to playing?

The only thing I can really do musically are sonic noise events and background vocals...

Most anticipated Undertow Orchestra tour stop?

I love every city in America.

Biggest misconception about Mark Eitzel?

That I am humorless and suicidal.

Last great concert you saw?

Enablers last Friday night. They are the best band in San Francisco and one of the best bands I have EVER seen in my life.

Current post Undertow Orchestra plans?

There is a solo tour of Europe/ Pacific Northwest, There will be an attempt to write a musical with a playwright at the National Theatre in London; there will be another American Music Club album, there will be a European Undertow Orchestra tour. There will be another American Music Club tour.


Will Johnson
As the leader of Texas folk-pop Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, Johnson has released more than 200 songs on over 10 full length albums. With a voice that conveys raw emotion, Johnson creates a cult following with ease. His solo songs are described as country twang with a pinch of emo, while Centro-matic has been regarded as one of the most explosive live draws from Texas.

Lyrics you've written that you consider your best work and are most meaningful?

It always changes, but right now, a song called "I See Through You." It's on the new Centro-matic record and is more or less written to the son or daughter I don't yet have. I put a quote in there from my late grandfather and that kinda took it somewhere else entirely.

Most anticipated collaboration on the tour?

After spending the better part of the last week learning their songs, frankly, all of 'em. Diplomatic enough? I've been listening to Dave's (Bazan) records for five or six years now. We were in Kansas City and the soundman was playing a Pedro the Lion record as we were setting up to play. I dug it to the point where I went out and picked up all the Pedro records I could find a couple weeks later when we got home. As for Vic and Mark, it's no exaggeration to say that they're in some way responsible for me picking up a guitar in the first place. I've followed each of 'em closely since about 1990. They occupy two of the "completist" sections of the CD rack here at the house. I think I've got everything they've released.

Favorite song by another Undertow Orchestra member?

Vic's "In My Way, Yes" has been stuck in my brain for a couple days, so I'd say that one at the moment.

Backing band instrument you're most looking forward to playing?

Bass and drums.

Most anticipated Undertow Orchestra tour stop?

Athens, probably. Mostly because it's the first show and we'll see how the whole thing shakes out from there.

Biggest misconception about Will Johnson?

So-called "organizational skillzz." That I'm always writing songs.

Strangest thing an audience member has said to you?

A Scottish couple offered for me to come live with them after a show in Glasgow. An Amsterdam-ian man once tried to teach me how to sing a Dutch soccer song immediately after we got off stage, in Dutch of course. He insisted that it'd increase our "numbers" and make the crowd happier if I sang it halfway through the set. I figure he was just trying to help.

Last great concert you've seen?

Shearwater at Emo's in Austin last Wednesday night.