In November 2013, Jack Fowler left his career interests in New York and returned to Atlanta in hopes of quenching his creative thirst. After crossing paths with drummer Ryan York via mutual friends, the two hit it off after an impromptu jam session. The same goes for bassist Brad Holland, who Jack had met during a brief stint studying at Gainesville Community College. Meanwhile, guitarist Jason Murray joined the fold after the four guys went out for dinner and hashed out ideas in the form of tabletop beats and improvised vocal melodies while consuming copious amounts of beer and pizza.
This was the beginning of exwhy, which seems oddly perfect give the band’s original mission statement: play music, create solid friendships in Atlanta, and make enough money to drink beer for free. Seems simple, right?
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But as any artist knows, when you’re the creative type, you strive for something more.
And that “something more” came in the form of four-track demo that caught the attention of Los Angeles-based Other People Records, who signed the band in September 2014 prompting the group to earnestly begin work on their debut full length.
Recorded at Tomuto Sounds with Kenny Muto and mixed by Saosin alum Beau Burchell, The Feels is a ten-track effort full of ringing guitars and anthemic hooks presented on a pop-centric canvas. It’s perky and ebullient to be sure, but there’s also a trace of heartache and gloom that courses its way through the heart of the album. Despite their initial sheen, these songs don’t go down as easily as you might think. They have some bite to them, and that bit of tension is what makes them linger.
The Feels kicks off with “Good Love,” a song that fires on all cylinders and highlights exwhy’s catchiness and grit. It’s a stormy mid-tempo rocker, which is ironic given the origin of the song. Says Fowler: “It was written about the most peaceful moment of my life. I was living in Athens at the time and woke up one Sunday at my girlfriend’s place. I knew we’d be getting day drunk. I knew we were invited to have dinner with her huge family that night, all of whom I loved. It was a lazy day, a record was on really low, and she made tea. And I took a shower. I was from the east side of town, where the college kids lived. She was from the west side of town, where the real locals lived.”
Elsewhere, the band show off their versatility with the Bloc Party ribbing, discotheque-infused “Jive,” the bombastic, drum-heavy “Salt,” and “Letters Of Love,” a slow burner that could easily fit on an Explosions in the Sky record, if not for the vocals. This is a record that moves in many directions, but credit the group for making it feel organic and cohesive.
Bottom line: The Feels does not disappoint. For the band, the release of this record has seemed like an eternity. Between recording, working full-time jobs (or quitting them in Fowler’s case), and checking emails multiple times a day for new mixes, you can almost feel the relief and coming through the speakers. Which is what makes the departure of York and Holland at the end of 2015 so surprising. It seems odd that anyone would go through joy and pain of conceiving and giving shape to a record, only to leave before it’s birthed into the world (the pair have since been replaced by former Bear Girl bassist Jacob Cauthen and drummer Jeanluc Freeman who handles bass duties in Fowler’s other project, Flower).
Still, the band remains primed and ready for a very busy 2016, and if The Feels is their first full offering, hungry ears will soon be ready for another serving of exwhy.
-Nicholas Ryan Taft