Tyler Mechem sounds pretty chipper for a musician who recently split from a major record label. Even more surprisingly, he's not too distraught about having to say goodbye to a very close, longtime bandmate, either. As the optimistic singer, guitarist, and main songwriter of local group Crowfield, Mechem has a new sense of independence and a hopeful approach to events on the horizon.
Mechem and keyboardist Joe Giant moved to Charleston together from a small town in Indiana in 2005. After gigging around as a duo, they eventually formed the band that would come to be known as Crowfield in late 2007. In 2009, Mechem and the guys enjoyed great momentum. With Micah Nichols on lead guitar, Ethan Ricks on bass, and Parker Gins on drums, they were delivering solid performances on stage, gaining radio play, conducting successful road trips, and, ultimately, receiving an onslaught of label interest. This year, detached from a short-lived label contract but armed with a strong, self-produced, self-titled studio album, they're rockin' with a clean slate.
"We've been through disappointment before, so we're well tempered," says Mechem. "We were so confident about the batch of new songs that we had waiting that it was easy to get through it. We continued to play great shows and move ahead."
Recorded over the winter and spring at Black Do Studios in Atlanta with acclaimed engineer Rick Beato at the board, the 12-song Crowfield is the band's first studio album since 2008's twangy and well-polished Goodbye, Goodnight, So Long Midwestern, a collection of romantic guitar pop and alt-country originals. Whereas Mechem and Giant tracked Goodbye, Goodnight with a handful of studio musicians, the new disc reflects the fully realized band version of Crowfield that took shape in the last three years.
"On the first album, the country side of it for me was almost like playing punk music," says Mechem. "I felt like I was doing something so raw, foreign, and experimental. It was exciting. For the new album, I wrote the songs in much the same way, but the country style wasn't so exciting. I wrote them with the bandmates in mind. Micah plays a much more modern style of guitar than what was on Goodbye, Goodnight. His hero is the Edge [from U2], so there are more delays and atmospheric effects."
From the new album's thumping and bombastic opening anthem "Midwestern" through the synth-laden pop ballad "Some How Some Way" and the grunge-heavy, riffy rocker "Give it to You," there's certainly a more pronounced "modern rock" style going on. Some of it might surprise longtime fans.
"There are more synths and effects on the new album," Mechem adds. "We were really meticulous with the tones this time, as well. If the last one was Jackson Browne, this one is U2. It might not come across like that to everybody, but that's how I hear it."
Getting to this point involved a meandering journey that started more than two years ago, just as Crowfield's lineup was getting tight and busy. Mechem and the fellas had a healthy buzz going, in town and elsewhere.
"People who had been watching us for a while and were in a position to help really stepped up and went out on a limb for us," Mechem says. "We had a lot of labels making trips and coming to see us. One big night was in L.A. when we were on the road with Rusted Root. They actually canceled the show the day before, and we had to scramble and book another show. We played at the Viper Room, and it went off so well. We had all these leads from label people who were saying, 'We want to do something,' to us."
A couple of months passed by, but nothing ever happened. The band was disappointed, but after representatives from Universal/Republic attended a show in New York and expressed interest, morale picked up.
Crowfield and Universal/Republic hooked up without delay and signed a recording contract, making the band labelmates with the likes of the Black Eyed Peas, Jack Johnson, and Sheryl Crow. Crowfield's first single on the label, "Moving On," was ready for release.
"The contract was solid, but it wasn't a developmental deal by any means," says Mechem. "It was a roll-the-dice deal. We knew they were signing like 20 bands that year, and we knew that going in. We knew it had to be a huge hit, or it was over."
Mechem and the band dealt with the pressure and excitement of the situation with cool heads and a positive attitude.
"We knew we were going to still be a band, even if the single flopped," says Mechem. "We didn't even think the song was the best single in the first place. We were happy to have the opportunity, and we were thankful to have the chance, but we knew the odds were against us going in."
"Moving On" hit the FM airwaves nationally in September 2010. Local station the Bridge at 105.5 was the first to air the song in town, and they got behind it in a big way.
"The Bridge was amazing," remembers Mechem. "They went all out. Some other stations around the Southeast and the Midwest did some plays for us. But after seven months of dealing with the label, we realized that they were not helping and weren't promoting. They said they had a lot of things scheduled before it with their main resources going to that. They said they loved the song, but they put off any plans to do anything."
By last winter, Crowfield's relationship with Universal/Republic had stalled.
"We hadn't released an album in three years, and we were worried that we'd start losing our local fan base if we didn't get something new out there," says Mechem. "It finally got the point at the end of 2010 where we decided to make plans to make this new album. We made an offer to make a clean break, keeping the single and the advance for it, and they went for it. It was an amicable thing."
This week's album release show at the Music Farm marks a triumphant return in a way, but it's also a bittersweet occasion. It's officially the final show with Giant in the lineup. The keyboardist plans to relocate to Michigan this summer to pursue a master's degree in city planning.
"I am sad to see a friend leave, but for him, it makes total sense," says Mechem. "It's a well-thought-out decision on his part. Joe was classically trained and knew music really well when we moved down here — and I barely knew what I was doing. He was so great at playing multiple parts simultaneously, on organ and piano or whatever. He was great at finding the right parts that fit the songs. We'll have big shoes to fill, personality-wise and skill-wise.
"Everybody [in the band] was really supportive and happy for him," he adds. "When he told us his decision, we all went to Gene's Haufbrau, drank a bunch of whiskey, and laughed about all the good times. It turned into a celebration. Joe is an original member, and he put six years into this. The chemistry will change, but it's certainly not an end to the music of Crowfield."
If the music on the new album contains signs of things to come, fans can look forward to more of Mechem's instrumentally balanced, smartly arranged, classically American pop-rock. The bandleader himself can't wait to follow through on all of it.