The Azalea City music scene has its share of “hired gun” musicians. These seasoned musicians establish their musical legacy through their live and studio collaborations with both new and established projects. While many thrive financially and artistically from this lifestyle, others have spent years behind the scenes composing originals with the hopes of one day seeing it evolve into their own project.
Guitarist Frankie Crawford has spent years working with bands such as The Volks, Sergio & the Satin Dogs, Jake Burford, Charlie Muncaster (Muscadine Bloodline) and Symone French & Trouille Troupe. All the while, Crawford has been composing guitar foundations for a project now called Land in Villegas that has begun releasing singles, which are available on all streaming services. These singles will eventually become the band’s first release, “A Sweaty Mind.”
With Crawford taking lead guitar duties, Land in Villegas’ lineup includes guitarist Trey Norman, bassist Seadon Faulkner, drummer Justin “Skinny” Skinner and vocalist Chad Davidson. Crawford’s introduction to these musicians came from his time with the Chad Davidson Band. Afterward, the group “adopted” him into their “little circle of musicians.” Crawford said Land in Villegas is not only a chance for him to bring the skeletons of his songs to life but also a chance for his bandmates to add their own musical touches. Crawford sees the creation of “A Sweaty Mind” as a chance for all of them to express themselves individually and collectively while showcasing the musical chemistry between the members.
“I’ve only wanted to play with these guys,” Crawford said. “I’ve had some of this music for 10 years, and I was really frustrated with gigging all the time. It’s not like I don’t enjoy playing cover tunes, but I don’t get to choose the direction. I don’t really get to show what I can do as a player, because I’m trying to be there for the song. This [Land in Villegas] is something for everyone to express themselves as players.”
The four singles released by Land in Villegas so far are an eclectic mix of fresh jams for the local music scene. While each track maintains its own sonic persona, Crawford’s guitar licks remain the constant trait. Throughout the tracks, this guitar sound pulls tonal qualities from guitarists such as Jimmy Herring, Mark Knopfler and John Mayer with Crawford adding his own razor’s edge of rock ’n’ roll.
This guitar style can best be experienced within the bright funky grooves of “I Got My Money the Right Way” and the earnest soulful measures of “A Migrating Civilization of Remotes.” Davidson’s smooth vocals and lyrical work are also something to behold through the Southern-fried rock ballad “Lotus Locust” and the hip-hop-laden “Bob Ricky’s Mental Breakdown.”
All the while, Land in Villegas’ collective work on these four singles is represented through impressive arrangements that demonstrate a shared understanding of the requirements of each song. If these four tracks lay out the groundwork for a bigger release, then Land in Villegas has established a foundational sound that will resonate throughout the band’s versatile future efforts.
Once Land in Villegas decided it was time for “A Sweaty Mind” to come to life, David MacRae’s Dog Dreams Studio is where the group decided to build each track from Crawford’s guitar arrangements. Crawford first met MacRae when they were both taking lessons from Mobile guitar legend Corky Hughes. Later, Crawford found himself in MacRae’s studio laying tracks for The Volks. After that session, MacRae invited Crawford to return to Dog Dreams whenever he needed a studio. Crawford accepted his invitation for the creation of “A Sweaty Mind.”
“I called him one day and told him I wanted to take him up on his offer, and he said, ‘Come on,’” Crawford explained. “He’s been so great to work with. I don’t have a lot of money to put a record together, and he’s been a huge help, because he’s doing it out of the kindness of his heart. He’s engineering everything. He’s doing a fantastic job, and the space is great. We’re all really comfortable there.”
Crawford said the songwriting process for the four singles began with his arrangements. After they were presented to the band, the band members were told to take whatever creative paths they saw fit for each song. As the members brainstormed and tracked their respective arrangements live in the studio, Crawford said he reminded the band that these cuts were no longer his. The songs now belonged to Land in Villegas as a whole.
“We do so much playing cover music and doing it for work,” he said. “I was like, ‘Play whatever you want to play. This is for you and not anybody else.’ So many times you end up playing music as a working musician, and there are so many stipulations as to what you should play and how you should play it. I’ve got so much faith in these guys that I didn’t care what they did. I just wanted them to do it however they wanted to do it. They came in and added their thing to the songs, and they really transformed them.”
Once the instrumental arrangements were complete, Crawford said the band would archive each track audibly and visually. The footage would then be passed on to Davidson. From there, Davidson would establish what he thought each track needed lyrically and vocally. Then, Davidson would join the band in the studio without giving any preview of what he had in store for them. Finally, the band would track live with Davidson in the sound both laying down lyrics and vocals. Crawford said one of the biggest surprises from this process was the first time he heard Davidson’s hip-hop flow for “Bob Ricky’s Mental Breakdown.”
“I didn’t expect it at all,” Crawford admitted. “Then, when you hear what he does, you’re like, ‘Wow, that really fits!’”
As previously mentioned, Land in Villegas’ four singles are currently available through all streaming platforms. Crawford said the public can expect more tracks to be released in the coming months. As far as a live show, locals should not be expecting Land in Villegas to go through the typical four-hour cover show format to introduce their originals in a live environment. While he has not renounced the “bread and butter” of his hired gun work, Crawford hopes to keep Land in Villegas pure of cover songs, especially considering how rewarding the creation process has been for the band.
“It’s been really fulfilling for all the guys,” Crawford said. “Everybody’s digging what’s happening. Every time we go in and record this stuff, and you hear your buddy playing, it’s awesome, and you want to play it again.”
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