Aural States Fest II: Spotlights – Noble Lake, Vincent Black Shadow, Height With Friends

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MP3: Noble Lake – Morgantown from Heyday (2008)

As the saying says, when one door closes, another one opens. In 2009, Baltimore folk outfit Noble Lake saw the departure of Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner, whose own band Wye Oak reached new levels of success that swallowed most of their free time. James Sarsgaard, the band’s leader and singer who lived in Brooklyn for a period, managed to keep writing and performing, sometimes soldiering on as a solo act. But he’s back in Baltimore now, with a new album in tow and a pretty solid cast of Baltimore musicians backing him when available. Where some of the city’s other folk acts tend to deliver fuller, more power-packed compositions, Noble Lake’s music treads in a more time-lost and timeless arena, feeling more delicate and sticking to some strict narrative forms.

We talked with Sarsgaard about the project’s transitional period and plans for the future:

AS: You’ve mentioned that 2009 was a bit of a chaotic year with regard to the ever-shifting lineup, and a new album. Is it a bit of a relief to just get up on stage and play?

James Sarsgaard: Yes. I wish we could play more often. I’m still working on getting a more permanent lineup in place, and just getting things rolling again has been a bit tough. I’m not very computer savvy and as a result I don’t go after shows and promotion and such quite as aggressively as I should.

AS: You’ve also remarked that you tried “to get a handle on this whole band thing once and for all.” Was there ever a point where you thought the band wouldn’t go on, or that you and Justin would have to soldier on as a duet?

JS: I don’t know. I mean, I’ll always be writing songs and playing them in some fashion. When I was living in Brooklyn last year, I was basically playing as a solo act. It’s been kind of tough, and a bit discouraging for me lately, the whole nuts and bolts of playing music. I’m 32, and I work full time as a carpenter which makes it hard to devote a lot of time to the band. But it’s an ebb and flow thing for me, and I have a feeling this year might find me back on the horse again, to use a silly metaphor, with Noble Lake.

AS: How did that situation change the writing for the new album?

JS: The new album was mostly written between ’07 an ’09, so it captured a lot of the transitions that were going on over that time for me and everyone involved. I certainly wrote most of the songs, at least the music, with a vision of them being played by Andy, Jenn and Justin, and we went into the studio with that in mind. The songs I’m writing for the next record are more adaptable to new ideas, and I think when I start recording it will be a much different process.

AS: Were Steve Strohmeir and Walker Teret part of the recording/writing, or did you and Justin write parts for them, and other possible fill-ins, to play?

JS: They weren’t involved at all in the recording or writing of the last one. They both are down to play with us when they can, and I hope to play more with them in the near future. They’re both great players with a lot to offer, I don’t feel the need to write anything for them!

AS: You also mentioned that the band was looking for a label to release said album. What’s the latest?

JS: Nothing yet. Seems like a tough time for that. We’re still looking though, and one way or another I hope to have something by spring or summer.

AS: Can we expect a tour to start 2010 right?

JS: I’m hoping to do a southeast tour this spring. Then maybe Europe solo in the summer

AS: Who are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

JS: I’m glad to be sharing the stage with Leprechaun Catering. They can play the shit out of a rubber band. Also totally psyched to see Pontiak, of course. There are alot of bands I don’t know of particulary so I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Of course, of course VBS, Caleb Stine, Height and all my Baltimore love children. Can’t Wait!


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MP3: Vincent Black Shadow – Sheer Heart Attack (Queen cover) from Nazi Gold b/w Sheer Heart Attack (2009)

Raucous rabble rousers Vincent Black Shadow make one hell of a racket. They deliver one of the most visceral and party-heavy sets around, and were one of the first must-have artists that sprang into my mind when I started coordinating the lineup. If you haven’t experienced them, you are in for a treat. Their latest release last year Nazi Gold b/w Sheer Heart Attack shows them doing what they do best: kicking out the jams (including an inspired Queen cover) with sweaty, shit-eating grins on their faces.

Guitarist Dan O sends along this dispatch so you know what to expect for 2010:

The Shadow boys have been taking a break from playing out (cept the occasional rager here and there like this festival) cause they’re writing a record. It’s called BALTAMONT. It’s the be-all end-all Baltimore fuck off scum rock record. Rob Girardi at Lord Baltimore Recording is going to capture the tracks, Forcefield Records out of Richmond is gonna put it on the street, and the boys are going to take it on the road this fall. After 2009 put the zap on our heads and our asses in the gutter (and friends and family in the god damn grave), you better believe we’ve got 2010 by the balls good and early.


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MP3: Height With Friends – Travel Rap (Nasty Millionaire Remix)

Height With Friends is one Dan Keech (Height), backed by an ever-evolving, always interesting collective of producers, beat-makers, rhyme-sayers, and verse-speakers. This project is arguably the frontline of a burgeoning group of young hip-hop acts in Baltimore, which is appropriate given how much their sound and style just feel spiritually aligned with the city.

A weighty, reflective, complex melange with no small amount of poetics. Height took some time to let us know about current affairs in the HWF world:

AS: You’ve got a new LP ready to drop later this year. Fill us in on what it is (Height solo, Height With Friends or something new).

Dan Keech: The new record is called Bed Of Seeds. Almost all of the songs were crafted by the five people that currently perform live as Height With Friends. (Mickey Free, Gavin Riley, Emily Slaughter, Travis Allen and myself).

AS: How does it differ from Highlands?

DK: It’s totally different. With a few notable exceptions, most of the music was composed by me, and brought to life by Mickey as a producer and Travis as a musician. I wrote the words, but Emily and Gavin put extreme work into making vocal arrangements that work well live and on record.

Unlike all our other releases, the songs have chord changes and bridges and other elements of traditional music. I was influenced by rappers who use non-rap song structures, (like Whodini), and non-rappers that kind of rap, (like Andre Williams).

AS: What do you have planned for your summer tour? What towns are you hitting up that you are looking forward to?

DK: We are touring the whole country in April and May. The album won’t be officially out by then, but the whole idea is to spread the word that it’s about to drop. We’ll be touring again soon after that. Charleston, South Carolina is my favorite tour stop. We’ve played there four or five times and its always seemed like a crazy uptopia where people like music and don’t act the fool.

AS: Who are you looking forward to at the fest?

DK: I can’t front. All parts of it are going to be fire, so I can’t really single one act out. I will say that Pontiak closing the night is a great look. I played at an Independence Day show that they put on in Virginia called Friendstival. They ended the night with a long, epic set. I was really into it.

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