Date: Saturday, April 9 at 8:30 p.m.
Venue: O’Daly’s Irish Pub
For decades, Athens, Georgia, has been home to one of the most active music scenes in the Southeast. R.E.M., The B-52s and Drive-By Truckers count the city as a jump-off for successful careers. Even though they’ve since moved on, Futurebirds may also be listed as Athens born. With a psychedelic style, Futurebirds have spent the past eight years steadily building their reputation, with great success.
Their latest release is “Hotel Parties.” Before the band makes its SouthSounds debut, vocalist/guitarist Thomas Johnson sat down with Lagniappe and elaborated on all the life experience that went into this album’s creation.
Stephen Centanni: SouthSounds is dedicated to Southeast music. When it comes to Southeastern music, Athens is pretty legendary, and it’s the scene where the Futurebirds got their start. What’s the Athens music scene like these days?
Thomas Johnson: None of us really live in Athens anymore. Despite that, I can say that music scene is still awesome. We have a lot of buds still in that scene. New Madrid is still there, and Roadkill Ghost Choir is a great band that’s going on up there. For some reason, interesting people making cool music continue to come to Athens. At this point, I feel like it’s not as much even tied to the past anymore. I guess it’s the reputation, because people still want to come there. It’s still vibrant, I’d say.
Centanni: You’re touring in support of “Hotel Parties,” an album built on the concept of spending six years on the road trying to make this music thing happen, which you guys seem to be doing successfully. How would you compare those early days of the Futurebirds to the present?
Johnson: Well, it’s way different, for sure. When you first start doing it, you’re so excited at the prospect of doing it. You get to travel the country and go to all these awesome places and see your friends and play awesome music. Then, at some point, the initial burst of energy wears off, and you think, “Man, if we’re going to do this, then we need to start making money.”
For us, we switched into a different mode, where we took everything that we did more seriously. It’s not that we don’t still have a great time or that we don’t want to have fun every once in awhile or all the time. We still love playing. We took a little more professional approach in the way we get ready for shows and play shows. I think that’s how it comes through on the record. Some of the early stuff is all over the place. We focused in a lot more and tried to hone our craft a little more.
Centanni: Carter King called this an “accidental concept album.” When did you guys realize the concept was forming?
Johnson: I think it’s natural for that to happen. For the most part, you’re spending a lot of time with the same people, and they’re all having the same experiences. It’s two different perceptions, obviously. The experience is different for everyone, as far as what they get out of it, what they like about it and what they do with it. You’ve got six guys doing the same thing. So, you’re bound to have the same struggles and triumphs.
You have the same highs and lows as the guys on the road with you. From doing that, all of us have relationships of some sort. It’s experiencing the breakdown of relationships and the give and take of doing what we do. All of it was happening to us at the same time.
Like I said, after that first burst, we had to sit back and focus on moving on as adults, as opposed to being a bunch of kids. Maybe we were late to the party on that. We are 29. When we got together to make this record, a lot of these themes came into being. We weren’t like, “Let’s write songs like this.” It just came out of everybody, because that’s what we were going through.
Centanni: One part of being in a touring band is going back home and dealing with being at home. “Xmas Drags” is such a great song that nails that addiction to the road that a lot of touring bands deal with when they go home.
Johnson: It’s a cycle, I guess. When you get home, you’re ready to be there, just to have that familiarity or your girl or your house or your bed. That part is awesome. Then, you start settling in and noticing a lot of day-to-day drag. It’s not to criticize people that have more normal jobs. It’s just something people do, and some people want to do that. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Having the focus we have, when you settle into that home life for long enough, you get to a point where you realize you didn’t want to do that. When you try to get back into that mode at home, you just start doing like “Xmas Drags” talks about. You explain something to people that they don’t understand, and they don’t even give a sh*t. They think you’re an idiot.
It puts you in a cycle where you realize why you wanted to be on the road in the first place. Hopefully, around that time is when the next tour is going to start. Sometimes, it doesn’t. It’s definitely give and take.
Centanni: Another interesting track is “Deadbeat Hits,” which is about a musician deciding whether they’re going to, for lack of better word, sell out with their music. Is that song about anyone in particular?
Johnson: No, I don’t think so. When you’re not having a huge level of success, you get into this mode where you’re like, “Maybe, we should be trying to write songs like this. Maybe we should write a song like the radio has.” Then you come to the realization that you can’t chase that stuff. You have to be true to your artistry.
Then you hear some of this stuff, and you can’t help but be frustrated by some of it that is successful by these people that got plucked out of “American Idol” or something and then into stardom. They never were on the road the way we are. I guess a lot of the album goes with that too. It’s trying to forget about the sh*t you can’t control. There’s nothing you can do about it, obviously.
Centanni: So, what’s been the most memorable hotel party the Futurebirds have had?
Johnson: Aw, geez! I have to think on that and what I can actually say about them. I don’t know. Most of our best hotel parties are actually not at hotels. They’re at people’s houses, people jumping on stools and TVs out of hotels. There’s not one that sticks out, I guess.
Centanni: So, what’s the next Futurebirds project?
Johnson: We’ve been touring on this for a while now. We’re about to go and start demo’ing and working on an EP that we’ll hopefully release sometime in the not-too-distant future. So we’re going to work on that and demo’ing for the new record. We’re hopefully going to have some cool things coming down the pike, release-wise. We’re starting to get all the new music ready and trying to keep this thing out there and growing.