Charleston songwriter Brian Hannon is the face and voice of pop/rock band Company, but he'd prefer to lead a solidified group than to carry on as the ringleader of an endless rotation of guest musicians. "I got sick of playing so long with people who weren't really prepared to play music for their lives," Hannon says. "I got frustrated because I want to do it for a living."
Previously known as Co. and Ko, Company has a new studio album in hand titled Dear America, released last month on the Brooklyn-based Exit Stencil label. Compared to the homemade, lo-fi buzz of last year's Holy City (their debut on Exit Stencil), Dear America, is a nicely polished, well-rounded piece of work with a tight feel. Hannon's songs rock and sway with a series of irresistible hooks, nuggets of melody, and intriguing Americana leanings. Listeners might detect a hint of the indie-rock twang of My Morning Jacket, the Shins, and Band of Horses with elements of the dual-guitar work of Big Star, Television, and Guided by Voices.
"The folks at Exit Stencil have always been really supportive," Hannon says. "Honestly, I was surprised they wanted to do another album after Holy City. I had some new songs, so we just put it together. I had friends from Charleston record it with me. I wanted to have them in the band after the studio sessions, but it didn't quite work."
Exit Stencil was obviously pleased with the new recordings. Label exec Brandon Stevens described the new collection as "a coming-of-age story. The ups-and-downs of the day-to-day, and all of the emotions associated with life in present day America."
Hannon recorded all of Dear America, last fall at the acclaimed Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, N.C., and he spent the early part of 2012 performing random solo shows and full-band gigs. Despite the steady pace, Company seemed like a very loose project with Hannon guiding the way. Fortunately, he landed a handful of solid veterans this spring: drummer Shawn Krauss (of the Specs), bassist Johnnie Matthews (of Elim Bolt), and guitarist Matt Royse (an original member of Co.). All three bandmates are on board for Company action this summer and beyond.
"Johnnie and Shawn have played in serious bands for years, so they both understand what I'm going through and how to communicate well," Hannon says. "Shawn really listens to what I'm doing and plays tastefully to the song. Matt was the original bass player with Co. for years, but after our first drummer passed away in 2010, Matt and I kind of had a falling out. But we reconnected a few months ago. We dealt with things on our own, and we came back together."
Matthews came to Charleston in 2010 from Florence, where he played bass with pop/rock band Sequoya Prep School. While he continues to sing and play guitar in Elim Bolt, he's excited about his new duties as part of Hannon's rhythm section. "I've been a fan of Brian's songs since I heard his first demo years ago," Matthews says. "His new music is even stronger, and I'm having a lot of fun playing bass with the band."
The days of meandering musical detours, low-budget recording sessions, and low-paying road trips with fill-in players might be over for Hannon. He's certainly relieved to finally have a group of supporting players who are skillful enough to handle the material and dedicated enough to stay on board with Company's musical goals. "It seems like every time something good happens with the band, the pressure grows and some true colors come out. That used to be a bad thing up until now."