An album release is cause for celebration — the long hours in the studio; the funds raised through gigs, jobs and the kindness of friends and fans; the songs finally brought to life and ready for an audience. Considering, it might seem like a counterintuitively low-key move for folk-rock group Even the Animals to release its new project, The Lonesome Sea, during a happy hour show at French Broad Brewing on Saturday, July 5. But the band has good reason for this particular party plan.
First, the event doubles as a fundraiser for the family of local musician and world’s nicest guy Dave Desmelik, whose young son is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor. French Broad will donate 10 percent of sales through Sunday, July 6 to the Desmelik family.
Second, the local brewery not only puts out some of the area’s favorite brews but has a tradition of booking a great lineup of musical acts. “French Broad has been good to us, and every time we play there, we have a great show,” says Even the Animals singer-songwriter and guitarist Jeff Markham. “We’re not a crazy-loud rock band that gets in your face. I’d rather play for a small audience who gets what we’re doing.”
Markham has been in crazier, louder bands: fuzzed-out indie rock outfit Kerouac or the Radio and driving Americana act The Last Call among them. But when he went into the studio with Even the Animals bandmates Peter Van Rijssen and Will Hogencamp last year to record their self-titled debut he says, “It was the first time I didn’t think about an audience.” The songs, at turns soft-focused and wistful, jangly and gently rhythmic, were exactly the kind of material the musician wanted to create. To his surprise, listeners not only responded to Even the Animals’ authentic take on contemporary folk, they were quick to lend support so the band could finish its sophomore record.
Tracked at Solomon Mines Music Studio in Fletcher, The Lonesome Sea builds on the same dusky melodies that the band is known for. Markham’s whisky-and-twilight vocal is handsomely matched by the burnished warmth of Van Rijssen’s harmonies. On the bleakly gorgeous lead track “Long Cold Rest,” local singer Leigh Glass provides a duet part that would make Gram and Emmylou proud. Melancholy and hope glimpse each other across a crowded room on “Once in Your Life.” There, percussionist Danni Iosello provides a tasteful backbone to that jangly slow dance. Iosello has since amicably parted with the band; Jonathan Darconte (a Keroac or the Radio and the Last Call alum) will fill in at some future shows.
The Lonesome Sea also features keyboard parts by guest artist Ian Riddell. “I don’t know that piano was even a thought in beginning,” says Markham. Van Rijssen is credited with that idea; Riddell will perform at the album release party.
So, that French Broad Brewing show is a blowout (if unassumingly so), but it’s also a commemoration of what it takes to make art, especially with full-time jobs and families in the mix. “You do anything as an artist and you realize it’s going to work or it’s not,” says Markham. “You have a 50-50 shot.” While Even the Animals isn’t looking for a big record deal or anything on that scale, the band does plan to expand its reach, playing shows around the region. Fittingly, at the album release party, Even the Animals will perform two hours of material, both old and new, starting with an acoustic set and transitioning into a full band performance by the end of the evening.
That seems like the right direction for a group that’s content to quietly grow its catalog and its fan base. They’re in it for the duration. “I’m compelled,” says Markham. “Even if I wanted to quit playing music, I can’t. I’ve tried, and I can’t.”
WHO Even the Animals album release and fundraiser for the Desmelik family
WHERE French Broad Brewing Co., frenchbroadbrewery.com
WHEN Saturday, July 5, 6-8 p.m. Free.