w/ The Station
Wed. March 18
1977 Maybank Hwy.
While the number of official members in Quasiphonics comes to a baker’s dozen, there are never that many musicians onstage at one time.
Anchored by College of Charleston music program grads John Durham (guitar) and Aaron Firetag (bass), the group takes advantage of their wide talent pool of friends. One show might be almost country, featuring vocalist Erin Kinard and a slew of Neil Young-type covers. The next gig, you’ll hear them playing Tortoise-esque jazz and funk.
“We leave it wide open,” says Durham, over tea in the zen garden behind Teavana on King Street. “It’s interesting how the addition of one musician can change a song.”
Durham makes it easier on this writer, providing a hand-written sheet that reads, “Quasiphonics Family” at the top, followed by as many as four musicians listed next to an instrument. Frequent collaborators include bassists Ben Wells and Richard Horton, drummers Stuart White and Amps Durham, and keyboardist Sam Sfirri.
“I feel so lucky every time I play with these guys,” says Durham. “If it was economically feasible, everyone would be in the band. It’s amazing to hear these songs that started out with me in my room playing guitar coming alive with all these people.”
Quasiphonics began in 2007, when Durham and Firetag sat down together to write a reggae song. Raised on bluegrass, Firetag was a big fan of Peter Rowan’s Crucial Reggae project.
“Mandolin is a rhythmic instrument, in the sense that for a bluegrass band, it was essentially the drummer,” says Firetag. “Just that chop — I thought it would lend itself really well to a reggae chop. I don’t know why there aren’t more reggae mandolinists.”
The first song, “Too Hot for December,” became the foundation of a three song, 45-minute EP, titled Dubbish.
“Not surprisingly, no one called us back,” laughs Durham. So they went back to the grindstone, constructed seven more songs, and condensed them into a 10-track album of the same Dubbish name.
“When we first started out, the idea was to write a bunch of reggae songs for the hell of it,” Durham says. “Then we decided to consciously write some funk songs. So it became a sea of reggae with islands of funk. And now it’s a sea of everything.”
Between all the incarnations of Quasiphonics that exist today, Durham and Firetag have three dozen originals. They’re stalwarts at the Pour House and the Kickin’ Chicken, and their sound has grown beyond the reggae/dub beats into funk-rock opuses.
They’ve lent their talents to everything from Zep’s “Moby Dick” to “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.”
“We do the Final Fantasy 7 song,” says Durham. “I hope one dork in the audience notices. It’s like, ‘I know what you did when you were 17.'”
Following the show at the Pour House with mid-western rockers the Station, the group will make their first trek to Asheville’s Emerald Lounge on Thursday.
“I used to think, if I could write one song, I’d be on top of the world,” says Durham. “If I could tell my 14-year-old self about this…”
Durham carries a journal, filled with random wordings, chord progressions, and lyrics that could become potential songs. The band name came from those musings.
A sneak peek at their forthcoming five-song EP demonstrates both Durham’s capabilities in song construction and the intricacies of the musicians. Heavy on Pink Floydian synth, “Disco Stew” is a grooving, danceable journey through time signatures and rhythms, while “Stereo Space Command” feels like a flight through an ’80s-era space movie.
“Songwriting used to really intimidate me. It mystified me a bit,” says Durham.
Although he’s often the originator of an idea or progression, Durham doesn’t consider the songs his.
“I can play bass, but I can’t add the nuance that others do,” he says. “Whoever is playing, it’s as much their song as it is mine.”
There are lot of folks to share with, but it’s all in the Quasiphonics family.
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City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.