Old You may still be a rookie act, but the Charleston band stands out from the crowd. The lady-fronted quartet displays a satisfying eagerness and a plump 'n' soulful mix of musical styles. With barely two years under their belts, singer/guitarist Young-Mi Feldsott, drummer John Pope, bassist Paul San Luis, and lead guitarist Caleb Bodtorf are already composing thoughtful original tunes and drawing the attention of music fans and hipsters.
Rather than navigating the local club scene as if the venues were hurdles to cross on the way to something bigger and better, Old You has become a malleable bar band with a positive attitude and an ever-growing repertoire. They've also concentrated their efforts on shaping a recognizable style of their own.
"It's obviously based in rock and blues, but when describing the overall sound, I like to throw in funk, soul, and psychedelic," says Bodtorf. "We're still trying to feel it out right now."
Old You sprouted in the fall of 2009 from an acoustic-rock project between Feldsott, Pope, San Luis, and a singer named Chris Parker called Old You and the Magic Beans. The band name was a playful reworking of Feldsott's first name, Young-Mi.
"It's always been an ongoing personal joke on my name with my friends," Feldsott says.
The original group started out with a series of Thursday nights at Norm's Pizza on Calhoun Street. "We played for free booze and food," says Feldsott. "We did a lot of vocal-heavy, three-part harmony stuff for free."
Although Feldsott studied piano and flute as a kid, in high school she gravitated toward the guitar, teaching herself to play. She continued to work on her technique and on song ideas while studying at the College of Charleston and earning a nursing degree at MUSC.
Pope and San Luis spent their high school and college years playing in various garage bands in Georgia and Charleston. Bodtorf, a formally trained guitarist, met San Luis in a CofC dorm during his freshman year. After Parker relocated to Columbia, San Luis switched from guitar to bass and Bodtorf officially came on board.
"We all come from very different backgrounds musically, which is great," says Pope. "We have a soul singer, funk-based drums and bass, and a bluesy, psychedelic guitarist. We're all flowing in different directions and the same direction simultaneously."
By the time Old You started gigging around town, some local scenesters were already familiar with Bodtorf's older brother Zach, the guitarist-singer with local indie quartet Firework Show.
"I've always looked up to him as a person, guitarist, and musician," Bodtorf says of his big brother. "He started playing with the drummer he still plays with now back when I was 10 years old. I thought, 'If they could do that, why can't I?'"
As far as studio work goes, Old You has recorded only a few demos in their practice space in a garage. One of their most popular original songs is a smoky, mid-tempo pop number titled "Abilene." It's a clean and groovy ditty in which Feldsott gets to show off her husky tone, soul-singer chops, and range.
This summer, they plan to record a debut collection of originals at the studios at Awendaw Green.
Their current set list is a hearty mix of classic rock faves from the 1960s and '70s — from Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead to the Stones and Zeppelin. They also throw in a funky new hit by Cee-Lo or Pretty Lights for good measure.
"The versatility in our music allows us to keep people interested throughout a set," says Bodtorf. "If you wanted to be critical about it, you could say it wasn't very cohesive, but a lot of our stuff works together and flows really well. It has good mood swings."
Over the last year, Old You performed regularly at the Rooftop Bar at Vendue, Tasty Thai, Smoky Oak Taproom, Iacofano's, the Silver Dollar, and Midtown Bar and Grill, among other hotspots that normally book cover bands and jammers. They've balanced the weekly money gigs with carefully scheduled shows at other more music-oriented venues that feature original local and touring bands — clubs like the Mill, Awendaw Green, the Village Tavern, the Pour House, and the Tattooed Moose.
"For a long time, it was just about getting as many shows as possible and getting as many people to listen to us as possible" says Pope. "In Charleston, the way you do that is by playing covers. You build up a following that way. That's still what we're doing."
Feldsott doesn't mind the grind of playing the downtown bar scene. Rather than a burden — or an act of selling out — she finds it to be a healthy endeavor for the band.
"We're becoming much better performers, playing these songs over and over again," she says. "It's different from staying home and playing material in the garage when no one's looking. It's better to actually get out there and perform."
Old You also plays at Tasty Thai & Sushi at 9 p.m. on Thurs. April 28 and at the Rooftop Bar at Vendue Inn on Fri. April 29 from 6-9 p.m. Both shows are free.