Thursday, November 30, 2006
I had an opportunity to ask Zachary Gresham of Summer Hymns a few questions I had about the past, their label, and especially their newest album, Backward Masks. These guys aren't what one could call newbies, as the trend seems to be, they have quite a load of experience beneath their belt. Beginning in the late 90's in Athens' GA, where a scene was constructing much of what many of us listen to today, they worked with members of many bands who I fancy quite well today.

"Summer Hymns did share some members with Elf Power and Of Montreal, as well as the Masters of the Hemisphere." Explains Gresham, before going on to explain how such an arrangement come about.

It was a "natural coincidence [more] than any sort of an attempt at anything. [But] the folks who we shared with Elf Power and Of Montreal at that time don't play with [us] any more. Back in those days everyone was playing with everybody and it was a very open and conducive environment to inspired songwriting and performances."

It is not all that rare to share band members though, "Many bands in Athens have been rotating casts that float around interesting and adept songwriters and personalities, like Andrew Reiger (Elf Power) and Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal). Our bass player from Clemency and Fool's Gold has been playing bass with Of Montreal for the last two years."

It all didn't come together all that easily though, the band has had its troubles, I argue they are owed a bit of a time under the spotlight. It would seem things were starting to fall into place back in 2003 with the release of Clemency.

"Clemency is the first record that we put out where it seemed that everything came together nicely, where it seemed like we were building something," explains Gresham. He believes though, that Clemency was a lot different than Voice Brother and Sister and Celebratory Arm Gesture. "Clemency, I think, maybe pulled in some people because it was less dense and psychedelic, but on the other hand I think that some of the people who were there for the first two albums maybe weren't quite sure what to think because it was more stripped down and subtle."

With what they had built through Clemency about who they were and weren't, they went on tour for a while, wrote new material that was a little more like all three albums and birthed Backward Masks this month.

"I think that the new record Backward Masks represents us at the beginning of a new phase that marries the differences between making a record like Clemency and the first two records."

Up until this point though, we have only discussed this in a way that would imply you knew what was going on in the lives of these people. What is the back story to Summer Hymns? Gresham explains it was really the movement of style at that time in Athens, Georgia history, which ultimately led to a major transition in mainstream and indie music nationally.

"When Philip and I started Summer Hymns we had been playing together with my high school band Joe Christmas. We recorded two records and were somewhat successful in Athens in the mid-90's. Around that time we were both getting into music that was a lot different than what we were playing and some of the other guys were getting more into heavy metal from the 80s and other stuff that we didn't feel as inspired by. So I think that ultimately we felt limited by what we could do in Joe Christmas, as we were a full fledged drop D indie rock band that liked to rock who seemed to be headed towards making some sort of glam metal, guitar pop, goth type music that seemed to be incongruent to what we were getting off on musically and what we were playing when we got together to play with our friends. Although I will say that now in hindsight that if I could go back to that time that I would have waited until after the third Joe Christmas record to split off into Summer Hymns because I'd really like to hear the record that we would have made together during the time before our breakup."

Despite Gresham's nostalgia, I am fairly glad he made the change. Who knows what Summer Hymns would sound like these days had he given himself time to become more interested in goth/glam rock; certainly not the Summer Hymns that can be heard on Backward Masks.

They have a short 2 week tour in late January, with big plans for 2007. I will be sure to post tour dates as they come available. In the meantime, enjoy these songs, which I posted on two previous occasions, because I love them.

Backward Masks:
Start Swimming
Pity and Envy

Some older tracks
Wet Miles (Clemency)
Trouble (Clemency)
Somethings going on (A Celebratory Arm Gesture)
Trolling on the Lake (A Celebratory Arm Gesture)
Half Sick of Shadows (Voice Brother and Sister)
Knock Louder (Voice Brother and Sister)
Fear the Law (Fools Gold)
What They Really Do (Fools Gold)

Buy the album.
Older post about Summer Hymns.
Great Selection of Vibrators at Tickle

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