After losing the cellist from its original lineup, hard-to-place act Shortwave Society has spent the past year rebooting itself. The rearrangement accounts for a scarcity of recent live shows, but upon the release of "Songs for Orphans" around the end of the year, the act will return to its gigging, touring ways with an adjusted, more representative sound.
In its formative years, Shortwave Society was known for its quirky melding of strange musical bedfellows, using equal parts synthetics and symphonics. While the band still maintains an orchestral element in violinist Sarah Hurd, the band has deviated from its initial chamber-pop style to a more standard rock structure with the addition of electric bassist Taylor Hiner. Adding to the format, the group has abandoned much of its digital tracking, blips and bloops in favor of more live percussion. Though the Geren brothers (vocalist/guitarist Grant and drummer Curtis) admit that the new approach sacrifices some of the quirkiness, the organic songwriting gives the material a more natural, honest sound that translates easily to the stage.
"Bringing in a bass player rather than a cello player gave it more of a bottom than it's ever had," describes C. Geren. "It prompted me to want to play live drums. What we've done for now, and it probably won't always be this way, but for now we've sort of brought it back to something more bare bones. We've cast electronic beats and whatnot to the side, backburnered that. Instrumentation-wise it's more of a rock outfit."
"In recording the (album) there's almost this unsaid rule that if it can't be played in, it doesn't get recorded," adds G. Geren. "We're not going to use any plug-ins; we'll put some filters on things in post-production and get some different sounds, but everything going into the album will be recorded into it."
Shortwave Society is currently in the studio with Scott Minor recording "Songs for Orphans." Whether intentional or not, the album title is fitting for the band, which finds itself somewhat of a loner in the cliquey Knoxville scene. The brilliant uniqueness that makes the act one of the city's hands-down, all-around best also leaves it without many contemporaries with which to share billings. Shortwave believes the simplified organization and straight-forwardness of its new work might be more approachable and play well with others, so to speak.
"You know how an indie rock bill works," says C. Geren, "you end up playing with four to five bands on a bill. There may be an Americana indie guy going before you and then the (expletive)-kicking, leather-wearing indie band going after you. There's no common thread. Since we don't have an immediate niche, we've been sandwiched between things we had no business being juxtaposed with. ... But I think it's more accessible now than it has been in the past, and we've learned that there is a base for it in Knoxville after all. It will be interesting to see how people take to it now."
"We've always been a band where you never know if we're coming by land or sea," elaborates G. Geren. "It's always been hard for us to find where we fit in to anything. We'll play with some groups we think are similar, but then find it doesn't really work. We're at a point now where our give-a-(expletive) broke a long time ago."
To further bring in its audiences, Shortwave looks to up the visual ante of its performances. Recognizing the influence of other art forms in its music, the group is working on innovative ways to incorporate visual aids on stage.
"As far as the show, there are things we want to add," C. Geren explains. "Taylor is spearheading the brainstorming process for bringing more visual stuff to the game. Of course we have to deal with venues equipped to accommodate what we have envisioned. We're talking more light and projection and interesting ways of doing it, taking a cue from things happening on a large scale, projecting onto 3-D objects. We're thinking in that realm so when we have the means to do it, we can start incorporating things like that. I think if this music is ever going to pop hard enough for people, that's one of the things that's going to help do it."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!