"The Charleston scene has been great to us and we're proud to be here," says Adam Chase, drummer/percussionist with funky local trio Black Eyed Susan. "Everyone has been supportive — from the press and radio to the clubs and bands. It seems like every restaurant and bar likes to have live music, whereas back in Baltimore, things were a little more blue-collar and the big venues were the only places to feature live music."
Comprised of Adam Chase, 24, big brother and guitarist Matt Chase, 26, and singer/keyboardist Aaron Levy, 26 (not to be confused with Aaron Levy of local band The Library Fire), Black Eyed Susan starting hitting the local club and bar scene last year with a serious-minded blend of rock, soul, and reggae grooves — or what they called "music of soul and sophistication; structure and improvisation." This week marks the official release of their independently produced album, Songs From the Bottom.
"We wrote and recorded this album while living in Baltimore, but the steam that we've picked up to allow ourselves to have a successful release and the momentum in our career has come from becoming a part of the Charleston music scene," says the drummer.
The band initially started out as a quartet of high school friends in the late '90s in Baltimore with David Barkowitz on bass and lead vocals. Barkowitz was in the group for three years and handled most of the lead vocal duties. Unexpectedly, he left the band just 11 days before they started a major tour in early 2005. Undaunted, they pressed ahead as a trio.
"As a matter of survival, Aaron started playing the bass parts on the keys with his left hand," says Adam. "He really stepped it up. We had to learn a bunch of new material really quickly, but we pulled it off. Live, Aaron will do crazy, amazing bass lines with his left hand while scatting and soloing with his right hand and singing simultaneously. Different notes and different rhythms on each limb — it's pretty amazing."
The 13 songs on Songs From the Bottom have a crisp, pingy production quality and a roomy sound. The celebratory grooves and soulful harmonies of "What Do You Want" kick things off with a '70s-style funk beat and a wild wah-wah guitar solo. The echo-drenched "Feel It" shifts into a more reggae/dub style, propelled by Levy's nasty organ and synth sounds. The piano-driven title track gets down at a slower pace (a la "Easy" by The Commodores). "High Stakes" sounds like Ed King or Dickey Betts jamming on guitar with Ben Folds Five.
In addition to the CD release party at the Pour House this Thursday, Black Eyed Susan play at Art's Bar & Grill in Mt. Pleasant before leaving next week for a jaunt to New York and up the East Coast with their solidified "bassless" lineup.
"That's something The Doors did, but you don't see it happening that often these days," says the drummer. "It might seem like a gimmick, but we did it more out of necessity. We stuck with it because we found it easier to gel musically with fewer people involved. Now, we take elements of funk and hip-hop and incorporate them in the rhythm of the songs, and we take Southern rock, jazz, R&B, and soul elements and use those in the guitar and keyboard melodies and the vocals."