These days, Greenville, S.C.’s Modern Man works in the way of most traditionally formed bands. Different members bring parts to the table, which are then extrapolated to whatever ends feel best, with one man — in this case singer and founder David Allen Glenn — dominating the songwriting and production. The outfit has a distinct leader, but operates as a unit, forging a fierce and full sound dominated by beefy shoegaze guitars and vocals that echo with haunting reverb. Indeed, if you saw Modern Man today, you’d never suspect that the band started as a solitary self-recording project.
“For shows, I would record the rest of the band and run them through a tape machine or through the PA, and I would play and sing over the top of that. That was the live show,” Glenn said in February, explaining that when Modern Man started, a full band was the last thing on his mind. He’d spent seven years playing bass in the hardcore outfit The Last Van Zant, and the logistics of booking shows and balancing schedules had left him ready for some time to himself.
“After a while people started getting interested in performing if I was going to turn it into a band, and eventually I got a drummer,” he explained. “The current guitar player played bass, and after a while he moved to guitar. We got a bass player and then a new drummer. That’s kind of where we are today. It just kind of kept growing and growing until we were out playing shows every weekend.”
When Glenn picked up the phone for another chat in late July, he was preparing to head out for two entire weeks. For the second summer in a row, Modern Man is trekking across the eastern half of the country, and this time they’ll have new wares to sell. Copies of EYES NO, the band’s dark and delirious second LP — and its first to be released on vinyl — will arrive during the tour. Modern Man’s music is normally sold exclusively through pay-what-you-will download.
The albums are an appropriate trinket for the band to peddle on this outing. EYES NO is a testament to the unified band that they have become. It’s a new high in production technique for Glenn, richly layered and managing its heft with unexpected grace. The dense arrangements showcase the unified band Modern Man has grown into. The guitars build to tremendous catharses, but back off to allow bass and drums to fill in silence with ominous rhythm.
“I don’t know how that plays into the feeling the musician gets when they learn their own parts that they write,” Glenn says. “EYES NO was more like that. I wrote a few songs, but the whole band basically contributed to the process. I think that everybody felt like they owned their parts. It felt more raw to us.”
The incredible size and palpable menace of EYES NO matches the newfound seriousness of Glenn’s lyrical concepts. The band’s debut LP, Walk Away, dealt with the wreckage of his past relationships. EYES NO goes political, zeroing in on social issues such as corporate greed and monetary excess. But Glenn isn’t one to preach: His message is one of awareness, a reminder to question your leaders and to ascertain the truth behind an idea before you cling to it as an ideal. It’s a theme captured by the album's striking cover.
“When I first saw the two images, I had to combine them together,” he says of the collage that overlays children at play on top of a line of marching soldiers; both parties kick their legs high into the air, mirroring each others’ movements. “I was going to blend them more, but they just worked in juxtaposition so well. The album’s called EYES NO, so I want you to believe in your eyes, and not what people tell you. It’s really a play on that phrase or group of words: ‘Do you want to be controlled like an army?’”
Glenn is keenly aware of similar shackles in the musical realm. Though his band has found a sound that suits them, he won’t commit to it. He’s been down that road before, and he knows where it can lead.
“We haven’t found our sound that we’ll stick with,” he says. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed into something when we’re writing music, and we write a song that we’re into. I’ve been in bands before where you do that, and we’ll be at practice and get done with a song and say, ‘That’s not really us.’ So we’ll scrap the whole song and not even think about it. I want to write a song and put it out.”
— Jordan Lawrence is assistant editor at Charlotte-based Shuffle magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.
who: Modern Man, opening for Knives and Daggers, along with The Verticolors
what: Dense and hefty rock, with unexpected grace
where: Emerald Lounge
when: Wednesday, Aug. 15 (Doors at 9 p.m. $5)