Green thumb

Usually it’s the main band that makes it big while the side projects soldier on in the wings, an outlet for more out-there inclinations. Usually a band with multiple leaders either implodes (Fleetwood Mac) or splits (Uncle Tupelo into Son Volt/Wilco). Usually once a band manages any sort of national recognition it’s too busy being run ragged by a record company to run its own record company—let alone jump start the careers of newer acts.

Underdog victorious: Raleigh’s Annuals started as a side project but are now the main attraction. Photo by Autumn de Wilde.

But Raleigh’s Annuals are taking the path less traveled. Singer/songwriter Adam Baker sums things up simply enough: “It’s weird but it’s cool.”

Indie-pop act Annuals (led by Baker) started as a side-project of alt-rock outfit Sunfold (led by Kenny Florence). Florence plays guitar in Annuals; other Sunfold members—bassist Mike Robinson and guitarist Zack Oden—also perform in Annuals. The difference between the two bands’ lineups is that Annuals includes percussionist Donzel Radford and wispy-pretty Anna Spence on keys. That, and the two bands have completely different sounds.

“When Annuals started getting attention, me and Kenny sat down and had a big powwow,” Baker recalls. “Basically, his style of songwriting and mine are entirely different… We’re both very protective and we both feel like our musical rules are just shouldn’t be f**ked with.”

He laughs, “Egos, egos, egos. We decided it would work better as two separate bands. That way, we get to branch out even more.”

Branching out allows for creative satisfaction, but it comes at a price: A grueling tour schedule (“I have a feeling that’s the case for almost every band these days because there’s no other way to even attempt to make a living unless you’re Arcade Fire or something,” says Baker. “You have to tour. You’re certainly not going to see record sales.”) and few amenities (Baker, Robinson and Oden share a basement apartment in one band member’s mother’s house). But: “We do make a living and that is definitely awesome,” Baker enthuses. “I’m so glad I don’t have to work at Baskin-Robbins or Banana Republic or any of the other places that I used to work.”

And when Baker isn’t on the road, on stage or in the studio, he’s guiding the futures of up-and-coming bands at indie label (and Annuals/Sunfold brainchild) Terpsikhore. “We’re very heavy in Terpsikhore because that’s where we came from and we definitely want to see it grow,” Baker points out. The label’s current push is Tempe, Arizona-based psychedelic-roots act What Laura Says, who will open for Annuals at The Orange Peel.

“I’m very proud of whatever extent we’ve helped to influence the musical area around us,” Baker continues. “Helping bands along the way seems like a natural progression of things, plus it’s fun.”

“Fun” is a theme of sorts for Baker. Though his music has a dark loveliness to it, Annuals are noted for their energy on stage and for their zealous infatuation with rhythm. Four of six members play some sort of percussion instrument on stage. “It’s hard to keep most of us away from drums. They’re just so fun to play,” Baker says.

He describes their percussive explosions as “that sort of Afro-rhythm … the way that Paul Simon did and the way that Brian Wilson did sometimes.” Perfect for the group’s fans who Baker laughingly typifies as “white people [who] like to dance.”

The fun continues with Annual’s latest album, Such Fun (Canvasback, 2008)—their second full-length studio album, but seventh effort counting EPs and self-releases. Still, Baker says he felt the pressure of the dreaded “sophomore slump.”

“I was extremely scared,” he admits. “Oh my god, like to the point of shaking. The recording was in between tours and of course though out the process people from the label side of things were making suggestions, like sometimes not even rational ones.” But Fun‘s end result is, well, fun. And, as much as it sums up Annuals’ youthful exuberance and pop prowess, there’s something else:

“Yes, we’re a Southern band,” Baker says. Case in point, the band was profiled in a 2006 Web extra by Southern-lit magazine Oxford American.
“We’re from the South. Some of the chords I [use] come from Johnny Cash,” Baker notes. “But we don’t limit ourselves to the sound.”

Read the complete interview with Adam Baker at www.mountainx.com.

who: The Annuals with Jessica Lea Mayfield and What Laura Says
what: New indie pop
where: The Orange Peel
when: Saturday, Feb. 7 (8 p.m., $12. www.theorangepeel.net)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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