If Asheville’s intrinsic weirdness has been preserved thus far, it’s due in large part to the efforts of its avant-garde artists and musicians, such as The Goodies. That art-rock band, fronted by local singer-songwriter Holiday Childress, puts a theatrical spin on surreal songs. Childress’ unbounded vocal — a warm tenor able to leap and swoop in operatic gymnastics — is delivered along with costumes, a vintage parasol and the singer’s trademark handlebar mustache.
But when Childress set out to record his debut solo album, Mind the Gap — which he’ll launch at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall on Saturday, Oct. 15 — the drama had to take a back seat. In the studio Childress realized, as far as listeners were concerned, “I didn’t have the mustache on my face, I didn’t have the umbrella, I didn’t have a suit on. If I was going to take them to a place, I’d need to use an instrument to do that, and I needed more freedom in my instrumentation to fully realize what each song’s potential was.” So, he says, “I quit playing live and completely put that in the ground.”
He compares the process to wearing a patch over a healthy eye in order to build the strength of a lazy eye: “I had to take all of my creative energy and just put it into what was coming out of the speakers,” he says. “I think this is the first time I’ve been able to capture my songs in a complete experience and not, ‘Oh, you just have to see it live.’”
If Mind the Gap is a departure from The Goodies in spirit and approach, the record’s first half is fairly familiar soundwise. Lead track “Disco Ball (Inside You)” is a campy, thumping dance track layered with funk attitude and Childress’ unmistakable upper-register trill. The showy “Foie Gras” is a new version of a song Childress has performed on plenty of stages. The multimovement “Gonna Get a Grammy” juxtaposes doo-wop, hip-hop and a strings section.
But the second half of the album, starting with the creepy, carnivalesque “Flesh and Bone,” moves in another direction. Finger-style guitar gives an intimate feel to the twilit “Landing.” The thrumming, indie-pop track “I Was a Clown” sparkles with keyboard melodies and heartfelt lyrics. That song and the final track, the gospel-tinged “Soul in a Miracle,” cast Childress in a different light: not as a neo-vaudevillean performer but as a contemporary songwriter and arranger with the vocal chops to elevate songs to goosebump-inducing territory.
Childress calls that B-side his shadow side, something he could have never performed live before — though now that’s changed. “I felt like the best way for me to do it was not have any expectations [or] old patterns. Everything I did was new,” he says. “If I felt a default to do something comfortable, I did something else, every single time.”
Childress started working on Mind the Gap in 2013, when he realized he had enough songs that hadn’t been performed with The Goodies to create an original collection. “But I had no idea of the mountain I was about to climb — how long it was going to take and how life-changing it was going to feel to me,” he says. (Speaking of changes, Childress, who is also a hair stylist, will open his own one-chair studio on the same day his record is released.)
The album was tracked at Echo Mountain Studios, Merrick Music Studios in Black Mountain and Brown Out Studio in Taos, N.M. Greg Thum, with whom Childress has played music since middle school, served as engineer in the New Mexico location. With Thum’s input, the singer-songwriter was able to craft a sound reminiscent of T. Rex on some tracks, and with unusual instrumentation to build moods on other tracks.
Through a successful Kickstarter campaign, Childress raised more than $16,000 (the names of the donors are listed in the album’s liner notes). Mind the Gap includes contributions from local artists such as Tim Haney (drums), Zack Page (bass), Jamar Woods (organ), Jacob Rodriguez (saxophone), Justin Ray (trumpet), Derrick Johnson (trombone), the Opal String Quartet, and many others.
For the release show, Haney, Page and Chuck Lichtenberger (keyboards) will make up Childress’ backing group — “the most amazing band,” he says.
The musician is not yet sure what the Oct. 15 performance will hold. “I can’t get the theatrics out of me. That’s just part of who I am,” says Childress. No doubt his longtime fans will be glad to hear that, because The Goodies frontman knows how to put on a show. But, he adds, “I’m trying to work on ways to make them effective and more subtle.”
WHO: Holiday Childress presents Mind the Gap
WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 15, 9 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day or show