Although the electric guitars of Jack White and Foo Fighters remain a touchstone in mainstream music, popular music has turned toward synthetic pop, prerecorded backing tracks and electronic programming, be it hip-hop, pop, synth-rock or electronic dance music.
Can the very instrument that ignited the genre in Chuck Berry’s hands over half a century ago be on the way out?
Not if Charlotte rock band Junior Astronomers have anything to say about it.
“Nothing moves me like a guitar,” says Junior Astronomer’s muscular, dreadlocked, tattooed singer Terrence Richard, sitting at a table outside Common Market in Plaza-Midwood last week. “If we let guitar rock disappear – I can’t sit for that.”
Enter “Dead Nostalgia” – Junior Astronomers’ new full-length album, which will be released by Cincinnati’s Broken Circles Records July 23. The band is celebrating with a listening party and acoustic set at NoDa Brewery Thursday and a release concert at Neighborhood Theatre Saturday.
The album was recorded with Kris Hilbert at Greensboro’s Legitimate Business and mastered by NYC-based Charlotte native Dan Millice.
Although he admits there’s organ on the record, Richard wanted to focus on guitar as almost a response to the popularity of rock music that isn’t guitar-based. In fact, he penned the song “Vibrator” after reading about a DJ who was busking on the streets of L.A.
“I listen to hip-hop and tons of stuff with beats, but ‘Vibrator’ is my way of asking how can this (electronic music) be so big? How can you confuse (the two)?” he says. “Girl Talk (the hit-splicing DJ) is playing the same day as our show (at the AWOL Music Festival in SouthPark on Saturday). For me, I’d rather see a rock band.”
Guitarist Philip Wheeler – the taller and lankier of the two co-founders – prefers the unpredictability and spontaneity of rock music, as well.
Junior Astronomers’ music has a feeling of chaos. But you can dance to it, thanks to shifts in dynamics and tempo and Richard’s shout-singing. The band’s sound has rough edges, but so did the Strokes and At the Drive-In (two of its biggest influences).
Richard and Wheeler were raised around edgier classic rock like Hendrix and Bowie – for whom Wheeler’s dad worked as a roadie. “I don’t think I was ever not going to be a guitar player. He was such a fan, but he didn’t play music,” he says of his father.
Wheeler’s first connection to rock is much more wholesome – which sums up Junior Astronomers’ balance of cool and nerdy. Wheeler beams enthusiastically: “I remember everyone watched the ‘Full House’ episode where the Beach Boys played with Uncle Jesse and the Rivers.”
Richard’s desire to start a band was sparked by seeing Wheeler’s band play at a Myers Park High battle of the bands. They founded JA, which includes Elias Pittman on drums and Colin Watts on bass, in 2008 (guitarist Jeffrey Saer left recently). Five years later, it has a label, a publicist, and spends much of the time on tour.
As JA begins to rise nationally, it’s very much connected to home.
“The scene is in a really good place,” Richard says of Charlotte. “We have bands getting national attention, like Paint Fumes and HRVRD. It’s been important to us to show as much love locally, because we’re all in this together. The bigger each band gets, the more likely the world will take notice of the scene.”