At first listen, the music of the Futurebirds might sound like some forgotten gem from the 1970s, but halfway through the group’s eponymous debut EP, it becomes clear why this Athens-based band is generating more buzz than a beehive hit with a stick.
The group infuses their sound with a thoroughly modern spin, reinventing choral alt-country with contradictions aplenty.
Most of them share vocal duties and can claim multi-instrumental skills, with Carter King on drums, guitar, and banjo; and Payton Bradford also on drums, mandolin, and guitar. Daniel Womack alternates between guitar and banjo, while Thomas Johnson takes his turn on guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Brannen Miles plays bass, and Dennis Love tackles the steel drum. Jessica Holt, vocalist, is an occasional contributor.
Further evidence that the Futurebirds are indeed of the future, and not just a rediscovered relic? Check out the requisite displays of youthfulness: ill-advised facial hair, ironic T-shirts, and plenty of good-natured sarcasm and silliness at every turn. Example: King replies with an earnest “Yes, ma’am” when asked a question, and then gleefully attributes the band’s success and hype to “a good night’s sleep, thorough stretch routines, and calling our mothers every day.”
Taking their name from a class King took on “poultry evaluation,” the Futurebirds were originally just a bunch of friends playing in other bands, drinking at the same bar night after night. And then something changed.
“Last fall, we started getting together to play for fun, and we could just tell we were all on the same wavelength,” King recalls. “On one occasion, we were playing some covers, screwing around. Payton was playing an upright piano which was completely indiscernible amongst the rest of us banging out annoyingly loud electric guitars. He was gritting his teeth and profusely sweating. His face was like a fire engine as he mercilessly beat the keys. He stood up and kicked his chair across the room, and continued to play what could, to this day, be the greatest inaudible piano solo ever played. Ever.”
There aren’t a lot of pounding piano solos on the Futurebirds’ debut, but every song sounds perfectly homespun, as if it was recorded with a giant mic in the middle of a circle, with the band singin’ and bangin’ and strummin’, guided only by instinct, not outcome. The EP matches the Futurebirds’ personality perfectly: beautifully offbeat and slightly sloppy, full of rockin’ hymns that could alternately soothe a drunk or incite a cowboy.