Even in its early days, there was something special and unique about Charlotte rock band Junior Astronomers.
Its unbridled live energy was infectious. There may have been angst between the lines, but its intensity wasn’t a weight on stage. The group reveled in rocking out with a gaggle of local fans – sometimes an entire roomful – clutching each other, practically shouting the lyrics in the members’ faces.
That local excitement hasn’t wavered in the band’s nearly decade-long run, which is why the release show for the band’s sophomore album, “Body Language,” should draw droves to Neighborhood Theatre Friday.
Even though its oldest band members are just 30, vocalist Terrence Richard says he meets fans who grew up watching them.
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“I have kids who are 24 saying, ‘I listened to you growing up.’ In my eyes, I’m still a kid,” he says with a laugh.
It’s possible that “Body Language” will extend that rabid young fan base beyond the region.
The new track “That’s Why” had Nylon Magazine recently proclaiming Junior Astronomers as “the indie nostalgia band we’ve been dreaming of.”
It’s a fair assessment given that that song in particular is the beginning of “Body Language’s” story – the high school years before the darkness of adulthood sets in (although it’s technically Track 2 – the album begins at the end then flashes back). Richard doesn’t hear the nostalgia factor, though.
“I don’t like a lot of ’90s rock. I’m like anti-grunge,” says Richard. “That’s one of the emotions I’ve never gotten. I get depressing sad, not grungy, aggressive sad.”
He’s learned to deal with sometimes-amusing backhanded compliments.
“We get that all the time,” he says, calling before a show in New York City. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t listen to bands that yell, but I like you.’ Or, ‘They’re like this (band), but they’re good.’ ”
But it’s hard to put a finger on Junior Astronomers’ sound. As Richard puts it: “People don’t know how to describe us, because we don’t sound like anyone else.”
And that’s not boastful. It’s true. It starts with Richard’s unmistakable raspy yowl, Colin Watts and Elias Pittman’s fidgety rhythms and guitar work by Philip Wheeler that seems both spastic and controlled. In spins a web of math rock and the Strokes, and – at live shows, a party atmosphere that provides an almost-cathartic release.
The band reins in its charged-up, full-bore feel on “Body Language,” which shows new facets of the band’s music.
“I wanted to try to show people that I can actually sing,” Richard explains. He also wanted to temper the band’s aggressive live show, which could be exhausting song after intense song.
“They were one of the bands that inspired me to do the label,” says Josh Higgins, who runs Charlotte-based Refresh Records in his spare time. He has a full-time job as a software developer. “They’ve got that raw energy. Catching them live, it’s so different than what they sound like recorded. That’s especially why we wanted to work with them.”
Higgins calls “Body Language” a transformative record for Junior Astronomers, who continue to spread their fan base by touring relentlessly while not forgetting their roots.
In fact, Richard says the album is a sort of love letter to the band’s hometown; both L.A.-based producer Mike Pepe (Taking Back Sunday) and NYC-based mastering engineer Dan Millice (A$AP Rocky) originally hail from Charlotte. It’s also about reconciling life at home with the unpredictable career the band’s members have chosen.
“You either accept it or you quit,” he adds.
That’s why Junior Astronomers is the lone band left standing from a rich, mid-’00s era that produced several rock bands that were good enough to have broken nationally.
“I’ve played with some of my favorite bands and talked to some of my favorite musicians, and they’ve told us just keep doing it and it’ll work out,” he says. “ ‘Don’t break up or lose members.’ Every one of my favorite bands have told me that. We believe in it every day. It’s a commitment thing. When I know I love something, I stick with it. I think I get it from my mother. It’s a blind, fearless love that you’d do whatever for.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.
Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.