Perhaps there is something to be learned from our Southern neighbors in Columbia, S.C. Residents describe a music scene with a true sense of community, built on camaraderie, that is widely supported by its public. This is at least the case for the Fork & Spoon label/collective, which blossomed out of decade-old teenage garage sessions among friends and now works with the same ideals at a much larger scale. Now older and more travelled, the label functions as a cooperative with three central "operators" who rotate among several of the label's acts. Next week, Knoxville will get a sampling of what Columbia and Fork & Spoon have to offer when two of its bands perform together at The Pilot Light.
Aaron Graves is one of Fork & Spoon's top dogs and also the driving force behind Those Lavender Whales along with his wife Jessica Bornick and Chris Gardner (Graves and Gardner also perform with friend Mat Cothran in Coma Cinema, also of Fork & Spoon). For Graves, the music environment of Columbia, even from his early days of collective jam sessions, has been one of community and family filled with everything from potluck performances to hand-sewn CD jackets establishing a personal connection to all who listen.
"The music-supporting community is pretty tight-knit, and it doesn't get to cliquey," says Graves of his hometown. "Most everyone is really supportive of a lot of different genres of music which I think is very important in a music scene. Fork & Spoon is based in Columbia mainly because Jordan, Chris and I are from here and we love so much of the music here and Columbia has shown us so much support, it just made sense. We wanted to be a community-focused label and Columbia was our home."
Graves began Those Lavender Whales as a solo project in Nashville in 2003. The act progressed upon meeting his future wife, having a daughter and returning to Columbia. The material for Those Lavender Whales' first full-length "Tomahawk of Praise" covers this entire span in trademark brevity.
"'Tomahawk' was different because I was always thinking about it as an album," Graves explains. "It wasn't just thrown together as much. It was something I was working on for a while and knew that certain songs I was writing were for 'the album' and others were just there for whatever. The recordings have gotten better and more 'hi-fi' over time, and the songs have gotten a lot less jumpy and jolty. I can't think of any huge influence changes other than just life changes. I feel like the songs have just matured a little bit and have more of a flow now than the early ones did. I'm trying to learn patience."
"Tomahawk of Praise" is a sunny, upbeat indie pop record rich with vocal harmonies and varying instrumentation, but among Those Lavender Whales' most distinguishing features are the short and sweet track lengths. The album's 12 tracks come in just under the 30-minute mark, and previous EPs have been equally abrupt. Graves admits this isn't a concerted effort despite its consistency.
"It just kind of happens like that," says Graves. "I love listening to long songs and droney stuff, but when it comes to actually making up my own stuff, I get really impatient and don't like repeating things too much. There's not really anything conscious behind it. It's just kind of the way it happens."
Graves acknowledges that the recorded product varies significantly from its live representation. Pointing out the number of friends who participated on the album, Those Lavender Whales pull off a slimmed down version using four or less players and backing electronics. According to Graves, the most difficult part is maintaining the act's warm and organic vibe with fewer people and more machines.
"It's usually three or four of us playing live," Graves says. "The recordings always have extra people, though. I love having friends help me with songs. ... That's been a big challenge because the songs aren't written with live performance in mind. I think the best thing about recording is doing things that aren't possible or don't make as much sense in a live setting. We usually just try to get as much as we can and take time to discuss what we feel the most important parts of the song are. It's a challenge to make things sound full but still keep the shambly kind of lo-fi feel to it. We've tried a bunch of different things, but now Chris plays a couple different little keyboards and also samples some sounds that don't make sense to recreate — jaw-harp for example — and I sometimes loop my guitar. It's not an electronic band, though, so we do our best to make sure it still feels real and friendly, even though we use a computer."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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