Back Roads to Far Places
The Langston Chronicles, made up of singer Hallie Meushaw and guitarist Scott Bryant, conjure up a magical mix of rock and roll spirit and country longing on the band's debut album, Back Roads to Far Places. The eleven songs on this record are loaded up with emotion, texture and atmosphere, full of dynamic shifts ranging from the infectious folk pop of 'Idaho', "Gone Down a Highway" and 'King of Tennessee' to the wide open sonic landscapes of 'Flatland, Ohio' and 'Castro and the Jukebox Girl'. These songs build, hit crescendos, then surprise you when they drop off cliffs...and that's how they work. The Langston Chronicles seamlessly blend rock 'n' roll, country, Britpop, folk and blues, all with fluidity, understanding, honesty and respect. To this band, genres and categories are meaningless, and all that matters is whether the music is good or bad, honest or false. Whether it makes you feel something. Whether it makes you want to get off your ass and change the world, or at least just dance and sing along. Back Roads to Far Places. A record of and about journeys. A geographical journey along forgotten or often overlooked back roads, from small, lonesome southern towns, to the industrial cities of the northeast, across the flatlands of America's midsection and the endless desert landscapes of the west, all the way out to the big dreams of the Hollywood Hills. A philosophical journey through the many struggles and triumphs of life, the wild mood swings of growing up and trying to find one's place in an increasingly complex, mechanized and commoditized world. And a musical journey, crossing through, bending and mashing up sounds from traditional sunset country rock (think Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed, Ryan Adams), to female folk pop (Natalie Merchant, Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch), to Britpop (Travis, the Cocteau Twins), and on to the fractured deconstructions, atmosphere and nuance of Wilco. On Back Roads, The Langston Chronicles create a soundtrack for this collection of journeys: rustic-flavored, honest and personal music that has such an organic feel, it sounds like the band is jamming right there in your living room. Hallie and Scott first met and started performing together in Charlottesville, Virginia, then after a few gigs moved down to Atlanta and it's dynamic acoustic music scene. Hallie grew up literally surrounded by music, having been born at home encircled by musicians and family friends strumming Dylan tunes, and then spending her childhood years on an artist colony just outside of Washington, D.C. Her father was a professional bluegrass musician, her mother an actress and director, her grandparents performing musicians and singers. From an early age, music was everywhere for Hallie, and she absorbed it all, from the standards of the American musical canon to Led Zeppelin and the Smiths. Scott cut his musical teeth in the Chapel Hill, NC indie rock scene, touring the southeast as a drummer and singer/guitarist for several bands, all the while learning and exploring the craft of songwriting and storytelling the old-fashioned way: on the road, in bars, staying up all night listening to, studying and talking about records, and generally just living and breathing music. In 2005, Bryant's "Someday Lovesong", cut as a rave-up rocker by his band Parklife, was a finalist in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. On Back Roads, The Langston Chronicles recast the track as a toe-tapping ode to desire. After moving to Atlanta and playing some shows, Hallie and Scott decided to cut a few acoustic demos of songs they'd been writing. They enlisted close friends Rob Clay, Sam Clowney and Grammy-nominated producer John Custer to help put the demos on tape and headed up for a weekend in Custer's Raleigh, NC studio in February 2007. Five minutes into the sessions, after one live take of "Idaho", they felt magic in the room and immediately said, we gotta make a record. So was born Back Roads to Far Places. As Hallie tells it: "You know, we didn't have a lot of time or money to make this record, so it was really done in a few late nights up at Custer's place in Raleigh. He's moved to a new spot now because his old place was below sea level and prone to flooding, but the place was just a barebones industrial looking building that he'd turned into a studio. Not a studio in the conventional L.A. or New York sense, a cozy place with a couple of rooms with couches, a fridge, and just albums, instruments and cool artifacts everywhere. There's no control booth so to speak, it's just Custer at his desk, and you sit right there with him the whole time. He's a very technical engineer, but he's really a producer in the Rick Rubin sense: he knows how to get the best out of you, he believes in you more than you believe in yourself. And he's just pushing you as you record, directing you through his hand motions and facial expressions: peaceful and fluid arm motions when he wants you to lay back, and then full-on metal air guitar when he wants you to rock it out. It's just a very organic, exciting way to make a record." Scott recalls: "You know, there wasn't any calculation about making this record, no long speeches or theorizing. We sent Rob, Sam and Custer a CD of the acoustic demos Hallie and I had made at home...and not one of them listened to it. I mean, not even a note. So we show up to record the first day and Rob and Sam look at me like, so what do you want to do, we didn't really listen to the demos. But Rob, Sam and I have played together for years, we're sort of musical blood brothers, so we opened up some red wine and just kind of went for it on the spot. It was just, here are the chord changes, these are the words, now let's just press play and see what happens. The first song we did was "Idaho". I showed them the chord changes and basic song structure, went to the drum room, and we laid down the basic track in 5 minutes. I walked out of the drum room and said, "well, that's pretty much the arrangement, now let's put it on tape." And Custer's just laughing at me, he's got his guitar out and he's already recording this ghostly guitar track that hides behind the vocal, and he's got this huge smile like, man, we just caught some magic, now get back in that drum room and let's keep rolling. Custer just has this ear, this sense of knowing when things are what they should be. So we just took that same approach on the other tracks, doing most of them that same weekend. We'd start at 6pm, stop regularly for cheap Mexican food across the street and for many conversations about sports, movies and politics, and then go until 7am...for three nights straight, switching from red wine to coffee at around 4 in the morning. And that's really the story of how we made this record." "You know, this whole band is just about the songs," says Hallie. "And I guess the songs are really a way to communicate, to feel something and try to communicate and hopefully share that feeling, either at a show or on a record. Scott and I sit around our apartment all the time and just play songs, in their rawest form, acoustic guitar and vocal. And we thought about making the record with just acoustic guitar and vocal, but felt like we wanted to create and explore some atmospheres and textures on the record that you're not gonna get with just an acoustic guitar and vocal. We can get the emotions, the feelings and the vibe with just the two of us, from the way we approach a song; but for this record, we really wanted to explore some different sonic landscapes. So we called in Rob, Sam and Custer to help paint the picture with all those impressionistic strokes, the guitars that suggest rather than divulge, the rhythms that bounce and build rather than force themselves. We really wanted to add those textures and landscapes to songs that were songs, good songs in and of themselves. We play mostly as a duo, so our songs have to be complete and tell a compelling story with just acoustic guitar and vocal." Bryant chimes in: "And a lot of it just Hallie's voice, the emotional resonance that she naturally has, the classic beauty with the organic soul. I remember the first time I heard her sing up in Charlottesville, I was just mesmerized. She's got the stuff you can't train into a voice...life experience and perspective and an understanding of how to put that into your voice to communicate. Hallie was born with this amazing voice, but what really does it for me is that she knows how to breathe her life into that voice when she sings. And that's rare. So we first and foremost write songs, songs that we can just play on guitar and vocal and sing live around town or wherever we are. Songs that tell stories...sometimes using fragmented, impressionistic or stream-of-consciousness lyrics to tell those stories. But stories. And we want our songs to be able to live and breathe without relying on a certain pedal or instrument or effect. A song should just work as a song no matter how you play it. I mean, Hallie can just sing you "Idaho" and that should be it. You don't even need the guitar. But when you have the guitar, ok, that's something different. And when you have the ethereal, haunting reverb guitar and the drumkit and the bass and organ, a full band just going for it, well, then you've got something very different, then you've got Back Roads to Far Places. But you know, the song itself has to be there for any of those other things to work. So if you want to talk about this record being a collection of journeys, well, maybe that's right...but it's a journey that starts and ends with the song." The Langston Chronicles are: Hallie Meushaw: Vocals Scott Bryant: Guitar, Vocals.