When you hear that the Futurebirds feature three guitars and hail from Georgia, it's impossible not to make a few assumptions. Assumption No. 1: They're a classic Southern rock band. However, the Futurebirds are as much like Toro y Moi as they are Drive-By Truckers.
"There are worse comparisons to be drawn," jokes guitarist/singer Carter King of the Southern rock references new audiences immediately make when the sextet of longhairs takes the stage.
Futurebirds balance their lineup — which also includes drums, bass, and pedal steel — by focusing on subtlety and finding space between their musical parts. There is also a heavy drenching of reverb contributing to the band's chilled-out vibe.
"We've got all these really capable musicians, but the biggest issue is that everyone's got to find their part and find their space. There needs to be nuance to what's going on," King explains. "There are a lot of animals to herd on stage, so when we do get the amplifiers roaring, that's just another weapon in the arsenal, like, 'Yeah, at this point, everyone turn to 10 and nail 'em in the face.'"
Last year's Baba Yaga, released on Oxford, Miss.'s Fat Possum label, helped push the group onto bigger stages nationwide on the strength of riffy songs like "Death Awaits" and "Virginia Slims" that recall My Morning Jacket and even Neil Young. Varying between rolling acoustic numbers and big buildups, the collection is peppered with poignant lyrics ("I wrote this for my baby/ but I sing it to my wife," on "Strangers," or the opening lines of "Virginia Slims" — "Eating coffee beans/ and Ritalins, I/ don't want to sleep/ the day away/ We can lie up/ on the rooftop/ Whatever we can score/ from your mama's drawer/ We've been burning too long").
After forming in 2008 in the band's collective college town of Athens, Futurebirds first put out a full-length debut — Hampton's Lullaby — and a duo of EPs. But it's the album they just put in the can this spring that King hopes will define their sound and secure the band's status as torchbearers of neo-Southern rock.
With the band now spread out between Nashville and various cities in Georgia, they chose a neutral location in Richmond, Va. to record. "When we all lived in Athens, we'd book two weeks here or there and people could float in and out, go back to their houses, or just not show up," King recalls. "When we went to Virginia, there was a house across the yard from the studio. Everyone was there, and there was nothing else to do. It's about as focused as six dudes from the ADD generation can be, and that was the idea — to keep everyone engaged."
The yet-to-be-titled new collection may or may not be released in 2014, but putting it under their belt means that Futurebirds can focus on further honing their live show this summer and writing even more songs. King claims that even with five contributing songwriters among the members, the latest compositions are more focused than ever before.
"Everyone in the band is having the same experiences right now," he explains. "People are getting a little more settled down, but we're still fighting tooth and nail to make this band thing work, and we're feeling that as a group."
And if Futurebirds doesn't pan out, King has a back-up plan. He came up with the band name during a class trip to a chicken farm for a poultry handling class at UGA. "I was just exploring all my options, really," he laughs. "Georgia is one of the largest poultry states, so I figured if this is my home, I need to know how to handle chickens, right?"
It's a skill worth having, but with Futurebirds soaring ever higher, it's also one that he'll likely never have to put to use.