Charlotte band Flagship sets sail

03/20/2014 5:45 PM

03/21/2014 1:29 PM

Several Charlotte bands are becoming a national fixture, expanding the frequency and scope of tours, signing to labels, working with publicists and booking agents and releasing albums with national distribution.

One of those is Flagship, which plays the Three of Clubs Tour at Visulite Theatre Monday with Terraplane Sun and Little Daylight. The group released its self-titled debut in October and recently played its third South By Southwest festival.

It’s a union of singer-songwriter Drake Margolnick and former Campbell members Matthew Padgett, Grant Harding and Michael Finster with Winston-Salem bassist Christopher Comfort. They began recording in 2011, signed with Bright Antenna Records (a Warner Brothers subsidiary whose small roster includes Middle Class Rut and OMD) in 2012, and toured with label mates the Wombats. Yet it took two years to pick up speed.

“It’s taken us a little longer than we all expected,” says Margolnick, seated with his band mates outside Smelly Cat Coffee across the street from Neighborhood Theatre, where he and keyboardist Harding work when home. “We had a slow year. We didn’t get tours. It was rough. You always hope and expect things to move quicker than they do. Now it’s finally starting to click.”

In February, The Fillmore introduced Flagship to a new audience as openers for Dale Earnhardt Jr. The group recently wooed radio programmers at San Diego’s Sunset Sessions, hopes to tour France later this year, is recording a Katy Perry cover and is crisscrossing the U.S. and Canada on tour. It feels like it’s about time.

Separately, Margolnick and Campbell both spent years playing music around the region. After five years, Campbell – which formed when the guys were in high school – ran its course. But when the group backed Margolnick at a festival, both camps found renewed energy.

“Something felt good again,” says Padgett, who programs robots (seriously) and tutors college math students in his spare time.

“We were kind of in a weird, cold season. We were feeling blah. It was time for a mix-up,” adds drummer Michael Finster. Margolnick felt the same way.

“Playing in bands wasn’t working out for me,” he says. “I played with these guys and it just felt how it should feel.”

The chemistry is evident. Flagship makes grand, arena-ready rock with nods to Radiohead and Muse (thanks in part to Margolnick’s voice) and the emotional, dramatic pull of early U2. Its members share similar backgrounds, having played music in church.

A sense of hope, searching, and longing – which some listeners may associate with spirituality while others might simply call it uplifting – resonates throughout much of the 13-track album in the same way a U2 or Coldplay concert can feel like a religious awakening.

But like those aforementioned bands, Flagship sees itself as a secular act.

“It’s not something we talk about,” Padgett says.

“When I play music, I feel like I’m connecting to something else,” Finster says. “Some people want to say that’s God or a high of some sort. That’s why I play – the feeling I get when I do it.”

Adds Margolnick: “I’d love if our music helps people. If it’s uplifting, I’m happy about that. I’d like to achieve that, but it’s not intentional. I want to be hopeful, and that comes out.”

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