Two friends sit in a bar. One is getting over a breakup. The other is out on parole. The jailbird feeds money into the jukebox, but when he chooses a Neil Young song, his heartbroken buddy grimaces.
The lovelorn friend begs his friend not to play anything by Young, Van Morrison, Sam Cooke or other classic songwriters known for the emotional content of their songs.
Instead, the fellow recommends something by an emo band. "Because there's no way it will break my heart, as far as I can see," he crows, adding with mock joy, "That's why modern radio is A-OK with me!"
That story comes from the lyrics of a breakout underground hit by Roman Candle, a rock band recently relocated to Nashville from Chapel Hill, N.C. At the moment, "That's Why Modern Radio Is A-O.K.," with its driving acoustic guitar and surging organ chords, is catching fire online and in regional pockets across America.
Apparently, rock criticism can pay off—especially when delivered with humor and a catchy chorus. "Everything on the radio is incredibly different now than how it was back then," says lead singer and guitarist Skip Matheny, Roman Candle's frontman. "Now modern-rock songs are so hyper-emotional and so heavy-handed. Whether they're expressing pain or anger or hatred, the emotions are so overwrought that they take the air out of everything. It's no longer real."
On their new album Oh Tall Tree in the Ear—a title taken from a Rainer Maria Rilke sonnet—Roman Candle try a more nuanced approach. "Eden Was a Garden" uses nature to express how people relate to each other, while "A Heartbeat" strips life to simple pleasures and learning to accept a good thing. Elsewhere, Matheny opens a song by sweetly crooning, without irony, "I woke up this morning with love in my heart," something most hard rockers wouldn't dare express.
"I just figure there's got to be a better, or different, way to get your feelings across," Matheny says. "I want to be direct, even tender, at times, and to use subtlety. But I also want to have some humor and not take everything so seriously."
The band, which leans toward a melodic style of power pop, wants to bring a similar nuance to its music. Logan Matheny, Skip's brother, plays drums with understated rhythmic variations more in tune with Jim Keltner or Ken Coomer than with hard-rock players; Skip's wife, Timshel Matheny, adds soulful organ accents.
Their sound mistakenly gets labeled Americana or roots rock at times, likely because the music breathes even as it thrusts forward. In truth, though, it's simply a form of modern rock that follows a divergent path from the hard-pounding mainstream.
"We're hard to categorize, but we don't feel like we're a roots band," Matheny says. "We're not writing songs to light candles and drink tea to. We want to get your butt moving. But we also think good melodies and good lyrics are essential."
Their background, including work with power-pop standard-bearer Chris Stamey of the dB's, underscores their rock leanings. The band formed 11 years ago in Chapel Hill. They released the album Say Pop in 2002 on Outlook Records, then in 2003 signed with Hollywood Records. But the label never released anything, and eventually V2 Records bought their Hollywood recordings and put out The Wee Hours Revue in 2006.
So Oh Tall Tree In Your Ear draws on several years of demos—and benefits from the group's move to Music City. Matheny and his wife arrived in May 2007, and their songs quickly gained a following among local music publishers and talent scouts. Roman Candle eventually signed with Carnival Recordings, a Nashville indie owned by veteran producer Frank Liddell.
"I know it sounds pretentious, but we really believe in music as an art form," Matheny says. "To us, good rock songs are some of the most important things in the world. We know how music can move you. When it's good, it just knocks out all the corners. We just want to do our best to add to that."
This post just introduced me to Justice Yeldham. Holy shit.
Never heard of any of these artists?
Awesome!Love everything Jerry puts out. Definitely check out the Tue Mommies bandcamp for more golden…
the no droning rule is fucking dumb
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning...wait, what? That's not napalm??!"