Indie alt-rock outfit Athensville has released their debut modern rock LP, “Undressing Minds For Show,” the follow-up to their 2018 EP, “Proper.”
The authentic and evocative 11 original songs were recorded throughout 2019 and 2020 by producer Derek Chafin at Newtown Square’s BarnSound Studios. The album highlights the layered sonic textures of Dave Perry’s modern guitar tones, the fervent, melodic performance of vocalist and guitarist Matthew Taglang, and the driving rhythms of bassist Mark S. Walsh and drummer James Farrell. Thematically, the songs address political angst, the band’s world view and embracing what’s right in front of you, in contrast to gazing into the distance and the inevitable unknown.
“If you have to go through a pandemic, you really should be recording a rock and roll album – or whatever your version of the most exciting thing you can do is,” said Taglang.
“It really gave us all something fun and positive to focus on during those early months where it seemed like the world was ending. It truly kept me going.”
Composed of lifelong Philadelphians, Athensville celebrates and embraces its hometown.
I always saw the city as some sort of granite garden, a place where tall buildings and adults merged into something akin to the Emerald City.– James Farrell
“I always saw the city as some sort of granite garden, a place where tall buildings and adults merged into something akin to the Emerald City,” said Farrell.
“As a little kid, I visited via train to see sports or orchestra performances. As a teen, I saw mostly arena concerts at the Spectrum or JFK. Gigging in Philly and recording at Sigma Sound in the early ‘90s started my awakening of the magic of the city. Like an exploring cat, I slowly expanded the radius of my wanderings, finding hidden gems of bookstores, music stores and pocket parks. I learned all the tricks of transportation in order to hit as many rock and jazz clubs as possible. Eventually, 20 years later, I pulled my teen son into that music world. The city became his familiar and beloved music garden as well.”
Athensville draws its name from the history of Ardmore, the Philadelphia suburb where rehearsals first took place. The band immerses itself in the process of making music, as well as the design and art that accompanies it. Athensville’s hope is that the listener will find something meaningful, connect to the melodies and lyrics and produce smiles and foot-taps while provoking thought and introspection. They have performed in venues including World Café Live, Connie’s Ric Rac, Bourbon and Branch, Dawson Street Pub and The Grape Room.
PW recently caught up with the band to talk about its music and the new album.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did the band come together?
Matt Taglang: Dave Perry and I met at a fundraiser for a nonprofit run by a mutual friend. He introduced us with the words, “You guys have to meet…You were both in bands at PSU and both love the same music.” Within two weeks, Dave was at my house in Ardmore and we were playing covers of REM, The Smiths, U2…That turned into a day-long practice session, and before we knew it, we had about 30 songs under our belt.
We set a date a few months in the future and planned a party at Dave’s house. About 50 people jammed into his basement and we had an old-school party, complete with busted screen doors and neighbor-alarming noise levels. After positive feedback, we started considering putting lyrics to some of Dave’s guitar riffs, writing some original songs, and looking for some stages to play.
Within a month, we had shows booked at The Grape Room, Fergie’s Pub and Philadelphia Brewing Company. After a few shows as a duo, we decided to look for a drummer and bassist and record our first five songs. In 2018, we found [drummer] James Farrell and completed recording of our EP “Proper.” In early 2019, our present lineup came together when we auditioned bass players and found Mark S. Walsh. Dave and I look back incredulously at all of the good fortune we’ve had as this has come together and are excited for the future potential as the world starts to open and we start to gear up!
All of you are lifelong Philadelphians. How has the city, and its music scene and history, influenced you?
Dave Perry: Truth be told, Mark is a native New Yorker, but the rest of us have called this home since we were kids, and all of us have raised our families here, in the shadows of all of our favorite Philly venues, from the Mann and the Keswick to the Ardmore Music Hall, the TLA and The Grape Room. We have been fortunate in Philly to be a tour stop for nearly any band you’d want to see, and we certainly carry pride as the U.S. home of Live Aid on July 13, 1985, kicked off by The Hooters – who played James’ high school when we were kids – where my high school didn’t win the contest! And that was Matt’s first-ever concert! Just as we carry pride for everyone from Hall and Oates and the Philly Sound, to G. Love and Dr. Dog. We make great music in this town, and we do it with real brotherly love. If Athensville can contribute to the musical legacy of this town – making even just a small mark, an album or song that finds its way into our neighbors’ record collections, or even onto WXPN – we will feel accomplished. The rest is gravy.
Talk a little about how “Undressing Minds For Show” came about. Did the pandemic present any production challenges? Where is the album available?
Taglang: We started working with Derek Chafin at BarnSound Studio in January of 2019. We quickly realized what an incredibly talented producer, musician, and all-around great guy we had met. In twice monthly sessions we re-worked the first nine songs until they were where we wanted them to be – shorten a verse, add a chorus, remove half of an intro, write better lyrics, etc. Then, in October and November, we finally pressed record and got most of the drums and bass tracked.
Of course, this was prior to the pandemic, and so we were also rehearsing for and playing live shows…Ahhh memories…So, scheduling was tricky in early 2020. We had shows at World Cafe Live, The WaR3house 3 in Swarthmore, and The Underground in Lansdale, all while Dave was doing studio guitar sessions two-three times a week. Then …boom…the shutdown came.
Of course, right away, this project fell off everyone’s radar as we hunkered down and put our families first and the album a close second. By mid-April 2020, we were scheduling vocal sessions for me, and throughout the summer we were each in the studio individually. The studio vocals setup was perfect for a pandemic. Derek’s control room is downstairs and the recording room is upstairs. So I’d just walk in, wave through the window, head upstairs, throw on the headphones, and get to work. Dave recorded five-six hours per song in the control room, masked with Derek all the while. Then we wrote two more songs (“Hallstatt” and “Easy Enough”) and chose a cover to record (“Human Behaviour” by Björk). So, for those three songs, it was back to square one.
Then, the fall and early winter was all mixing and mastering. So, it was a complete two-year process. The pandemic made it a bit more challenging, but making this album was an amazing gift. So many people were prevented from doing what they love during the worst months of this difficult time, but we were able to keep going. None of us took that for granted for a second.
So, now it’s out and available everywhere music is streamed. The artwork on the album was a joint creation of our good friend Nadeen Srouji, who did the painting and our art director Stephen Perry, who came up with the record tonearm motif. That design is best viewed on the limited supply of vinyl copies which are available for purchase at athensville.com.
You’ve performed in a lot of local venues. How eager are you to get back on a stage in front of a live audience?
Mark S. Walsh: Very eager, indeed. As musicians, we are very fortunate to have our fellow bandmates to rely on to do something that feels magical when it all comes together. We write material, rehearse it until it’s right; we get to record it, which is an artform all its own – mix, master and release the music on various formats – which is exciting and challenging, all at once.
But the final act, which completes the circuit, so to speak, is performing live. A band without performance is somewhat incomplete in my opinion. And the feedback that you receive from the audience – for me – makes all of those preceding steps worthwhile in a more meaningful way. Especially in a pandemic year, we have not had a live audience, and so we, as four band members and a producer, were operating in a vacuum. Your instincts suggest that we are producing good music, but an audience will let you know for sure. We are very much looking forward to being able to connect with people soon in this capacity. We miss our old friends, and we look forward to meeting some new ones.
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