Nightlands, Jaze Uries, Madelyn Ilana and Eric Congdon release new albums

COCOON STYLE: Clockwise from top left, Nightlands, Jaze Uries, Madelyn Ilana and Eric Congdon recently released long-gestating projects. Nightlands photo by Charlie Boss; Uries photo by Charlotte and Johnny Autry; Ilana photo by Alison Colberg; Congdon photo by Michael Sundberg

Chalk up another victory for Harvest Records co-owners Mark Capon and Matt Schnable.

In addition to keeping locals supplied with music for the past 18 years, the West Asheville entrepreneurs have forged bonds with up-and-coming artists who have since become global sensations, including Grammy-winning alternative rockers The War on Drugs.

“Honestly, they were some of the first champions of the band outside Philadelphia,” says Dave Hartley, the group’s bassist. “The first time we played The Grey Eagle for Transfigurations [in 2009], there were all these people there to see us, which was a novel experience at the time. And we became fast friends with them.”

Subsequent tour stops and exploratory days off in town, plus additional friendships with industry peers and studio sessions at Echo Mountain Recording, further endeared Western North Carolina to Hartley. And in April 2019, he, his wife and their toddler moved to Asheville, where he soon constructed a stand-alone home studio and got to work on Moonshine, the fourth album for his side project, Nightlands.

Listeners expecting a collection in line with The War on Drugs’ cinematic rock sound and frontman Adam Granduciel’s blistering guitar solos might be surprised to find layered vocals — upward of 100 tracks on certain songs — and electronic instrumentation more akin to recent releases from Animal Collective and Toro y Moi.

“I’m still honing in on it,” says Hartley of Nightlands’ sound. “With each successive record, I’m getting closer to expressing my platonic ideal of what I like to hear.”

That wish list includes an overall sonic lushness crafted with cascading harmonies and a reflection of Hartley’s self-identification as “a huge sucker for melodies.” Helping him achieve those ends on Moonshine is a Wurlitzer electronic piano, plentiful vocoder voice manipulation and his Maestro Rhythm King, an analog drum machine popularized by Sly and the Family Stone, as well as The Beach Boys.

“It’s an instant vibe,” he says of the Rhythm King. “If I put that on and put it through an amp, you’d be like, ‘Oh, yeah. OK. You’re halfway to a song already.”

Fans of the new album, however, won’t be hearing Nightlands’ latest songs performed live anytime soon. The War on Drugs, making up for lost time due to canceled and postponed shows during the COVID-19 pandemic, is touring extensively this year. This, along with Hartley’s family life, has led the musician to turn down solo show opportunities.

“Deciding that I wasn’t going to tour this album was a very liberating thing because I had reluctantly toured my other albums,” Hartley says. “There are certain shows I can point to that Nightlands did that I thought were transcendent.” But other performances, he reveals, were “a complete train wreck.”

One of the main challenges of playing Nightlands’ songs live, he continues, is the layered vocals. If financially feasible, Harley says, he would assemble a 30-person choir to perform alongside a core band of drums, bass, guitar and keys and take this “indie choral rock band” out on a tour of planetariums.

“Logistically, it sounds completely insane,” he says. “But that’s what it would be. It would be pretty cool to see, and I think it could be powerful.”

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Give the drummer some

Music fans know Jaze Uries as a drummer, but they’re about to get acquainted with him as a singer and songwriter — as well as a producer and engineer.

The artist’s solo debut, Songs to Watch the Sunset To, is slated for a Friday, Aug. 26, release and finds Uries combining his smooth R&B/soul vocals over catchy ’80s-inspired soundscapes, a combination that seems destined to be the soundtrack of late summer while encouraging warmth heading into fall.

The mix of inspirations makes sense: Uries is a longtime fan of ’80s synthesizer sounds, but with the eight-song collection being made before, during and after the height of the pandemic, waves of different musical genres made their way to his ears.

“I was listening to a lot of indie rock early on,” he says. “[New Orleans-based R&B/soul artist] Lucky Daye has been a big influence lately. And Nick Jonas’ last album [2021’s Spaceman] is really, really good. So I’ve been doing a little homework with all of that stuff and going down little rabbit holes listening to those influences.”

To craft his own fresh, poppy take on R&B and soul, Uries adopted a full-control approach and wrote, sang, recorded, mixed and mastered the entire album in his Fairview home studio. Though he’d long wanted to delve deeper into the technical side of recording, he hadn’t dabbled in that world since producing a friend’s songs in high school. But after feeling burned out from years of touring as a drummer and seeing his friend Ted Marks’ mixing skills firsthand while working on their pop duo project Tü Koyote, the time felt right to take the plunge.

“I always wanted to write and produce but never really sat down and did it. So when I was [working with Marks] and hearing all the spaces in my head, I wanted to learn that whole side of things so that I could translate my ideas the best that I can,” Uries says. “It’s still a learning process because I’m pretty new, but it’s been really interesting — like playing a new instrument.”

Amid Uries’ original works on Songs to Watch the Sunset To is a chill cover of fellow Asheville-based musician Indigo de Souza’s “Hold U.”

“That was kind of the song of that summer,” Uries says. “I really liked it, and one day I was just playing around, trying to create something on my keyboard — and I’m not a proficient player, but the first chord I hit, I immediately recognized it was the first chord of ‘Hold U.’ So then I just worked it out and was like, ‘Why don’t I just cover that song?’ That’s how it happened. It was just so stuck in my head.”

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Solar power

In addition to being a musician, Candler-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Madelyn Ilana works as a healing artist with POiNT Health Collective in West Asheville. There, she practices energetic herbalism and somatic energy healing — and listening to her new album, Coming Into the Light, likewise proves rejuvenating.

As with her 2019 album, Awake Dreaming, the collection was coproduced with Chris Rosser, himself a gifted singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with world music ensemble Free Planet Radio.

“I definitely feel a deep spiritual connection with Chris and a resonance,” Ilana says. “He calls his studio Hollow Reed [Arts] Recording [Studio], and as I worked with him on the last record, I really understood more and more why he calls it that. There’s this concept of being an empty vessel to allow whatever your work is to come through you — and in this case it’s music, and working with him really is truly like that. I could feel the way he was so purely present.”

So in tune were the two collaborators that, on numerous occasions, Ilana could say she wanted to rerecord a certain section, and Rosser would know precisely what stretch she was referring to without her identifying it.

Ilana describes Coming Into the Light as a thoroughly emotional album, the result of a period of deep personal contemplation during which Spirit told her to live alone. On multiple tracks, listeners can hear those elevated feelings in her voice, and rather than rerecord to hide those sonic “imperfections,” she and Rosser kept them in.

“Being in the studio amplifies everything, and this time around I was experimenting a lot with my state of mind and what I was conjuring up,” she says. “And I was really hearing that difference in the takes where I was able to get back into the feeling I had when I wrote the song.”

Comfortable with her vulnerability, Ilana says she frequently cries in front of people and expected to be in tears throughout her album release show at Isis Music Hall in late July. Her eyes, however, remained dry, but multiple concertgoers approached her afterward, having clearly gone through a few tissues over the course of the evening.

“I think something transformed, and whatever was moving through me actually became a transmission, and it cracked people open,” she says. “That was the feedback I was getting: ‘You allowed me to feel things I wasn’t letting myself feel. You gave me permission to be present with what’s really happening for me right now.’ That was really beautiful to see and affirming.”

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New directions

Like many recording artists, Asheville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Eric Congdon had an album ready for release in spring 2020. But unlike the bulk of his peers who waited until the music industry returned to quasi-normalcy to share these tunes, he put out another collection in the interim.

A little over a year after the release of his first all-electric album, Circuit Breaker, Congdon reaches back to pre-pandemic times with Roadside Attraction, a return to his soulful, acoustic Americana ways. Though not exactly the same album that would have been published in March 2020 — each track has been revisited and remixed — it nevertheless reflects a time before the global health crisis.

“It was written in a burst of activity following a long road trip through the Southwestern U.S. in late 2019,” Congdon says. “I kept a journal of what I saw and felt, then went back to it for inspiration when I started making demos, and it all fell together remarkably quickly.”

The lyrics’ mix of observation and introspection aided the speed with which the songs were completed. Plenty of personal themes may be found throughout Roadside Attraction — Congdon says album opener “Mr. Moonlight” is especially autobiographical —  but they’re balanced out by tracks like the more universal “I’ll Be Your Friend.”

“I try to walk that fine line of not being preachy about things but hopefully still say something that resonates with people,” Congdon says. “Then other things are perhaps open to interpretation. I’m no Bob Dylan, but ask 10 people what his lyrics mean and you’ll get 10 different answers, you know?”

Roadside Attraction also marks Congdon’s first album in 15 years that has vocals on every track. Though singing and writing lyrics are the most difficult aspects of making music for the celebrated guitarist, he stepped out his comfort zone on these nine creations and worked hard to achieve his best results thus far.

Local musicians Zack Page (bass) and Hope Griffin (vocals), who are members of Congdon’s acoustic ensemble Autumnwüd, and blues singer Peggy Ratusz lend their talents on the record as well.

“I do as much as I can myself, but I believe it’s really important to bring in outside collaborators to see other perspectives. It adds so much,” Congdon says.

Whether in Autumnwüd, the ’80s tribute band LazrLuvr or his increasingly experimental solo shows that include looping, tapping, fingerpicking and Irish bouzouki jams, Congdon is thrilled to be back performing live on a regular basis. To help show his appreciation, he’s made it a point to be more positive and play with more energy than he had prior to the pandemic.

“My musical desire for the audience is escapism. I want to take you out of the everyday, and this approach has really paid off,” he says. “We’ve all been through it lately, and I’m putting all I have into my music because it’s as much for me as it is for the audience. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship and it continuously inspires me to keep going.”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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