Arizona’s Glowing Bird
One night, two local shows
Seth Kauffman throws a free concert; Arizona releases an album. Bar hopping is looking good …
by Alli Marshall
Seth Kauffman’s Floating Action
Even though local singer/songwriter Seth Kauffman’s next album is still a few months from release, he’s prepping fans in advance. Like many musicians, Kauffman plans to make online digital tracks available prior to hard copies of his upcoming disc, Floating Action. But this weekend, the musician test-drives his new material with a big band of area artists and a free show.
Going places: Seth Kauffman’s upcoming third CD promises to be his most fully realized to date.
“There are so many Asheville bands playing shows. You can play a show and nobody comes out,” Kauffman muses. His idea: put together a supergroup of local players from pretty much every musical genre (Matt Smith on pedal steel, Josh Carpenter on guitar, Jar-e and Molly Rose Reed on background vocals as well as a trio of Jamaican singers from Montreat College) to attract a wider range of listeners.
Kauffman, who spends much of his time on the road as the percussionist for Shannon Whitworth, has been quietly garnering his own fan base since the release of his debut solo album, Ting in 2006. He describes that funk-tinged travel-themed initial project as “just a big experiment”—his first attempt at songwriting since leaving the Choosey Beggars.
Research, Kauffman’s sophomore effort, came out a year ago and was re-released this summer by Park the Van Records (aka Dr. Dog’s label). “They’re an incredible label for sure,” Kauffman enthuses. He just finished a tour with Dog and is already planning his next road trip, in support of Action: “I’ll do South by Southwest in ‘09. I’ll start a tour here and go towards Texas.”
Like his first two records, Kauffman laid down initial tracks for Action at his home in Black Mountain. He says he likes to compose tunes on drums or bass. “An atypical instrument is where I come up with ideas. Usually I don’t write the words until I’m about to record. It puts a spontaneous thing to it.”
The multi-instrumentalist plays all the instruments on his albums, calling on friends to flesh out the vocal tracks. He notes that he plays pretty much everything, “except I’m not a keyboardist and I don’t play horns.” He adds, “I’d really like to play baritone saxophone.”
But as much passion as Kauffman brings to his music, he doesn’t mind recording in short bursts. After a full day spent laying down tracks recently, he recalls, “My wife came home and said my forehead was really red. It actually felt hot.”
who: Seth Kauffman with Theresa Andersson and Shake It Like a Caveman
what: Experimental singer/songwriters
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, Oct. 18. 9 p.m. (Free. www.thegreyeagle.com or 232-5800.)
Maddest tea party: Arizona describes its sound as “a tantric version of a kid opening a present.”
“The most flattering thing is when people say, ‘You captured Asheville in this album,’” explains keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Benjamin Morris Wigler. He’s talking about Glowing Bird, the second CD by rock quartet Arizona. Despite the group’s geographic-specific name, Arizona now calls Asheville home, which is some 700 miles and a cultural gulf away from its Brooklyn, N.Y., inception.
In May 2007, Arizona left New York (where, Wigler explains, “We didn’t view the indie scene as supportive”) for Western North Carolina. Here, the band hooked up with filmmaker Anthony “Chusy” Haney-Jardine—who recently shot a video for Arizona’s single, “Colors”—contributed to the score of Haney-Jardine’s film Anywhere USA, and was signed to the Echo Mountain label along with singer/songwriters Tyler Ramsey and Malcolm Holcombe.
Bird, a lush, 12-song collection, is Arizona’s first release in cooperation with Echo Mountain. Songs like “Swimming Hole” prove the band’s allegiance to its new stomping grounds, but when it comes to discussing Arizona’s particular brand of pop, rock, and experimentation, Wigler is non-committal. “We try to be shred-tacular,” he says. “Everything you hear—every noise, even background whispers—was really thought out.” And yet: “We don’t pre-write. We improvise in the studio. I like to capture not only the sonic texture of something, but literally the air at that moment of inspiration.”
Cello virtuoso Eric Stephenson contributes strings to Bird, and the Echo Mountain recording sessions included local talents Andy Pond, River Guerguerian and Justin Perkins. Some of those tracks didn’t make the final cut, but remain in Arizona’s archives. Bird‘s dozen songs were culled from a pool of 30, and Wigler dubs the end result as “a Tantric version of a kid opening a present.”
When it comes to the hints of mythology in the title track, the musician is more at ease with comparisons to Led Zeppelin than, say, Crosby, Stills & Nash. As for the sunny, Canned Heat feel of “Heath” or “You Were Right,” Wigler points out, “We were raised on Metallica.”
He continues, “No one who saw our live show would ever think we were a folk band. We surround a beautiful, eloquent center with as much chaos as possible.”
Arizona promises to bring even more to the table, adding edible samples of West African “magic fruit” to their Saturday CD-release party. The fruit, explains Wigler, makes lemons and limes taste sweet and “really does the trick with tequila. It’s a multisensory presentation.”
[A&E reporter Alli Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.]
who: Arizona CD-release party
what: Indie rock
where: The Emerald Lounge
when: Saturday, Oct. 18. 9 p.m. ($7. www.myspace.com/emeraldlounge or 232-4372.)