“When you’re on the road touring with all these bands and really getting out there, you learn so much,” says Working Title frontman and main songwriter Joel Harrison, speaking from his band’s van en route from Chicago to Milwaukee. “When you leave your hometown of Charleston and get exposed to new bands and new music every night, all of that definitely changes and affects the way you look at music and the way you look at life and yourself.”
Harrison, 22, is in the middle of a big year for the Charleston-bred alt-rock band — a year filled with hardcore touring, high-dollar recording, small piles of major label red tape, and high anticipation. This week, he and the band celebrate the release of their major label debut, About Face (Universal/Motown).
“There’s probably a million different ways that we have changed and grown,” Harrison says. “That’s how the band name came to life, in a way. ‘The Working Title’ is a literary term for something that is a work-in-progress — it really made sense with our band. We’re always changing, but there’s a common thread that goes through all our music.”
Hamilton, guitarist Adam Pavao, bassist Chris Ginn, and drummer Ross Taylor put the band together in 2001 during their high school years (the School of the Arts and Wando High School). Within six months of forming, the Working Title assembled an independent, self-titled release (now out of print). In 2003, they released their first proper collection, a seven-song EP titled Everyone Here is Wrong. Alternative Press gave the disc five stars outta five and tagged them as “A Band To Watch.”
“We toured so long on the EP — and we had so many songs ready to try out — we hoped to include as many as they’d allow us on this album,” says Hamilton. “We went into the pre-production with over 40 songs. We hashed it down, did some demos, and whittled it down to 14 songs. A lot of the songs on the EP were written when I was 17 or 18 years old. On this record, I wrote much of it after going through all these new experiences, so it’s probably a bit more mature.”
At the end of a major national tour in the winter months of 2004-’05, the band took a few months off from playing live and concentrated on writing lyrics and arrangements. In March 2005, the band spent just under two weeks doing preproduction work in local studios with producers Brad Wood (Smashing Pumpkins, Placebo, Liz Phair, and Jump, Little Children) and David Bryson (guitarist of the Counting Crows) before heading to Allaire Studios in the Catskills town of Shokan, N.Y,. for a lengthy recording session.
“We played some tennis, did a little cross-country skiing … it was awesome,” chuckles Harrison. “Brad was a bit more experienced as an engineer — he’s been recording for, like, 20 years — so he fell more into that role. David has more songwriting experience, so he offered guidance in that area. It worked out quite nicely, actually. It was fun and exciting every step of the way.”
Nearly a double album, About Face is a massive collection of songs, some of which top out at six or nine minutes in length. Some tunes work from a straight-ahead “alt rock” sound with four chords, upbeat melodies, and big 4/4 beats, others twist and detour toward darker, more mysterious sonic territory. The album’s first single “The Mary Getaway (I Lost Everything)” (a sweeping tune already a bit overplayed by local rock station 96 Wave) demonstrates both sides, with Harrison’s breathy, emotive vocals and the contrasting acoustic guitar/distorted electric guitar interplay.
After a few minor delays, the band finally gets to launch About Face in their hometown in style with an all-ages concert at The Plex on Tues. July 18 with support from local bands Slow Runner and Leslie. They almost immediately leave for tours with the Counting Crows and the Goo Goo Dolls, set for late July and August.
“When we’re off the road, we come back home to Charleston,” says Harrison. “We’re keeping it real in Chucktown [laughs]! On these summer and fall tours, the band includes Jordan Smith [of Charleston rock band Black Venus] on extra keyboard, guitar, and percussion duties. Sadler Vaden of Leslie toured and played with us for at least a year and then realized that he wanted to do something more with Leslie. This will be kind of a little reunion [laughs]. We’re really looking forward to it.”