Indie rock duo Widowspeak talks 'Almanac,' Mazzy Star and recording in a barn ahead of Savannah show

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comJuly 4, 2013 

Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas of Widowspeak. The duo will be performing Monday in Savannah.

  • IF YOU GO

    WHEN: 9 p.m. July 8

    WHERE: The Sparetime, 36 Martin Luther King Blvd., Savannah

    COST: Free

    DETAILS: www.sparetimesavannah.com

As a band on the rise, Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas of the Brooklyn indie rock duo Widowspeak knew it was something of a rite of passage to have their sound compared to that of better-known acts by music writers and bloggers.

There were flattering comparisons to Fleetwood Mac as well as iconic early 1990s California rockers Mazzy Star to whom Widowspeak were frequently likened to, in part, because of similarities between Hamilton's quiet, raspy vocals and those of Mazzy Star frontwoman Hope Sandoval.

But the Mazzy Star comparisons took on a life of their own, so much so that writers began assuming they were one of the band's primary influences.

"I would have people ask me, 'So, like, what is your favorite Mazzy Star song or record?'" Hamilton said. "I got tired of that pretty quickly. I've never really listened to Mazzy Star at all, and they're a great band, but I didn't have a frame of reference at all because I didn't listen to their music until we started getting all of these comparisons. I guess I get it. It's a vocal thing."

They may still get those questions but Widowspeak has made a name for itself with its second LP, "Alamanac," which was released in late January to rave reviews from NPR, "Rolling Stone," "The New York Times" and bloggers from the notoriously hard-to-impress indie music blog Pitchfork.

The band will perform a free show July 8 at The Sparetime in Savannah as part of a summer concert series being staged by MusicFile Productions, the company behind the Savannah Stopover Festival. Upcoming shows include an Aug. 28 date featuring English New Wave legends Modern English at The Dollhouse.

Hamilton discusses the making of "Alamanac," the end of the world and the band's upcoming EP.

Question. You recorded "Alamanac" with Kevin McMahon, who has worked with Swans and Real Estate, in a renovated barn in New Paltz, N.Y., whose idea was that?

Answer. Well, recording the album somewhere secluded like that was something that I really wanted to do from the start. I'm from Washington state and I really wanted to find a barn in Washington and fly across the country and make the record but, when we looked into it, it was clear that would be a little ridiculous and logistically difficult. Then we met Kevin, who has worked with ... bands we really admire, and he had just bought this like 100-year-old barn in upstate New York, and we went up there and it was totally perfect.

Q. Do you think being up there informed the somewhat sleepy tone of the album?

A. Yeah, absolutely. Living in New York City can be a little stifling so going up there was really an escape. It was so quiet at night, and we were sleeping in bunks. It was like being at summer camp. We actually wrote two songs -- "Storm King" and "Minnewaska" -- about that area and about being up there. I think the recording process and where we were physically permeates so many different aspects of the album.

Q. Did recording it in that setting change what you thought the record would be?

A. I suppose it did, yeah. We went up there with songs that were really influenced by the end of the world and life cycles, and they were kind of negative and we came away with an album that we think is much more about renewal. (Thomas) says it's like a nap in the sun. I think "Perennials" really captures that spirit. (Thomas) did kind of these cyclical guitar sounds, and the melodies on song are just really hopeful sonically and captured the feel that we wanted the album to have.

Q. You guys are working on an EP now. What does that sound like?

A. We really think this EP is going to bridge the gap between "Alamanac" and our next full-length album. It really has more of a live band feel. (Thomas) has been playing with loops ... and we've been toying with some more restrained percussion. (Thomas) says if our last album was a nap in the sun, the EP will be like a nap in outerspace.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.

Video for Widowspeak's "Locusts"

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