When Eric-Scott Guthrie left Charlotte in 2011 after spending years ensconced in the music scene as a member of the New Familiars and a fixture at Evening Muse, he thought he might be done with music.
“I was playing solo for five years, from 2009 to 2014. I traveled 80,000 miles in 2011. Part of that year in my van was me trying to find people to play with. I never felt like anything clicked,” he says, calling from Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium Studio in Kernersville.
“By the end of 2011, I kind of gave up on music. I licked my wounds and realized I was coming close to 40 and some kind of life needed to sustain me,” he says.
A solar engineer, Guthrie took a job in Chapel Hill building solar farms and eventually met songwriters and multi-instrumentalists he did click with – five of them.
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“It was a love at first sight sort of deal,” he says.
He returns to his one-time home Saturday with that new band – Grand Shell Game, which plays with Bless These Sounds Under the City and the Eyebrows at Petra’s.
The group released its debut album, “Man on a Wire,” independently last summer and recorded material for a second round of releases last week. Described as elegantly complicated, the group treads between folk and singer-songwriter roots with mindful lyrics and a heady level of musicianship that swerves and dashes stylistically.
While the sound veers back to Guthrie’s Southern folk roots, he also couldn’t help but be influenced by his new surroundings.
“Since moving here, I’ve discovered Megafaun spin-off the Phil Cook project, Hiss Golden Messenger, Grandma’s Sparrow. There’s an interesting take on rootsy music happening in Durham with some of the same genre bends we like to employ,” he explains. “I’m a 15-minute walk from Cat’s Cradle. The proximity to a world-class venue like that makes a huge influence.”
Settling in Carrboro gave Guthrie a unique perspective on the local music scenes in both regions as well.
“Both Charlotte and the Triangle area are enormous creative hubs right now. There may be a bit of a rivalry. I grew up in Greensboro and was always shaking my fist at Raleigh,” he says. Like Charlotte music fans, he was frustrated by the Triangle’s ability to attract bands that didn’t step foot on this side of the state. But the musicians are a lot alike.
“The spirit of musicians in the Triangle is very similar – community oriented and passionate about the world around them, not just the music. The big difference is ’80s and ’90s college rock put the area on the map and Merge Records sort of defined it. Durham in particular is an industry hub for the ‘alt’ industry.”
“I don’t see that in Charlotte,” he says. “Back in my time with the New Familiars, there weren’t labels. It’s hard to transcend beyond the regional scene. The Avetts and some soul and R&B acts have done it. I had a fantastic experience with the New Familiars the way we were able to blossom,” he says.
“In the Triangle, there are more people paying attention to help you get broader exposure,” he adds. “Charlotte perhaps has a greater potential, but they’re trying to figure out how to get the scene past the community of supporters. Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham have a little more history, so it’s easier to get people to listen.”
Grand Shell Game
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Petra’s, 1919 Commonwealth Ave.