Charleston City Paper's new web video series, Swell Sessions, showcases local musicians playing stripped-down versions of their songs. For the first installment, City Paper staffer John A. Zara shot a video of Brave Baby performing "Last Gold Rush" in the Charleston Music Hall.
Acoustics 101: When the seats at the Charleston Music Hall are empty of soft human bodies, music sounds like it's being played in a cave. As Brave Baby warms up onstage, keyboardist Steven Walker's droning synthesizer riff takes on the sound of a church organ, and lead singer Keon Masters quips that this is going to be the "Free Willy version" of their song "Last Gold Rush." Vocalizing between chorus and verse, Masters' falsetto bounces off the walls, and it almost feels like there's a killer whale echolocating in the room.
The assignment for the band was to play one of their original songs "as close to acoustic as possible." While this is still a plugged-in take on "Last Gold Rush," the sound is slower and sparer than the version found on Brave Baby's 2013 debut album Forty Bells, with its lush layers of synths and congas.
"We don't do the whole, like, 'Grab an acoustic guitar and let's just sing a song' very well," Masters said. "I mean, we can do it, but it doesn't lend itself to our songs. This is very stripped down from what we normally do, but I guess we still needed a little electricity."
The song had its start as a folk-tinged verse written by Masters. He shared it with the rest of the band, who piled on some musical ideas and subtracted others in the studio. One early chorus was "something about a wolf," Masters says, but the final take is impressionistic and haunting: "If I'm gonna die here then I don't want to fight it / I'll give up the ghost while I'm running through the kindness in the woods."
In the second verse, Masters sings, "You said, 'I told you, babe, to be ready for the last gold rush / 'Cause I'll leave without you, but I don't want to ruin us.'"
"It's about young love," Masters says. "It's just about a girl I know."
Drummer Wolfgang Zimmerman interjects that there's a little bit more to the song. "There were religious differences," Zimmerman says, "talking about Jesus coming back and if you're not ready for it."
"It's like I think it's all BS," Masters says. "She didn't tell me that. We made up the gold rush metaphor, I guess."
Brave Baby will play an opening set for Octopus Jones' CD release show Sat. Feb. 1 at The Royal American before heading out on a six-week tour. The show is at 9 p.m., and there will be an $8 cover.