Whether handling stripped-to-the-bone, emotionally tender ballads or poetic orchestral-pop full of pomp and poetry, Lindsay Holler’s Western Polaroids create an enormously attractive, melodious sound. The Charleston combo, fronted by singer/songwriter Lindsay Holler, bridges the little gaps between the indie-country, jazz, and artsy-rock corners of the scene.
Comprised of longtime musical colleagues (most of whom played with Holler in her previous ensemble, The Dirty Kids), the Western Polaroids made their official debut one year ago with an intimate performance at Redux Contemporary Art Center. At the time, Holler told City Paper, “Musically, we’re trying to veer off from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus route to concentrate on tonal textures and create layers … there’s still gonna be a bit of a country vibe hiding around in there, though.”
The lineup of Nick Jenkins on the drums, Ben Wells on the bass (electric and upright), Sam Sfirri on keys and percussion, and Bill Carson on electric guitar has remained solid all year. Holler and the crew have developed a strong bond. They aren’t as concerned with emulating the style of the Dirty Kids as much as building new songs from the singer’s latest lyrics and musical sketches. It’s a healthy, heartening situation.
“There is some older stuff that I think should get the Polaroid treatment,” Holler says of her vast song repertoire. “In both cases, every musician has their own background. Things have shifted around here and there, but that’s what I liked about that band, and that’s what I like about this band. I think it helps lending itself to sounding different. Everyone brings their thing in.”
The band’s new six-song mini-album Helltembre demonstrates this musical chemistry — from the bold and clever song arrangements and dynamics to the musician’s individual performances.
The elegance and emotive style of Holler’s 2007 solo album Love Gone Awry foreshadowed much of what works best on Helltembre — from the grandiose solo and choir-style singing and thumpy steadiness of opening song “Keep Bleeding” to the sparse melancholy of closing ballad “Bad Reputation.” Elements of old-time gospel and country, carnival-blues, soul, and classic pop abound. Helltembre feels like a major step ahead.
Local musician and audio engineer Josh Kaler (of Slow Runner) recorded and produced the tracks at his downtown studio Hello Telescope (previously nicknamed The Lions Den). Kaler was there from start to finish, recording, mixing, and mastering the collection. “It was a first for me,” he admits. “I had no role in the song order, although I remember specifically telling Lindsay to start the record with ‘Keep Bleeding.’
“It was a really quick process with the Polaroids,” he adds. “They’re all great musicians, so it was easy and a lot of fun. All the parts were pretty much there before the recording started, which is always a plus. My role, besides engineering, was to fill in all the gaps. I played some pedal steel, captured performances, and made sure that ‘Keep Bleeding’ — one of my favorite recordings yet — was the very best it could be. I feel like Lindsay and I definitely co-produced the record.”
Holler assures that she and the band were receptive to Kaler’s studio-savvy guidance. “The last song [“Bad Reputation”] was going to be stripped-down, with accordion, organ, acoustic guitar, me on vocals — and that’s it,” she says. “We recorded it like that, then, when we went back to listen to it for mixes, Josh said, ‘I changed things up a little bit.’ He’d played some extra guitar, organ, and percussion. I’ve always wanted someone there to do that. I’m not a confident decision-maker when it comes to that process. I had a lot of faith in Josh and his abilities, and I respect his opinions, so it was easy for me and the band.”
For this week’s CD release show at the Pour House, Holler arranged for a limited pressing of only a few hundred copies, with screen-printed artwork by local designer Lindsay Windham (a.k.a. Olive*Argyle). Holler has hand-stamped each disc, too. After the official release this week, the group’s future looks pretty wide open.
“Whoo … well, it depends on a lot of stuff,” Holler half-laughs. “Everyone is busy with lots of projects. We’ve got some shows booked, so we’re pretty much set for the rest of the year, so we’ll take it from there. I’m really proud of the record, so I’d like to get it out to some people. We’ll get these out this month and then make more.”
Scheduled at the early start time of 8 p.m. (right on the dot, they say), Sunday evening’s Pour House show features a roving new folk/rock combo on the scene called Tent Revival (led by songwriter Owen Beverly). Immediately after their set on the main stage, local drummer Ron Wiltrout, bassist Kevin Hamilton, and poet/writer Marcus Amaker will perform a spoken-word/musical piece on the deck
Holler’s bandmates Jenkins and Sfirri have arranged a mysterious drum line/marching band with winds and brass to help bridge the opening act’s set into the Western Polaroids’ set.
“It’s a bunch of people,” says Sfirri. “Some of them are friends of ours … well, most of them are friends. There’s an element of secrecy involved. It’ll be an amoeba of sound … seeping into the space.”
Holler adds, “We’re trying to get people’s attention to come back inside. When Marcus and the guys are done, that’ll be the cue for hyper-piper band thing.”
On the horizon, Holler and the band plan to co-host the fourth annual Holy City Cold Heart Revival on Sat. Nov. 14 at the Pour House. The showcase will highlight some of the finest alt-country, folk-pop, and Americana acts in the region. After that, it’s onward to world domination and beyond.