Experimental Haven

Photo by Max Cooper
Photo by Max Cooper

In many respects, a mattress store is the furthest thing from a rock club. Such establishments — the now vacant Mr. Fred’s Beds in West Asheville, for instance — earn their bucks by offering tasteful comfort at a reasonable price, accessible means for one to grab a good night’s sleep. Conversely, a rock club makes money by keeping people up late. And one with an experimental bent — like the new Mothlight, which will open in Fred’s place early next month — offers stimulation that might sometimes frighten, jar, or generally unsettle. Put simply, where Fred’s peddled relaxation, Mothlight will seek to provide excitement.

But if Jon and Amanda Hency, Mothlight’s ambitious owners, are able to achieve their vision, the divide might not be so disparate. With a tentative capacity of 250, they hope their club — conveniently located on West Asheville’s bustling Haywood Road — can become a home for renowned experimentalists and locals with avant garde tendencies that have outgrown smaller arts spaces, such as the thriving Apothecary downtown.

Thus, the new venue could be a home for textural guitarists to conjure lush repose — ace players Shane Perlowin and David Daniell do call Asheville home — and for indie rock acts to unleash their mind-bending squall. The possibilities don’t end there. To the Hencys, this is the kind of haven that could round out the town’s already strong selection of venues.

“We want to provide a home for a more experimental, progressive realm of bands that are touring that I don’t think really have a home here in Asheville,” Jon explains, taking a break from frenzied renovations to talk about the venture.

He and Amanda met in Chicago, where they both worked at rock clubs. Jon, who will book the space while his wife manages the bar, spent a few years at the famously far-flung Empty Bottle, learning the business and developing a taste for varied and adventurous sounds. He follows through on that interest with Bathetic Records, a small imprint that offers everything from foreboding drones (High aura’d) to stark and contemplative folk (Angel Olsen, who’s since signed to Jagjaguwar Records). Jon and Amanda landed in Asheville three years ago after a short stint in Maine. They’ve dreamed of opening their own club ever since.

“I feel like Asheville is still a foreign place for them on some levels,” Jon says of the experimental outfits he’s met through booking shows and releasing records. “There’s plenty of kids in town that do the same thing and would love to play with these bands, but there isn’t a home for them with that mindset.”

The Hencys don’t disregard the work of Asheville’s other eclectic rooms. Jon has nothing but praise for the omnivorous Apothecary or the larger Grey Eagle, a club with a capacity of about 600 that still manages to book challenging artists. He’d like to see Mothlight become a stepping stone between these spaces, a landing spot for left-of-field touring acts that are on the rise but haven’t quite arrived to the level required by the Eagle or the even bigger Orange Peel. Spiritually probing folk-rock outfit Hiss Golden Messenger and acclaimed picker Glenn Jones, two acts that ended up at Apothecary this summer, might have done well in a medium-sized rock club such as The Mothlight. The Hencys hope to fill that void.

“I think there is a need for that,” offers Matt Schnable. The co-owner of the West Asheville music shop Harvest Records knows a thing or two about booking bands in Asheville. For years, the store has presented top-tier indie rock — July’s tour stop from Kurt Vile, for instance — in local clubs. While a room like downtown’s Emerald Lounge might have a capacity similar to that of the Mothlight, they’re not known for booking the kind of avant garde talent that the new club promises. In other words, there’s room for both spaces.

“With a 250-ish place,” Schnable concludes,  “you can have 60 people come out for a show, and it doesn’t feel terrible.”

As for opening the Mothlight in West Asheville, a flourishing area that boats bars, restaurants and the Isis Music Hall, but no traditional rock club, Jon says they simply wanted to offer their neighborhood a new option.

“We all live in West Asheville,” he says. “We all love eating in West Asheville. We love doing this West Asheville. We love doing that in West Asheville. Don’t get us wrong, we love going downtown, but if we can keep it in the neighborhood, it puts a smile on our face.”

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