Drawing on a teetering stack of classic and contemporary rock riffs, Number One Contender's polished and muscular new studio album Closer is no fluke. A gleaming, 10-song collection of hard rockisms, distorted guitar sounds, and pounding drum rhythms, Closer demonstrates a maturing band determined to press ahead in new directions. It also showcases a newly-initiated lead singer's from-the-gut vocal delivery.
Lead vocalist Reid Johnson, guitarists Alan Price and Damon Jackson, bassist Jonathan Holt, and drummer Paul Huck celebrate the official release of the new album at the Music Farm on Saturday. Beaufort-based hard-rock colleagues Souls Harbor open the gig, while local vinyl man DJ Moo Moo spins a mix of rock and grooves before, between, and after each set.
Unlike previous studio efforts, the band really took its time with the new material, fine-tuning the song arrangements and instrumentation. The quintet tracked with local studio producer Eric Bass (the guitarist of alt-rock band Shinedown) at his local Ocean Industries Studio. They mixed the album with Grammy award-winning producer/mixer Skidd Mills (Theory of a Deadman, Saving Abel) and mastered the album with engineer Brad Blackwood (Fuel, Lucero).
"From the last album to this album, we wrote 34 songs — and 10 of them ended up on Closer," says Holt. "The songs we started writing didn't end up on this, but it was just like this whole experience where we evolved and turned into who we really are and who we want to be. Two years ago, Reid was in for only a month before we did a big rush to put an album together. We wrote the whole album in a month and recorded it in three weeks."
Holt, Huck, Jackson, and Price first started playing together a decade ago. With vocalist Kally Knight (currently of Knight Booking), they performed under the name Quench. They were considered one of the more serious-minded and tuneful guitar-rock groups in town. In 2004, they earned the City Paper's reader's pick for "Best Band in Charleston." A few months later, they released their first proper full-length release, Number One Contender (hence the new name).
By 2005, the core of the band said goodbye to their longtime frontman and officially welcomed Johnson (previously of local rock band Volusia) as lead singer. In April 2006, the band celebrated the official release of their first studio collection, simply titled The Album. While The Album came together in the studio very quickly, Closer required much more time and effort. The basic rhythm tracks only took a few days, which allowed the band and their engineer to pick and choose production effects.
"Everybody brought ideas to the table — including with lyrics," says Johnson. "It's functional, with mutual respect — and that's so rare. Nobody steps on anybody else's toes. Somehow, we've learned to dance properly."
The band credits Eric Bass for his guidance, encouragement, and communication skills. "Eric gets us and definitely enhances what we do," says Johnson. "He understands the ideas we're going for."
Price agrees. "It's very symbiotic," he says. "We learn a lot from him throughout the process, while, at the same time, we're always experimenting and trying new things. That's always the case when you spend time in the studio."
Musically, Closer mostly steps away from some of the cheesy clichés scattered across modern rock radio while embracing some of the guitar and drum stylings of their favorite bands. Price and Jackson swap the extra guitar tracks, embellishments, and harmonic work, although most of the solos belong to Price. Some moments resurrect familiarly fiery riffwork and drum fills by the likes of Zeppelin, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. These are evident in the chugging distorted guitars, harmonics, and wah-wah pedals in lead-off track "I'll Stop," or in the dynamic arrangement and harmonies on alt-rock anthem "Fail Me."
"When we started playing these songs out for people, after shows, we'd hear a list of bands that people tried to compare us to," says Price. "I think it's kind of funny that most bands don't easily define themselves. I think our sound is undefinable in a way. We are a rock 'n' roll band, but can you put a name to it? I dunno."
Lyrically, some of these songs thematically fall on the darker, more anguished side of life. While the emotion in his voice and the anguish in his lyrics may get mixed reactions from old fans and new listeners, Johnson's daring delivery stands as an impressive effort.
"We're hoping that this album can kind of breach that grip that this town has on us," says the lead singer. "We are not nü-metal — I'll tell you that much. I hate that term. We get lumped into that hard-rock/nü-metal category. This town wants us to be something that we're really not. They'll see that over time. It's coming. This is the birth of the direction of what this band will really become."
This CD release event is cosponsored by Red Bull, Continuum Skate Shop, and Elysium Salon. Admission includes a free copy of the new album.