When describing a local band, it's easy to simply tag them with a three-or-four-word phrase or a short sentence. When it comes to Fowler's Mustache — acoustic guitarist/singer Matt Stanley, bassist Chris Richter, drummer John Tankersley, and guitarists Thomas McElwee and Nick Collins — we often describe the sound as "groovy guitar rock, funk, reggae, and original weirdness." But it's not so neat and simple.
Three years ago, when Fowler's Mustache starting playing around town, things on stage were a little loose. They were a rookie band with raw chops, but over the years, everything has tightened up nicely. They now come off as more professional, proficient, and confident.
The band has a forthcoming studio album due later in the summer. City Paper chatted with Richter, Tankersley, and McElwee last week, just as they were preparing a special set list for a Windjammer show with bluesy openers Sarah Cole and the Hawkes:
City Paper: Tell us about your personal experience with this new album that's on the way. Was it fun, easy-going, and nicely paced in the studio, or was it challenging, frustrating, and drawn-out?
Chris Richter: This new album has been a really creative and insightful process for all of us so far. Ed Blanton over at Encore Music [in Mt. Pleasant] has been really knowledgeable, patient, and helpful with us, and we can't thank him enough for his efforts. We've learned a lot about ourselves, our music, and our potential as a band together. One of our main goals was to really explore where we could take these songs and try some new things we haven't done in the past. To do this, our basic approach was that there was really nothing out of the question, and every idea was at least worth a shot. A lot of things went really well, and we are super excited. At the end of the day, we felt really good about what we produced in there.
John Tankersley: We have had a blast recording with Ed at Encore. Most nights in the studio were smooth because of our familiarity with the songs, however, a couple of the new tunes had numerous challenges transposing the creative details. Translating the ideas from our live shows into a studio sound can definitely be frustrating and challenging. But there are some super groovy rock rhythms on it.
Thomas McElwee: It was everything — emotions from making this album span the spectrum. We recorded over almost exactly a year's time, so there's been no shortage of ups and downs. But the main thing was that we all knew that we had to finish it, no matter what, because we've poured so much love and hard work into this project. The icing on the cake is that we financed, produced, wrote, and recorded this entire thing ourselves with the help of Ed at Encore, so any success from or enjoyment of the album outside of our own is all gravy.
City Paper: A few years ago, when the band starting out, you seemed like a young rookie band with raw chops and a mix of ideas. Things have tightened up, though. Describe that progression from the early days to the present.
Chris Richter: I think that maturity has just been something that comes naturally with all the experiences we've had together, both on and off the stage. We've all been friends for years, but with all the practices and gigs we've had, we've been able to learn a lot about who each of us are as musicians. Whether it's a new song we're learning, or in the middle of an impromptu live jam, knowing more about each other's approach and tendencies helps to make the communication and collaboration that much smoother.
John Tankersley: Our progression still blows my mind. In the beginning, we set goals to play a show at our big three local venues — the Windjammer, Pour House, and Music Farm — and we accomplished them all ... in less than three years. We have goals to write and create original music, and we now have 45 original songs in the arsenal.
Thomas McElwee: It's strange to even think about the fact that we've been a band long enough to see significant change. It's kind like when you get a puppy and you don't really see him grow up, but friends stop by every so often and say, "Man that puppy has gotten so big." That's kind of what it feels like for me. I still see us as a young growing band, but when you take a step back and really look, we have come a long way. It's been great going from a kind of raucous group of thirsty musicians, looking to throw down to a more focused band who wants to write and play great original music that hopefully resonates with our given crowd that evening.
City Paper: How do you most accurately describe and define the type of rock band you are and the sound and mix of styles you play?
Chris Richter: We've always loved the descriptions the City Paper has had for us. It is kind of tough for us to describe our music in one sentence, even to this day, but off the top of my head I'd have to say, "local handsome quintet handling groovy guitar rock, funk, reggae, and original weirdness." Yeah, I'd say that works.
John Tankersley: We're still trying to define that one ourselves. Were like an everything bagel.
Thomas McElwee: I have always liked what you've come up with, but I'll give this a go: "island-funk, blues-punk, folked-out, surprise party music."
City Paper: Set-wise, what's the difference between a gig like the Windjammer and one at a smaller more social hangout spot, like the Midtown Bar, Wild Wing, or Art's Bar?
Chris Richter: It's very possible we might be the worst band in Charleston at writing a set list, but that's really just because we like to play more with the crowd than at them. You always have an idea of what kind of audience you will be dealing with at a particular venue, and you want to make it the best experience for everyone there, so we like to keep it open and let the flow of the night dictate our selection. As for some specific venues though, it's pretty common that we will throw down more original tunes at venues like the Pour House and Windjammer, whereas places like Wild Wing and Midtown get a nice dose of some tasty covers. And then there is Art's, which is easily one of our favorite gigs in the area.
City Paper: What's the wildest or most controversial cover song or reworking in the set these days?
Chris Richter: We've certainly had our fair share of wild tunes. A few originals might include "Rico Sloppay," an energetic salsa-inspired song that can be a good crowd favorite, as well as "Step Right Up,' the first song we actually ever wrote. A few covers people may not expect would be Tom Petty's "Joe," David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream," and the Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post."
John Tankersley: Our new tune "Ancient Mysteries" is the wildest of our new tunes. It has several rhythms and tempo changes throughout. "Moonage Daydream" and "Whipping Post" with our friend Matt Goss from the Savage Tongues are in there.
Thomas McElwee: Pink Floyd's "Money" and Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name." We've been doing the Rage Against the Machine song for a while, but its always been a toss-up depending on the bar or party we're playing. I was really surprised recently when we closed our last Art's show with it and [owner] Kent Frits approached me afterward and said how much he enjoyed it. I was shocked. Kent is so mild-mannered, and most bar owners get a little ticked because the song tends to fire people up — especially right before last call. "Money" has been a great one too. It's got the strange 7/4 time in the beginning, then the two big solos. Those kinds of song are so fun to work out, especially because music fans love them so much.
City Paper: When and where will this forthcoming album be released?
Chris Richter: As of now, we're looking at a late summer release. Hopefully, we can do something at like the Windjammer or Pour House, but plans are still in the works.
Thomas McElwee: Let's hope its before the Mayan Apocalypse — or a least early August. Can we have it at your house, Ballard?