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Now It's Overhead:
Q&A with Andy LeMaster

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: April 4, 2004

Now It's Overhead
w/Statistics, Race for Titles
Thursday, April 8
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha

The core of Now It's Overhead is Andy LeMaster, the 28-year-old Athens, Georgia, native who is as well known for his production chops and recording studio, Chase Park Transduction, as his reedy voice, musicianship and song-writing skills.

With the release of Now It's Overhead's shimmering, ethereal debut album in September 2001, the band was the first non-Omaha act to be adopted into the insular, family-like label known as Saddle Creek Records. But in many ways, LeMaster had been one of the brood for years as a member of Bright Eyes credited not only as a sideman but engineer on 1998's Letting Off the Happiness album.

Now It's Overhead formed more by fluke than by plan when LeMaster decided to get some songs he'd written down on tape, pulling together then-fellow Athenians Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor, a.k.a. Azure Ray, along with drummer/vocalist Clay Leverett.

Unlike the debut, Fall Back Open is a calculated creation, and includes among its guest performers Michael Stipe and old friend Oberst. Its sound is built on layers of rising, falling, chiming, echoing guitars and LeMaster's almost boyish, cutting vocals that drip with both wonder and ennui. Beneath it all is the constantly driving percussion. Sometimes it pounds with a militaristic rat-tat-tat, heavy on snare and cadence. Other times it rolls like smoky, trip-hop funk.

We caught up with LeMaster while he was riding in the back of a 16-passenger Dodge van just outside of Philadelphia on the way to a gig at North Star with tour mates Statistics.




How did you got first got involved with Saddle Creek Records?

LeMaster: A little over eight years ago, an old band I was in called Drip played a show with Commander Venus in Pensacola. Conor (Oberst), Tim (Kasher) and Robb (Nansel) and I hit it off and made sure we kept touch and played in each other's cities over the years. Another thing that brought us together was our mutual love for a South Carolina band called Sunbrain. Commander Venus and Drip ended up doing a split single together.

When did you first start working with Bright Eyes?

At about that time, Conor was getting Bright Eyes going as a basement project and I played and recorded some of it. Our relationship evolved based on a like-minded appreciation for music. We recorded half of Letting Off the Happiness at my studio with Mike Mogis and a couple Athens musicians. As soon as Bright Eyes started touring, I became part of that.

Is there a style, a mood, an approach toward music that makes the Saddle Creek family a natural fit for Now It's Overhead?

I think so, but maybe not so much specifically based on any genre. It's mostly shared virtues and an approach toward making music that's genuine and comes from somewhere that's sincere and uncompromised by any sort of negative aspects of the music business or motives that are not about just creating art. There's no commercialization. Once I made my first album it seemed obvious to put it out on Saddle Creek.

Let's talk about Fall Back Open. When and how was it recorded, and what was your inspiration throughout the writing process?

It was recorded over the past two years. I have a recording studio in Athens where it and my first record were recorded. The first one was almost done by accident. I started writing songs and before I knew it, I had a bunch of them ready to record. I realized there was enough cohesiveness behind it to form a band.

The band existed already when it came time to record the new one, and I guess it was a little more intentional. There's a longing to the whole record, and the theme is kind of vast. It deals with seeking fulfillment and searching for something and realizing that what you've found isn't it. Each song is an effort to put an end to the cycle. It's not an incredibly specific story line, but the ache and longing of it is very unified.

The motivation for all these songs is never too far behind what I'm experiencing in my life. This is where I am and what I've been thinking about. The questions keep getting bigger; I guess my scope isn't centered on me. I didn't feel inspired or justified writing songs about the personal pains of any relationships. What I was really inspired to do was get to the bottom of slightly bigger questions about how my life affects other people.









"I didn't feel inspired or justified writing songs about the personal pains of any relationships. What I was really inspired to do was get to the bottom of slightly bigger questions about how my life affects other people. "














"The Creek scene has grown more out of an attempt to create something out of nothing, or something more than what was there."



If there is one aspect of your music that's particularly distinctive it's your use of percussion in your songs.

I'm obsessive about the beats. It's a backbone and one of the things I figure out first. It also helps me decide if I like a song or not. Clay and I work hand-in-hand, and depending on the songs, I spend hours just trying different things editing-wise with computer stuff. There is a specific idea of what I want and expect from a beat, and I guess that's why each one has a personality. I'm not likely to go with any regular beat. I specifically try to use cymbals as infrequently as possible, and that makes for the ominous, mysterious, maybe dramatic aspect of the music.

Is it hard to tear yourself away from your studio to go on the road, or is it something you crave?

I do crave it. It's a great contrast to the studio, which is total solitary confinement. You get on the road and it's people all the time every day, constant movement and doing things on the fly. It reasserts the core of what music is all about, and is the most direct way to experience it.

Touring with Bright Eyes is totally different, but I like doing both a lot. Anytime you play someone else's songs it's a challenge, and it makes you a better musician. You take a different approach and it expands your personality, really, because sometimes you have to reach far to make sure you're connecting with the songs.

Who's with you on this tour?

There are four of us this time. Clay Leverett on drums and two guys from the Athens band Maserati, Steve Scarbourough on bass and Coley Dennis on keyboards and guitar. Orenda and Maria are still involved with Now It's Overhead, but they're on an Azure Ray tour right now. It works good to have a slightly revolving lineup. There are songs that we can play with these guys that we wouldn't play with them, and vice versa.

I have to ask about Michael Stipe. Is his participation on your album a result of being a fellow musician in Athens?

We've become friends over the years. He's a really great guy. I worked on some REM stuff in the studio, so I didn't feel absurd asking him to do it, and it worked out great. It was a thrill, but any sort of initial freak-out factor had already been dealt with since I've known him for several years. It felt really good and natural, but at the same time I had to check myself.

You've been around Omaha over the years. How would you compare it with Athens?

There are similarities. Athens' music scene was started a long time ago in the late '70s and early '80s, and had such a big blowup that it formed a permanent music community. Athens can support a lot of musicians and artists because the costs are low and it's very liberal. Everyone knows each other and you don't have to work all the time to survive.

There are more bands in Athens than Omaha, but it's not as focused a music scene as there is with Saddle Creek. The core people in both cities are very similar in what they like to do and their attitudes toward music and art and everything.

The Creek scene has grown more out of an attempt to create something out of nothing, or something more than what was there. Saddle Creek has an advantage in that they had to fight and work so hard to get what they have. That's really a pretty good work ethic.

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Published in The Omaha Reader March 31, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.