Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats and Doc Aquatic both release new albums

DROWNING IN SOUND: Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats’ new album displays the band’s growing skill and confidence. The band, top, celebrates the release of ‘Family Dynamo’ with a June 29 show at Highland Brewing. Meanwhile, Doc Aquatic’s new album, ‘Shadowless Man,’ showcases the group’s modern take on late-period psychedelia. Doc Aquatic launches the album with a performance at the Mothlight, also on June 29. River Rats photo by Adam McMillan; Doc Aquatic photo by Zack Hayes

Two Asheville-based rock bands are celebrating the release of new studio albums. Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats debut their third album, Family Dynamo, and Doc Aquatic launches Shadowless Man. Both shows are scheduled for Friday, June 29; the River Rats play Highland Brewing Co., while Doc Aquatic takes the stage at The Mothlight.

The family fold

Family Dynamo represents a step forward for Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats. “It definitely has more of a theme” than the band’s previous efforts, says leader, songwriter and guitarist Scotchie. “The production is better, and I feel like it’s going to attract people who maybe didn’t like the last album.”

He describes Family Dynamo as “not just a rock album. It’s a little bit more artistic and thought-out.”

The group’s third release does showcase a noticeable shift in the character of the band’s music. “We’ve listened to so much more since the last studio album,” Scotchie says. Drummer Eliza Hill adds, “We’ve gained so much perspective by being able to travel and play different festivals and venues.” The addition of bassist/keyboardist Keith Harry has made a difference as well, Scotchie says. Bluesy, melodic rock is a hallmark of Family Dynamo, but it’s varied: “Heartless Games” is Scotchie solo, and on the brief instrumental “Upside Down,” the guitarist channels his inner David Gilmour.

And while some groups write in the studio, Scotchie takes a more traditional approach. “You have to road-test the songs,” he says. That has been the River Rats’ style since the beginning.

“We used to play these long bar gigs, and we’d have all this extra time,” Hill explains. “So we’d just kind of jam and make up stuff on the spot.”

In those days, the group didn’t have enough material for a four-hour show. “So we kind of didn’t have a choice,” Scotchie says.

Today, the group’s more focused, professional method applies to making albums as well. “It’s not really a record until it’s released,” says Harry. “It’s a whole process — preproduction, packaging, all that — and you have to see it to the end.”

The group’s own history tracks with the growth of Asheville Barnaroo, a festival Scotchie launched in 2009. Now a thriving annual event, it had humble beginnings. “We started it in my mom’s backyard in Weaverville,” Scotchie recalls. “We did as much as we could there until we ran out of parking, the cops got annoyed and I almost got taken in for a noise violation.” Since 2013, the festival has been held in September at Franny’s Farm in Leicester.

And, perhaps because of this connection to a homegrown music fest, the River Rats are often at their best onstage at festivals — both locally and farther afield. “We love Asheville very much,” Scotchie emphasizes, “but when we started getting out in front of new people in 2013 or so, building fans outside of town, that was a huge turning point.”

Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats won Xpress’ Best of WNC readers poll three years in a row for “Best Rock ‘n’ Roll Band.” But those accolades don’t mean as much when the musicians travel to other locales. Hill notes that the band has to work even harder to win over crowds outside of the its home base. “You always put your best foot forward,” she says. “Because people may not think twice about you if your performance is half-assed.”

The new album’s title refers both to Scotchie’s own nuclear family — his late father was known as the “family dynamo” — and to what the group considers its extended family of friends and supporters. “I feel like we’ve created a huge network just through doing what we do,” Hill says.

Scotchie adds, “Music has expanded our family.”

WHO: Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats
WHERE: Highland Brewing Co., 12 Old Charlotte Highway, highlandbrewing.com
WHEN: Friday, June 29, at 7 p.m. Free

Cue the smoke machine

The hypnotic grooves and commitment to melody on Shadowless Man, the latest release from Doc Aquatic, displays the group’s skill at both drawing from classic influences and filtering those through the band’s own modern-day vision.

“Always the hardest question to answer is, ‘What does your band sound like?’” says Charles Gately, who’s been with the band since its start in 2010. “So I say, ‘It’s like Pink Floyd in that it’s synthesizers with rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s like the Flaming Lips in that it’s totally pop songs. It’s psych-rock, but with a pop sensibility.’”

One of the standout songs on Shadowless Man is “Lowland, Shimmer & Gleam.” And there is a shimmering, polished quality to the album’s songs. The high production values let the songs shine. “There’s a little bit of ear candy when you put on headphones, for sure,” Gately says. “But there are melodies and grooves and catchy things, too.”

Doc Aquatic returns home for its album premiere after playing in Manchester, Tenn., at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Ahead of that potentially high-profile show, Gately expressed guarded optimism. “It’s kind of early in the day, so who knows? No one may be there,” he says. “But we’re still gonna have a blast.”

The band began as a quartet, eventually paring down to three musicians. But, as time wore on, the nuanced texture within Doc Aquatic’s original songs led the group to expand to five people. Gately plays bass but also adds layered keyboard textures using vintage synthesizers, such as the Roland JX-3P, circa 1983. And while working on Shadowless Man, Gately says that he and bandmates (and brothers) JC and Zack Hayes realized, “We’re either gonna have to start playing to a click track and have triggers, or we need to get more people in the band.”

The expanded Doc Aquatic now includes two multi-instrumentalists: Kevin Boggs and Max Murray, both also of Fashion Bath. “And now, for the first time, the songs sound live how they’re supposed to,” Gately says.

“Well,” he backpedals, “there are a few minor things that are missing, but that’s what the record’s for.” He allows that some of the deeply subtle elements of the recordings can be lost onstage, but that’s not really a problem.

“Those things are made up for because there are five dudes onstage rocking,” he says with a smile. “And there’s a bunch of cool lights and smoke everywhere.”

WHO: Doc Aquatic with Fashion Bath
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
WHEN: Friday, June 29, at 9:30 p.m. Free

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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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