By: Parker Gispert of the Whigs
I was a senior in high school and tagging along with friends headed to Athens, Georgia for a fraternity party designed to recruit new pledges for the upcoming semester when I spotted the 40 Watt from across the fraternity lawn. My shellfish allergy wasn’t going to mesh well with the crawfish boil so I ditched out and headed for the club. The club was closed but I accidentally stumbled into Low Yo Yo Stuff Records which I assume is named after the opening track from Captain Beefheart’s Clear Spot album. My older brother had gifted me a copy of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over The Sea” for my birthday a few years earlier and quickly I’d become obsessed with all things Elephant 6. Elf Power’s “A Dream In Sound”, Apples In Stereo’s “Her Wallpaper Reverie” and Olivia Tremor Control’s “Dusk At Cubist Castle” in particular were blowing my seventeen year old mind. Low Yo Yo Stuff had an entire section devoted to Elephant 6 artists at the front of the shop to the left of the cash register. I purchased Of Montreal’s “Cherry Peel” that day and am forever nostalgic for the three piece rock band version of the group. The records were theatrical listens and I loved reading the cast of recurring characters in the liner notes. Bill Doss, Robert Schneider, Jeff Mangum, Scott Spillane, Andrew Reiger, John Fernandes, etc. I thought it was so cool that they’d all help out in one way or another on each other’s albums. It seemed like there was a living, breathing, relevant, musical community in Athens and I moved there the following year for college and to start a band.
I grew up in Roswell, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, and became aware of R.E.M in the “Green” / “Out Of Time” era. My older brother had brought home a cassette single of “Shiny Happy People” and we waited with our boombox to tape “Stand” when it played on 99x. “Orange Crush” might have simultaneously been my favorite beverage and song at the time. My high school band covered “Losing My Religion” and Automatic For The People was my summer soundtrack for mowing lawns.
I met Michael Stipe at the 40 Watt years later a few nights before we were set to perform on The Late Show With David Letterman. Stipe explained to me that our rehearsal would entail a run through of the song for monitor check, a run through for the broadcast sound check, and another test run for cameras. He pointed out that in the process I might end up jeopardizing my voice for the main on air performance that night. He suggested I take charge of the situation once on set and announce to the camera and sound crews that The Whigs would be performing the song one time and one time only for sound check and therefore the crew had better be ready to get what they need! It’s still the only time I’ve spoken to him and I appreciated him taking the time to give me a pro tip even though I was too skittish to employ the tactic on set in Ed Sullivan Theatre.
It’s very cool that there’s an experienced contingent in Athens that developing artists can look to for advice and R.E.M is just one example of that. The University and surrounding colleges are first class institutions but I learned more sitting in Schoolkids Records with the late Ross Shapiro and hanging around the 40 Watt with Craig Leiske than I did in a classroom. Currently we have Rick Poss from Georgia Theatre, Scott Baxendale from Baxendale Guitars, Zack (“Z Dawg”) Duncan from High Voltage, as well as Berry Buck and Velena Vego at 40 Watt. Chase Park Transduction studio owner David Barbe is an excellent resource for young artists and is helping to bridge that gap between real world music education and classroom learning to students enrolled in the Music Business Program.
Athens plays an important role in my music career and I’m also nostalgic for it in my personal life. It’s the town that gave me my professional start and like many, my memories between the ages of 18 to 28 are rooted there. The artists that pre-dated my time in the city helped my career by not only inspiring me but also giving our music context. Thanks to groups like R.E.M and B52’s, people all over the world are not only familiar with Athens but they regard it as a top tier American music scene. I definitely think we caught a lot of ears from simply being an Athens group. The bars, restaurants, record stores, and clothing shops can be heard in the local music and I think the town provides all the proper pieces for a young artist to find themselves and hone their craft. The clubs aren’t overrun by touring acts and the University provides a steady influx and support system for bands poised to be the next great group. Rock!
~Feature in collaboration with/produced by: Jeff Gorra
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