Thursday, May 5, 2011

Legendary Creatures - Bonfires - (Rock Lobster on 5/12 + EP Release on 5/20)

"I was just trying to get a band together...

"...It was just Matt and I at first and no one seemed like they really wanted to do it... Everybody's in a million bands, already, everybody I know. And, I've been going to shows with these people since I was 14...So, it was just my time to do it, I guess."

Sarah Vaughn is the lead singer of Legendary Creatures. She is a humble, unassuming soul with a voice both demure and dazzling, if just dreamily wispy. Curious that such a pretty thing would not have cooed its way into our ears had it not first shined within the daunting atmosphere of a dimly lit, beer-spilt alleyway, exterior to a house party in downtown Detroit...

Curious, if not lucky.

And lucky she had the dedication to dig an entire bonfire pit with just a rusty soup spoon, in her backyard...

...Because that facilitated the a vertiable nursery in which the Legendary Creatures could forge their chemistry by means of impromptu rehearsals at the ashy edges of a constant 5-foot-high flame: twanging out tinny mandolins and sawing out wistful purs of violins while they serenaded the summer stars for nights' on end...

Meet the band that initially blew up on message boards... albeit for Magic the Gathering sites...

Meet the band that is neither country nor folk.

Meet Sarah - and Matt Luke. Meet Jesse Ramsey. Meet Andrew Davis. Meet Nathaniel Burgundy.

Their new EP is called Bonfires and it comes out May 20th, tied to a celebratory concert preceeding that evening at the Magic Stick. They'll be joined by "legendary" experimental chameleon collective His Name is Alive (whose chieftain, Warn Defever, produced Bonfires and is simultaneously celebrating the 20th anniversary of HNIA).

"I never wanted it, personally, to be a country or folk band," singer/songwriter/guitarist Matt Luke says, with a shrug. "It was just me on acoustic guitar with Sarah, at first, so obviously you're gonna get tagged with folk. But that was just for (the first) two or three shows."

Luke and Vaughn, who are cousins, filled a Monday evening's slot back in January 2010, at Club Bart's. Luke had been developing a band with his sister, Katie, but the latter sibling quickly decided it was not for her.

Thankfully, Katie had just heard demos that Vaughn had recorded with Detroit's sagely engineer, Defever. It was Defever who prodded the slightly inebriated Vaughn to belt out a song ("Dream a Little Dream") inside the alleyway, as he'd overheard her, that night, proclaiming her heretofore untapped or unnoticed singing abilities, standing within earshot to her amidst the red plastic cup and cigarette-smoke swathed atmosphere of a Gories' show after party.

Sarah can sing - Katie clued her brother in - get her to join the band...

In the audience at said-first-show for the Legendary Creatures (...the name comes from the first-thing-out-of-her-mouth response of Luke's 8-year-old daughter, Chloe), was bassist/keyboardist Nathaniel Burgundy (who also plays with Computer Perfection and Robin Goodfellow). Burgundy was the first exterior player to be invited to join, but he somehow wound up being the final addition.

So... Enter Jesse Ramsey, a whimsically multi-instrumentalist ("I've never taken a lesson for any instrument" ...(he also performs in Macrame Tiger and takes on guitar, bass, mandolin and can even handle drums)... "so I think I've played them all incorrectly. If I took a lesson now, they'd smack my hands, probably..."

Ramsey's foray into the Creatures was dual pronged.

Luke was appreciative of Ramsey's impromptu display of his newly acquired mandolin skills when he ripped through a rendition of Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," --inside the cavernous and caustic millieu of an artist's co-op, at 5 a.m., after an all-night-party.

But Ramsey had also just moved into Vaughn's new Ferndale house (the same setting for the forthcoming formative bonfire pit). Ramsey came in, bringing his still freshly enthused mandolin magic and the band marched forth with the temporary tenure of Sarah's-brother, Dave ("who winds up playing in 8 bands, at almost any time...")

Enter Davis. Davis is a recording engineer who also performs in bands whenever the window presents itself (having recently provided "freaky synths" to atmospheric/anthemic rock group The Summer Pledge, but also having drummed in progressive experimental punk-tinged groups like Big Black Cloud). Davis had just started dating Vaughn (then, in early '10) - and the two danced and skirted through several conversations - LC needed a drummer...and Davis "wanted to start drumming again..."

"Oh? Andrew wants to drum for us?" Luke recalls with a wink, indulging the cliched response of the precariousness of a girlfriend bringing the boyfriend into the band.

But the answer was: "Let's give it a shot!"

"Even though it was such a stylistic departure from anything else I'd done," recalls Davis, who records bands at Rochambeau Studios, "it just seemed like something that had a lot of potential, where I'd automatically resonated with who was making the music."

What started out as a shuffling waltz of acoustic guitars, -subtle, but glowing atmospherics from the evocative mandolin and Vaughn's crystalline coo interweaving with Luke's own disarmingly high-registering lilt, --would be shaped (in a "ridiculously democratic" manner) by the unique ears and equally unique musical inclinations of Davis, Ramsey -and eventually, Burgundy - each of whom have displayed notable adroitness (in other bands) at blending elements of spaced-out ambience or even more guttural noise-teases into pop formats.

In any case - They put out a demo last year, recorded in Burgundy's basement. But as the summer of 2010 started to simmer, they set to playing and rehearsing...and just invariably venting-out-their-musical-muses, at the side of that bonfire, in Vaughn's backyard.

Ramsey pulled his van into the adjacent empty lot and set up camp. The band spent a whole week around that bonfire, sleeping outdoors in the surreal suburbs, keeping the pit lit, modestly, all through the night and all through the day.

Sarah's spoon dug the pit. The fire acted like the band's beating heart.

Now that the blood was flowing and the song's were developing a healthy pink glow, complete with their own left-field-folk idiosyncracies, they went into Rochambeau to record a proper debut.

"It was the best recording experience I'd ever had," Luke said. Defever helmed the boards for the most part, collaborating with the commendably apt Davis, who pared back his own recording role so that he could focus as himself, more so, as a musician.

"You don't really know what Warn's thinking," Ramsey says, smiling after Luke finished remarking how the HNIA-originator displays both elements of a psychologist and a wizard. "Mysterious" and "engimatic" were words used, but mostly, each member felt as though he'd masterfully coaxed out great takes with astoundingly smooth manner.

"I think the recordings provided a really interesting opportunity to hear everything objectively," Davis said. "We could fully explore and actualize some of these textures and some of the more... 'atmospheric'...for lack of a better term... I think of this as a mildly psychedelic vibe, with, just, sort of washy..."

"Dreamy...psychedelic...mellow..." Burgundy nods to him.

"Within such a traditional song structure," Davis said, tacitly nodding to the somewhat folk or straight-rock song skeletons that Vaughn/Luke initially present to the band, "it becomes an exploration in tones and sounds that really stimulates me. I've been really excited to have an active part in mixing it and making it come to life."

Folk never had this much mystically fuzzed texture; plaintive and pastoral, but made piquant by spacier tones and atmospheric elements.

The substantial momentum of the band, and particularly the chemistry, lends creedance to the strength of the songs. Or at least to the circumstances of the song's formation...

...which started with an alleyway serenade...

and a spoon.

HNIA's 20th anniversary show --5/20 @ the Magic Stick - as well as Legendary Creatures' release show for the Bonfires EP!!!! The fantastic new band, Golden, opens the show...

Legendary Creatures spin records, Thursday, May 12th, at Sakana Sushi Bar (Ferndale) as part of their "Rock Lobster" weekly series.

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