The Durham, NC natives bring their brand of Americana indie rock to the Emerald Lounge
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The Old Ceremony is a band, in the ‘band of traveling gypsies’ send of the word. They spin together influences as far-flung as Astor Piazzolla, Nick Cave, Serge Gainesbourg, Frank Sinatra, and The Beatles, with an intensity and commitment usually reserved for kung-fu masters and enthusiasm of drunken sailors in a brawl. The music careens from moments of frenzied release to introspective clarity and beauty with startling ease and confidence. The band’s name is an homage to the Canadian bard, Leonard Cohen, and his album New Skin for the Old Ceremony. Like Cohen, The Old Ceremony (TOC) mines the dark corners of the psyche, returning to the surface with hard, gleaming truths and surprising insights, often imbued with a skewed sense of optimism.
The Old Ceremony came together in the summer of ’04, when songwriter/bandleader Django Haskins hunted down the best players in the fertile Chapel Hill, NC music scene and the band began to develop into a living, growing organism. An extended residency at a local wine bar allowed them to hone their sound and build up a large following. Soon, the lines out the door made it clear that the band would need larger venues. The Old Ceremony, the band’s self-titled debut record, released in 2005 on the band’s own label, Alyosha Records, sold incredibly well in the region and continues to receive radio airplay across the Southeast. Still doing all their own booking and management, TOC began building followings in NYC and DC, helped along by Django’s background as an NYC-based touring songwriter. Soon they were packing the Living Room, IOTA, and Joe’s Pub and winning new converts to their dark but hopeful vision.
“We try to make people feel as if they’re living in our own little world when they come see us play,” Django says. “For that hour or so, we want to show them around – ‘this is where we sleep; this is where we keep our valuables; that door? Oh, you don’t want to go through that door’ – that kind of thing.” The Old Ceremony manages to make music that is simultaneously fresh and timeless, which allows them to connect to listeners of a surprisingly broad demographic range – ‘the kind of music your curmudgeonly grandfather would love,’ the band’s website explains. True, but also the kind of thing your hip older brother might turn you on to when he comes home from college.
“I grew up in a family of musicians,” says Haskins, “and we would sit around in afternoons or evenings and sing jazz standards and fold songs around the piano. It was like something out of a Victorian novel. That really cemented my conception of songcraft, I think.” Django continued to develop his writing and performing chops over a seven-year stint in NYC, where he played rooms like The Fez and Mercury Lounge, toured the U.S. and Europe, released three records on indie labels, and had music placed in numerous TV shows (Felicity, Urban Explorers, The Real World) and films, including the Lion’s Gate release Steal This Movie, starring Vincent Dinofrio. The other band members also bring with them rich and varied musical backgrounds. Bassist Matt Brandau has backed up Branford Marsalis, and has opened for Outkast. Pianist James “the kid” Wallace is equally at east with bebop and The Beatles. Vibraphonist/organist Mark Simonsen is classically trained on the marimba and percussion, and plays guitar and drums in various side projects. Drummer Dan Hall spent years playing New Orleans-style funk and jazz with members of Squirrel Nut Zippers before joining TOC. These diverse perspectives, combined with Haskins’ songwriting and artistic vision, give the music both an immediacy and depth that makes the music hard to forget after hearing it even once.
The hoary old music industry game of fitting a band into a genre and trying to keep them there falls flat with The Old Ceremony, thanks to their exotic but familiar musical recipe of sound. ‘Pop-noir,’ ‘Old World pop,’ ‘rock and roll’; each is true, and each is incomplete. Nevertheless, Knoxville’s Metro Pulse gamely attempts solving the genre puzzle this way: “The band calls it ‘pop-noir,’ but in truth, this is folk; this is rock; this is precisely what it’s supposed to be.” Precisely.
The Old Ceremony came to the attention of NYC indie label owner and film producer Gill Holland in May ’06 through word of mouth from their live shows, and after seeing them once, he immediately moved to sign them to sonaBLAST! Records for their second album: Our One Mistake, making it the first TOC album to see a national release. The record includes a song written in Mandarin Chinese (the product of Django’s time spent teaching in Mainland China), along with many of the highlights from TOC’s live show.
Slated for an October 24th release, shows are already being planned for Chapel Hill, DC, and NYC, and the advance reactions have ranged from ecstatic praise to dizziness and nausea. (To be fair, the dizziness and nausea were due to a stomach virus unrelated to the band.) TOC plans to tour extensively in support of the new record, bringing a wider and wider audience into their world, one room at a time.
For more info: theoldceremony.com