“There’s always an intensity that engulfs this band,” says singer Carmen Keigans, blonde chanteuse of Atlanta-based alternative band I-Nine. “Maybe it’s just the period of our lives we’re in.”
In just two years, I-Nine has relocated from their midland S.C. origins to Atlanta, established themselves on the scene as a powerfully melodic and moody ethereal-rock act, landed a spot on the original soundtrack to a hip film (“Same in Any Language” on Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown), and signed to a subsidiary of RCA/Sony Records. Not bad for an unassuming foursome of Orangeburg buds.
The band recently celebrated the release of a six-song live EP (simply titled Live EP) and look forward to a wider release of a proper full-length debut (recorded in L.A. and Atlanta) on J Records later this year.
Keigans and her bandmates — cellist and guitarist Bryan Gibson, guitarist Brian Whitman, and bassist Matt Heath — were childhood playmates and graduates of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. All four found themselves at the University of South Carolina. Gibson started playing cello. Heath studied psychology. Keigans concentrated on literature. Whitman studied computers.
During their freshman year, they formed a pop/rock band and started to write songs and perform under the name “Encaustic.”
“I-Nine has actually only officially been together for two years,” says Keigans. “Three of us played under the name ‘Encaustic’ for a number of years while we were at USC. Bryan Gibson was the kind of musician who could play anything you put in front of him — stringed instruments, piano, anything. He’s a great guitar soloist, too. Matt Heath played guitar and sang in Encasutic, but here he plays bass and sings mostly back-up vocals. Brian Whitman plays acoustic and electric guitar. When we write songs, I’ll play a little bit on piano or guitar, but the guys are such great musicians, it’s usually unnecessary.”
The band recently welcomed Atlanta-based drummer Benji Lee, a longtime Charleston musician, to their touring and recording lineup.
The Live EP, released on J Records last month, only cost the band $20 to record at a 2005 show at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga. Despite the no-frills production value, the band’s unusually delicate guitar and cello work —paired with Keigans’ soaring vocal stylings — captured the attention of J Records and others.
“The EP is a really live, low-key kind of gig that we did at Eddie’s Attic last year,” says Keigans. “We recorded it and it was released — all unexpectedly. I was really nervous about having labels and agents hear it, to be honest, because it wasn’t a big, professional recording. A lot of labels wanted us to fly up to New York and perform — that’s really something for a pack of S.C. kids … fancy dinners and studios and all that. It was really exciting.”
Since the release of the EP, some fans and critics have compared her dynamic singing style and emotive enunciation to the likes of Alanis, Fiona, Jewel, and Janis. Keigans’ self-styled vocalizations occasionally resemble the Nordic lilt of Björk or the big-hearted timbre of Kate Bush.
“Björk? Wow, I’m glad to hear that one,” says Keigans. “I’ve always loved her. She has a dynamic and distinctive style — you can hear every facet of the structure and delivery. Actually, the musicality of some of our songs are a lot like Björk’s solo work.”
“Our live show now is much more rock-oriented. It’s louder and even more dynamic. Everybody’s plugged in and there are electric solos. It’s still very melodic. We still do occasional acoustic sets — sometimes in the middle of big show — but for a venue like the Windjammer, it’ll will be a rock show for sure.” Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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