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Best of 2012: Jordan Lawrence

For the past couple years, I’ve been asked to vote in a year-end lists at a couple publications. One problem: All of those publications only want a ballot of your top-10 records, which means I spend a couple of weeks obsessing over some 30 or 40 LPs with a shot at making my final 10, leaving a solid assembly of deserving records sitting on my spreadsheet. This year, I’m trying to correct my problem. Below, you’ll find my “honorable mention” top 10, the records that just barely missed the cut on my year-end ballot. Enjoy.

11. Dirty Projectors — Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)
12. Mount Eerie — Ocean Roar (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
13. Dan Melchior — The Backward Path (Northern Spy)
14. Dan Deacon — America (Domino)
15. Thee Oh Sees — Putrifiers II (In the Red)
16. Death Grips — NO LOVE DEEP WEB (self-released)
17. Baroness — Yellow & Green (Relapse)
18. Tyvek — On Triple Beams (In the Red)
19. Titus Andronicus — Local Business (XL)
20. Hawks — Pushover  (Learning Curve)

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Churchkey V: August 25th @ PHK

These days, surviving as an independent label is a tall order. It’s a business based mostly on faith, fronting the cash to press a record by a band you love with nothing to back you up but your gut. It’s a game of stretched wallets and bruised livers, and surviving it necessitates that you know your audience and believe in your artists. This fall, we at Durham’s Churchkey Records will celebrate five years of beating the rock ‘n’ roll odds, and we want you to help us celebrate.

Churchkey V hits the Pinhook in Durham on Aug. 25 with performances by Last Year’s Men and Wood Ear. Wood Ear owns our latest release, Steeple Vultures — a gorgeous collection of road-worn, Southern-tinged indie rock. The Independent Weekly’s Grayson Currin called Steeple Vultures “a perfect nexus of the Triangle’s dual indie rock and alt-country legacies.” Last Year’s Men released an LP on Churhckey in 2010 and also happen to be one of the best garage rock bands in the South. The Washington Post’s David Malitz said of Last Year’s Men, “There’s an optimism and energy that helps separate (the) band from its peers.”

Tickets for the show will be set at the low price of $5. That same quintet of Washingtons will buy you any one of the label’s 14 releases at the merch table. We’re grateful to have gotten to work so many wonderful rock ‘n’ roll friends these past five years. Consider this party a rough and rowdy “Thank you.”

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Best of 2011: Jordan Lawrence

Our year-end wrap-up continues with Jordan Lawrence, Churchkey’s publicist and lone employee. Here are his top ten live sets from 2011.

1. Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio – Fletcher Opera Theater, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: The endless momentum and mind-bending textures of Chatham’s signature minimalist statement couldn’t have been more tremendous reverberating through this magnificent setting. It had the effect of an aural narcotic, numbing my brain and distorting my sense of time. Amazing.
  • Signature moment: Among the 10 imposing guitarists performing Chatham’s masterwork, Horseback’s Jenks Miller was the only one to rock out. His impassioned headbanging assured me that at least one other person was as overwhelmed by the experience as I was.

2. Amon Tobin’s Isam – Asheville Civic Center Arena, Moogfest – Asheville, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: The singular combination of Tobin’s lush, pounding electronic composition and the awe-inspiring projection set-up a team of top artists cooked up for Isam‘s performance is tough to put into words. Just watch:

  • Signature moment: The first time the geometry of the projection lined up with Tobin’s cube-constructed screen such that it appeared to move. I literally took two steps back.

3. Swans – Fletcher Opera Theater, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: The set underground legends Swans laid down at Hopscotch was a dark  monstrosity of punishing minor-chord riffs and the menacing clang of powerful chimes. It was forceful and transfixing, and in every way lived up to the band’s reputation.
  • Signature moment: Singer/guitarist Michael Gira stomping out the tempo during the concussive opening to “No Words/No Thoughts” with all the fury of a drum major from Hell.

4. Ty Segall – Kings – Raleigh, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: Polished but raucous, Ty Segall’s sublime March display at Kings was everything a great garage rock set should be. The San Francisco sensation and his band tore through songs with precision, lighting them up with powerful yet economical instrumentals that accentuated his tight and aggressive hooks. In other words, he showed everybody how it’s done.
  • Signature moment: I can remember few sets of straight-up rock ‘n’ roll that have left me so amazed. Hard to pick one moment that was more signature than any other.

5. Suicide – Orange Peel, Moogfest – Asheville, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: Suicide all but invented synth-pop and inspired Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska with their 1977 debut, so seeing them playing it from front to back would have been a thrill even if had been mediocre. It wasn’t. Marty Rev’s chugging, churning keyboard lines found a perfect middle ground between caustic and catchy as Alan Vega found new fury in a voice worn ragged by the intervening years. It was untamed and unforgettable, a timeless display of (still) youthful intensity.
  • Signature moment: Vega bumming a cigarette from a girl in the front row and then grunting his lines through a veil of smoke — in clear violation of the N.C. smoking ban.

6. Earth – Kings, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: The strung-out desert metal of Earth’s fantastic 2011 LP Angles of Darkness, Demons of Light I was even better live, manipulating tired festival minds like soft clay. The set drifted on for two hours and retained an amazing feeling of tense calm throughout, providing an experience that was as impressive as it was absorbing
  • Signature moment: Guitarist Dylan Carlson reprimanding photographers for using flash after he’d asked them not to and making them look like spoiled children.

7. Wolves in the Throne Room – Studio B – Greensboro, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: Wolves’ soaring gusts of black metal guitar are a wonder live. They transformed a ritzy art gallery into a stormy woodland with their stunning guitar architecture and Nathan Weaver’s potent caterwaul.
  • Signature moment: The slow build to the band’s first song built anticipation to a fever pitch before the band laid into their devastating attack.

8. Hiss Golden Messenger – Nightlight – Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: M.C. Taylor and a top-notch band, which included members of the Black Twig Pickers and William Tyler, rendered the smooth trip through American sound of his new LP Poor Moon into an amazingly potent live force. The ensemble was tight, allowing each player in the seven-piece band to shine through wonderfully.
  • Signature moment: William Tyler’s guitar fills were a delight, filling in gaps in creative bursts without ever overshadowing the songs or the other instrumentalists.

9. Naked Gods – Legitimate Business – Greensboro, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: The tempered Wilco-meets-Dinosaur Jr rock of their LP No Jams explodes live, and never more intensely than at this gem of a Thursday night gig. Guitars bent tones in wondrously stoned harmonies as choruses were transformed into shouted exhultations. Rock ‘n’ roll energy doesn’t come any more pure and powerful.
  • Signature moment: Singer Seth Sullivan beating the heck out of his tambourine and letting his eyes roll back during the ridiculously tight guitar work on “Shaq & Diane.”

10. Thee Oh Sees – Krankies Coffee  – Winston-Salem, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: This set was raucous in all the best ways. Thee Oh Sees’ fuzzed-out psych rock was rough but fluid, roaring down catchy pathways with staggering dexterity. The crowd responded in kind, erupting in a jubilant mosh pit that consumed most of the venue.
  • Signature moment: Running to the back of the club for a much needed glass of water and looking on at the writhing crowd. I’ve seen few audiences so excited.

Honorable mention:
Apache Dropout – Deep South, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Brain F≠ – Slim’s, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Gunn-Truscinski Duo – The Pour House, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Frank Fairfield – Flanders Gallery, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Fucked Up – Kings – Raleigh, N.C.
Mikal Cronin – Duke Coffeehouse – Durham, N.C.
Nobunny – Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, N.C.
Reigning Sound (New Year’s Eve) – Grey Eagle – Asheville, N.C.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings –  Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival – Pittsboro, N.C.
Sidi Toure – Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival – Pittsboro, N.C.
Whatever Brains (LP Release) – Kings – Raleigh, N.C.
William Tyler and Wooden Wand – The Pour House, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.

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Best of 2011: Steve Jones

Our look back at 2011 continues with input from Churchkey co-founder Steve Jones. Here are his top ten favorite records from the last year:

1. Mount Moriah – Mount Moriah (Holidays for Quince)
2. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)
3. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Matador)
4. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)
5. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread (Drag City)
6. Apex Manor – The Year of Magical Drinking (Merge)
7. King Louie’s Missing Monuments – Painted White (Douchemaster)
8. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain (Vice)
9. Jacuzzi Boys – Glazin’ (Hardly Art)
10. Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines (Merge)

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Best of 2011: David Koslowski

Today begins a 2011 retrospective from Churchkey artists, friends and employees. David Koslowski, singer ans guitarist for the huge, riff-powered Durham rock outfit Free Electric State starts things off with dual top tens of his favorite records and shows from the past year:

Wye Oak – Civilian (Merge)
Pontiak – Comecrudos (Thrill Jockey)
Zomes – Earth Grid (Thrill Jockey)
Anika – Anika (Stones Throw)
Weekend – Red EP (Slumberland)
Celebration – Hello Paradise (Friends)
Braids – Native Speaker (Kanine)
Arbouretum – The Gathering (Thrill Jockey)
Peaking Lights – 936 (Not Not Fun)
Wooden Shjips – West (Thrill Jockey)

The Soft Moon – Comet Club – Berlin
The Feminists – Köpi (a squat in Kreuzberg) – Berlin
Wye Oak – Deja Fest – Raleigh, NC
Celebration w/ Arbouretum – Scapescape Festival at the Gspot – Baltimore
Scratch Acid – Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, NC
Polvo – Kings – Raleigh, NC
Mike Watt – Local 506 – Chapel Hill, NC
A Place To Bury Strangers – Motorco – Durham, NC
Braids w/ Weekend – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn
Birds of Avalon – Nightlight – Chapel Hill, NC

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Churchkey co-sponsoring Hopscotch day party, Last Year’s Men to perform

Craig Powell’s Layabout in West Durham has become the city’s (and most of the Triangle’s) go to place for great house shows. With a seemingly unending set of indie rock contacts, Powell has turned his home into a way station for oddball out-of-towners in need of a date and a place for local garage acts of all colors to let loose outside of the typical club setting.

For the second year running, Powell brings that magic to Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival. Headlined by far-flung Portland experimentalist Mount Eerie and raucous Churchkey garage act Last Year’s Men, Daytime Layabout 2, sponsored by Churchkey Records, Nice Price Books, Bull City Burger & Brewery and Gravity Records, takes over Slim’s Downtown Distillery on Sept. 9 for a free Hopscotch day party. Entertainment will be split onto two stages. Last Year’s Men and Mount Eerie will join Gross Ghost and Brainbows inside, while Durham mainstays The Wigg Report and Beloved Binge will alternate sets out on the patio.

The festivities get going at 1 p.m. and will wrap up at 5:30 p.m., just in time for Hopscotch ticket holders to scoot on over to City Plaza for Guided By Voices’ farewell concert. No Hopscotch credentials are required to attend the dayparty. Event details below:

Craig Powell and the Layabout present: Daytime Layabout 2

Sponsored by Churchkey Records, Nice Price Books, Bull City Burger & Brewery, and Gravity Records.

Friday, Sept. 9 @ Slim’s Downtown Distillery

1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

FREE – No Hopscotch credentials required

With Last Year’s Men, Mount Eerie, Gross Ghost, Brainbows, The Wigg Report, Beloved Binge

Inside schedule:

1:30 – Brainbows
2:30 – Last Year’s Men
3:30 – Gross Ghost
4:30 – Mount Eerie

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The Evangelist 4/13 — Churchkey Live Update

Hammer No More The Fingers start another jaunt through the UK this weekend. Tonight they’ll bring their muscular rock bounce to the Old Blue Last in London, and they’ll finish out the weekend with appearances in Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Pontefract. They’ll be rocking across the pond for the rest of the month in support of their new album Black Shark, finishing up in Wakefield on April 30. You can check out the band’s touring schedule here. Please make sure to let any friends you have across the way know the band’s coming through.

Monday, Last Year’s Men will be bringing their infectious garage tantrums to Durham’s Duke Coffeehouse for an early work-week rager. They’ll fill the opening slot for Hunx and his Punx and Shannon and the Clams, Show gets going at 9 p.m. and costs $10.


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The Evangelist 3/30 – Churchkey Live Update

Big happenings this week at Churchkey. Friday, Hammer No More The Fingers unveil their sophomore full-length Black Shark with a release party at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall. The trio explodes in well-controlled bursts of tenacious energy with muscular bass lines and riffs that prickle with amazing texture. They’ll be joined at the show by rambunctious and entertaining indie folk band Midtown Dickens and hip-hop/rock act LiLa. The $10 show gets started at 9 p.m. with Midtown Dickens. Come on out and grab your copy of the new album and take part in all the fun!

Also on tap from Churchkey this week — Last Year’s Men play shows in New York and Ohio. Tonight they hit the Bug Jar in Rochester, and then they head to Now That’s Class in Cleveland for a Friday night performance.

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The Evangelist 3/10 – Churchkey Live Update

Hard hitting garage rock duo The Loners play a hometown show at Raleigh’s Tir Na Nog tonight. The band’s tough, chugging riffs and tenacious rhythms will be paired with the retro pop of the Huguenots. It’s a free show, part of the Local Beer, Local Band series, and, as always, there will be great specials on the local brews the bar has on tap.

Free Electric State bare their arena-sized shoegaze riffs in support of a band with sound that’s actually as large as their own. The band opens up for A Place To Bury Strangers at Motorco Music Hall. The $12 show gets going at 9:30 p.m. Hooray For Earth plays in the middle of this three-band bill.

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The Evangelist 2/22 – Churchkey Live Update

Saturday Last Year’s Men help one of Durham’s finest celebrate five years in business. The trio will lend their spunky rock attack to the celebration for Bull City Records at Fullsteam Brewery. Everyone here at Churchkey owes at least a few of our favorite records to the always fantastic advice of store owner Chaz Martenstein, so get out and help the Men and a bill that includes Phil and Brad Cook of Megafaun and Midtown Dickens among others show the man what he means to his city. The event costs $10 and gets going at 7 p.m. See you there!

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The Evangelist 2/15 – Churchkey Live Update

This Sunday Triangle rock fans get a free chance to check out two of their finest. Spider Bags, who released a 7-inch of their delightfully dingy garage rock on Churchkey Records last fall, will hit Carrboro, N.C. alongside Wesley Wolfe. Wolfe’s exquisitely neurotic musings parlay well over his band’s powerful riff rock. The show gets going at 6 p.m., so get on out and put great cap on your weekend.

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The Evangelist 2/9 – Churchkey Live Update

Thursday, Hammer No More the Fingers‘ electric guitar player Joe Hall plays a solo set at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall. Off-kilter and thrilling rock band Americans in France also plays. The free show starts at 9 p.m.

Saturday, Free Electric State bring their frenzied, shoegazing rock hooks out of its recording hiatus to back up the pop-rocking I Was Totally Destroying It. Also on tap at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall are Charlotte’s sleek and powerful Sammies and Wesley Wolfe, whose nervy rock angst will appeal to the Weezer fan in anyone. It’s been a bit since FES has been out on the stage, so this welcome return should prove a great set. The starts at 9 p.m. and costs $5.

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The Evangelist 2/2 – Churchkey Live Update

Triangle fans get two sweet treats from Churchkey artists this weekend.

Dirty Little Heaters singer Reese McHenry will display her searing, soaring pipes at Motorco Music Hall tonight at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall. She’s got one of the best rock ‘n’ roll voices you’ll hear in any club, and she writes emotionally powerful songs that are impossible to ignore.

Hammer No More The Fingers headlines the second night of WKNC’s Double Barrel Benefit Saturday. The student radio station of Raleigh’s N.C. State University presents this showcase at the city’s Kings Barcade. It’s a packed bill that also features Charlotte spaz-pop act Yardwork. Hammer plays last in the five-band bill, but you should get out early as this one is likely to sell out.

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The Evangelist 1/19 – Churchkey Live Update

This weekend excellent DIY label Death To False Hope will celebrate its second anniversary with a music festival in Durham. Hammer No More The Fingers and Last Year’s Men will be taking part.

The 49-band fest will hit Motorco Music Hall and Fullsteam Brewery and will feature performances from several great rock acts including Less Than Jake and Sorry About Dresden. Hammer No More The Fingers will play the Motorco main stage on Friday night at 8:30 p.m. Last Year’s Men will appear on the Fullsteam stage Saturday at 8 p.m.

Tickets for the festival cost $25 and can be purchased here. More information on the line-up and DTFH is available here.

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The Evangelist 1/12 – Churchkey Live Update

This week Last Year’s Men gets the chance to open up for two of North Carolina’s most nationally recognized acts.

Friday, the lithe, fiery garage trio will travel to Wilmington to open for The Love Language. The two bands hit the city’s Soapbox. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are still available at They cost $10 in advance and $12 the day of the show. Onward, Soldiers is also on tap to play.

Sunday, Last Year’s Men open for legendary garage rock powerhouse Reigning Sound. The two bands play at Chapel Hill’s Local 506. The 9:30 p.m. show costs $10. Tickets available at

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The Evangelist 12/29 — Churchkey Live Update

Monday Chapel Hill garage heroes Last Year’s Men will join Connecticut’s excellent Estrogen Highs at the town’s Nightlight club.

Here’s what Nightlight’s website has to say about the show:

“Chapel Hill powerpop-garage combo Last Year’s Men just took a tour of the South, playing such locales as Cleveland, TN and Birmingham, AL and will be down for a rowdy homecoming. The last time I saw Connecticut’s Estrogen Highs was in the shag-carpeted basement of the Philbog (R.I.P.)– now these psych-garage dreamers will come expand minds and shatter eardrums at the Nightlight.”

It’s a very FREE show, and it starts at 9 p.m. So come out and get some relief from the first day of your work week.

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Best of 2010: Jordan Lawrence

Today’s top 10 comes from Churchkey publicist Jordan Lawrence. Here are his top 10 live sets from 2010:

These are all hometown shows because I didn’t really stray out of the Triangle to hit up a concert this year. (Side note: what a bummer, need to schedule some road trips in 2011) Also, this list is dominated by this year’s Hopscotch and Troika music festivals, two of the most satisfying festivals to hit the Triangle in the five years I’ve been living here.

1. Fucked Up – Berkley Cafe, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: Damien “Pink Eyes” Abraham is one of the most transfixing frontmen I’ve ever seen. He owns his band’s monolithic hardcore riffs with the inescapable gravitas of the best televangelists. The audience at Berkley was only sad he couldn’t preach forever.
  • Signature moment: Abraham accidentally dumping a cooler full of ice and water over his head and the audience and then jumping into the mosh pit to direct a make-shift Slip ‘n Slide.

2. Megafaun and Fight the Big Bull – Hayti Heritage Center, “Sounds of the South” – Durham, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: This amazing set, the last of a three-night stand that will be a live album next year, not only featured entrancing arrangements and performances by the experimentalist folkies of Megafaun and the ultra-talented jazz ensemble of Fight the Big Bull, but was also lifted by breathtaking vocal performance by Sharon Van Etten and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.
  • Signature moment: Both bands’ friends and families rushing to the stage to close out the event with a rousing chorus of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Sounds of the South indeed.

3. Harvey Milk – Berkley Cafe, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: Harvey Milk’s Hopscotch set was a tour-de-force, balancing the band’s cement-truck grade sludge with agile blues riffs. The effect was like a heavyweight fighter who can move with the ease of a featherweight.
  • Signature moment: Harvey Milk closed its set with a searing, more-than-10-minute blues jam that balanced arresting emotionality with punishing metal heft.

4. Public Enemy – City Plaza, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: Seeing probably the best living hip-hop band use downtown Raleigh as the scene for one of the most fun spectacles I’ve ever seen is something I won’t ever forget.
  • Signature moment: Flavor Flav’s ridiculous, near-30-minute rant at the end of the set, touching on everything from his public image to his upcoming fried chicken chain. N.C.’s capitol becoming a real-life version of VH1: priceless.

5. Collections of Colonies of Bees – Pour House, Friend Island Day Party – Raleigh, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: Emotive and technically impressive in a way that most post-rock bands can only dream of,  COCOB’s run-through of it’s upcoming album Giving at this Hopscotch day party was devastating. Prediction: the band will be making an appearance on my album list for 2011.
  • Signature moment: The guy next to me in the audience at this noon performance who leaned over and said, “Man, this is fantastic! I just came for the free coffee.”

6. Titus Andronicus – Local 506 – Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: The rambling punk/Boss anthems of the band’s fantastic 2010 record The Monitor were even more explosive in person. Singer Patrick Stickles shouts vitriol as good as any singer around.
  • Signature moment: Spider Bags’ Dan McGee joining the band to reprise their Monitor duet “Theme from ‘Cheers'”, a hilarious and hard-hitting drinking jam.

7. Black Congo NC – Deep South, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.

  • BCNC’s afro-jazz-rock fusion started out my Hopscotch on one of its brightest notes. Bold, adventurous melodies from guitar, keys and saxophone created a tangled jungle of pristine sound.
  • Signature moment: The band’s impassioned performance of luxurious ballad “Seagull” resounded with technical brilliance and amazing feeling. Possibly the single best song I heard at the festival.

8. Mount Moriah – Fullsteam Brewery, Troika Music Festival – Durham, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: Heather McEntire’s insightful gems of love and loss and embattled spirituality cut to the quick, especially in the context of the band’s lush country rock. At Troika the band owned its songs with help from Megafaun’s Phil and Brad Cook, on keys and bass respectively. Brilliant.
  • Signature moment: The band’s gut-wrenching take on Bellafea’s “Telling the Hour”. Break-up songs rarely come this cathartic and satisfying.

9. Spider Bags – Local 506, Dive Party IV – Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: The barely controlled, but always thrilling shambles of Spider Bags’ garage-y barroom rock is always a treat, but this was the best set I’ve ever seen from them. Tight and powerful, but still rough around the edges, the band owned the stage like the veterans they are. Churchkey artist or not, that’s something I couldn’t resist if I tried.
  • Signature moment: McGee dealing with two assholes in the front row by beating them at their own game — lying on his back, accepting the beer they poured in his mouth and then spitting it in the air back at them, all while nailing his electrifying guitar lines.

10. Frank Fairfield – The Pinhook – Durham, N.C.

  • Why it was so good: Fairfield, a California singer who embodies the role of pre-Seger folk in full era dress, fiddles and banjos his way through traditional songs with gritty nuance. It fully transports you back to the past they represent.
  • Signature moment: Fairfield’s take on “Boll Weevil”, which oozed with so much rustic charm it might as well have been crackling off of a vintage field recording.
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The Evangelist 12/15 – Churchkey Live Update

Hammer No More the Fingers and Last Year’s Men are out on the road this week. Hammer is finishing up the last leg of a tour up to the Northwest and back. The Men head out this weekend for a short jaunt through Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Dates for both are below

Hammer No More The Fingers Dates

Last Year’s Men Dates

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The Evangelist 12/8 – Churchkey Live Update

This week rock fans outside of the Triangle get a great opportunity to check out one of Churchkey’s best.

Engaging and exuberant Durham indie rock trio Hammer No More The Fingers is hitting the road for a short tour this month. They’re out there now, heading up to the Northeast and touring their way back down until just before Christmas. Dates for the tour are below.

For those of you looking for something local, the Churchkey Holiday Party is coming up next Wednesday, Dec. 15 at Durham’s Pinhook. Count on tons of great music and all-star jams from Churchkey artists. Cheap drinks and rock n’ roll all night.

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CKIII: The News & Observer interviews Free Electric State

In a little bit over 24 hours, Raleigh’s first-ever Hopscotch Music Festival will inundate downtown with over 120 bands. And on Saturday during that festival Churchkey celebrates its third birthday with a free day party at Tir Na Nog. Lasting from noon to 5 p.m. and headlined by the excellent Hammer No More The Fingers, Churchkey Three is a celebration of the three fun years we’ve had so far and the prospect of many more to come. To make sure you’re ready, we’ve got the last entry in our interview series. Today David Menconi of The News & Observer interviews Free Electric State, who is also playing our little shindig. Happy birthday to us.

Hopscotch, the music festival that kicks off Thursday in downtown Raleigh, is throwing a national spotlight onto the Triangle music scene — including Churchkey Records, the local label marking its third anniversary. Churchkey is sponsoring one of Hopscotch’s many free dayparties Saturday afternoon at Tir Na Nog in Raleigh, with a good chunk of the label’s roster playing. See below for an interview with one of them, Free Electric State, which is one of seven such interviews done on local blogs in conjunction with Hopscotch. And I’ll see you out and about this weekend.

Time in bars is often time misspent, but it worked out very well for Free Electric State. The band’s genesis goes back to Durham nightspot The Pinhook, where Nick Williams was tending bar in late 2008. David and Shirle Koslowski were among the regulars at Pinhook, where they’d regularly get into musical geek-talk with Williams – especially their mutual love of ’70s Krautrock and early-’90s shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine.

At the time, the Koslowskis were finishing up their run with the new-wave pop band Gerty, and they were looking to start something louder. So one night, they asked if Williams knew anybody who played guitar. Sure, Williams said, I do. Free Electric State was born shortly after that, and the band is decidedly louder and more aggressive than Gerty ever was. But the new group is no less catchy. “Caress,” Free Electric State’s Churchkey Records debut album, is a terrific example of the fact that crushing volume and melodiousness need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, Free Electric State’s melding of to-the-gut whomp with candy-coated sweetness is very much like My Bloody Valentine.

“My Bloody Valentine is the best, in my opinion,” Williams says. “Very cerebral. But one of our big influences that gets overlooked a lot is Swervedriver, which is first and foremost a rockin’ band that happened to have great, lush textures.”

“Yeah,” David Koslowski adds, “those big-guitar swirly rock songs with lots of great hooks and melodies. That’s what we want to do.”

Mission accomplished on “Caress,” which is remarkably cohesive given the circumstances of its making. After Jett Rink’s Tony Stiglitz signed on as drummer, the group recorded the album after being together less than six months, with little in the way of collaborative songwriting.

Continue reading CKIII: The News & Observer interviews Free Electric State

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CKIII: Recess interviews Spider Bags

Seventeen days remain before Churchkey Records takes over the Tir Na Nog during Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival. Keeping up with our weekly interview series, today we had Kevin Lincoln from Recess, the weekly arts and entertainment section of Duke’s Chronicle newspaper, sit down with Dan McGee, lead singer of Chapel Hill’s garage-rocking Spider Bags. Check out the section and also keep up with the section’s Playground blog. Enjoy the interview and check back next week for the next entry.

Recess: So, you guys released your first few records on Birdman, which is based out of San Francisco. Now you’re on Churchkey, which is obviously a Durham label, and home to some of the area’s most interesting bands, like Hammer No More the Fingers and the Dry Heathens. What led to the change in labels?

Dan McGee: Oh, I didn’t change labels. The way the record world works these days is, it’s not like it used to be where you’d be an artist for Columbia or something like that—there’s a lot of different niche labels, what do they call them, boutique labels, and what’s good and interesting about the music industry these days is that you can release on a variety of different labels. I was looking to do some singles this summer, and it just so happens that there are, in this area, a bunch of really great lables starting up: we did one with Odessa, out of Chapel Hill, and we did one with Chaz at Bull City Records, and I was talking to Kyle, it was like a year ago I was talking to Kyle, and I was telling him that this year I wanted to do a bunch of singles, and he was like, yeah, you know, whenever you want. I see Kyle and Steve around town a lot, we have similar taste in music and go to shows a lot. I just like the idea of doing singles with different labels, and I also like the idea of doing releases with local labels. So I haven’t changed labels—I’ll probably do another full-length with Birdman eventually—but I just like making music, and spreading it around is a little easier than waiting for one person to put something out, you know.

Recess: That makes sense. Ok, next question: I’ve seen you guys referred to as North Carolina natives, which I know is not true, because I’ve also seen writers mention you guys as New Jersey natives transplanted to the Triangle, the Churchkey site talks about you being down here and then you were working a truck-driving job and then you weren’t working it so you started living down here. So, North Carolina, New Jersey, both obviously play a role, but what do you guys think of yourselves in terms of the North Carolina-New Jersey connections, and how do you think this affects your music?

DM: Well, I don‘t know, it’s not something I really think about. I grew up in New Jersey, and I think I was shaped more by New Jersey than I have been—I’ve only lived in North Carolina for three years. I feel like a New Jersey person; when people ask me where I’m from I say New Jersey. As far as how it changes my music, I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know what the environmental factors are that go into the music I make. I don‘t think I’m shaped all that much by the state that I live in: it changes as you get older, and your music changes, and your environment changes. I don’t write about the same things I wrote about three years ago. It’s not something that I feel, you know?

Recess: Yeah, I couldn’t believe when I read this thing and it said you were North Carolina natives. You guys do have an identity as a band from the Triangle, though.

DM: Yeah, the band was born here. Even though I was living in New Jersey when we recorded the first record, we recorded it here—it doesn’t bother me if somebody says that.

Recess: With the New Jersey thing comes the Titus Andronicus connection—when I saw them play live Patrick Stickles called you his favorite band. How did you end up on The Monitor, which I thought was a pretty cool cameo?

DM: Patrick and I go back pretty far. He and a couple other guys—there’s this guy Sam who played drums on the “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah” single—those guys I knew in New York. I was in a band called the DC Snipers and they used to come to our shows and hang out. I liked all those kids, they’re really genuine, you know? And they obviously have a real genuine like of music, and I enjoyed talking to them. When they started the band Titus Andronicus and I got that single, it really blew my mind, and I was really happy. They liked Spider Bags from the beginning: they came through here and played “Waking Up Drunk” at one of their concerts, some people were telling me about it. Patrick sent me an e-mail when they were getting ready to record the record, and he was like, I really want you to be a part of this record, and I was kind of flattered. I thought he was gonna want me to play guitar or something on it. I ended up driving up to New York, and I didn’t know what I was going to do on the record until I got there. I got there at like, midnight. I don’t like to drive alone, especially in the dark, so I was drinking tequila (laughs). I got there about midnight, and he was like, I want you to sing this part. There are a lot of words in his songs, and the cadences are a lot different than what I’m used to, so I stayed up to until like two or so, and did this thing, and I finally got it right. Then I woke up the next morning and drove back to North Carolina.

Continue reading CKIII: Recess interviews Spider Bags

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CKIII: Triangle Music interviews Last Year’s Men

In less than a month downtown Raleigh will be inundated with the three-day onslaught of the first-ever Hopscotch Music Festival, and in the middle of the hub bub we here at Churchkey Records will have our third birthday party. They grow up so fast, don’t they? Here to get everyone excited about our Churchkey Three day party is another installment in our interview series. This week Triangle Music sat down with Churchkey’s newest act, the rowdy garage-rock trio Last Year’s Men.

Next month will mark the arrival of the Hopscotch Music Festival, a three-day musical buffet featuring artists ranging from Public Enemy to Animal Collective’s Panda Bear. If you can’t make some of the evening festivities, don’t worry. There are already several promising Hopscotch-centric parties scheduled during the day.

Durham-based Churchkey Records will host Churchkey III in honor of their third birthday. It’s a free event on Saturday, September 11, at Tir na nOg and will (naturally) feature some of the label’s fantastic artists.

Included in this great line-up is Churchkey’s newest addition, Last Year’s Men. They’re Churchkey’s youngest band—drummer Ian Rose is only 17, and guitarists Ben Carr and Geoff Schilling are 18 and 21, respectively. Ben and Geoff recently took a break from their full-time work schedules to talk to Triangle Music about just a few of the many things they have going on right now.

How did you end up with Churchkey Records?

Ben Carr (BC): Steve [Jones], who runs it with Kyle [Miller], was at a show, I guess it was at BCHQ, with some really lovely bands. He heard it and he liked it apparently, and we were unloading all of our shit from the stage–“stage,” quote, unquote—and he was like, “Well, you guys want to meet up for coffee some time, or we”ll sit down and have a meal and we’ll talk about this,” and we were like, “All right, awesome! That’s great, because we need a hand,” so…yeah. They’ve been great.
As it came time to begin work on their first record, the question of who to produce it came up. The guys got lucky, and landed in the hands of Spider Bags’ Dan McGee.

How did you get started working with Dan?

BC: That also came from Churchkey. I had a meeting with Steve and Kyle right when we first got signed, and we were talking about different ways to actually record the album, actually get the music onto a piece of something, y’know, like a piece of media. They were trying to send us to various places, and I was like, “Well I don’t really want to do them because of blah blah blah, I don’t want to record the full album with blah blah blah,” and they were like, “Well we just signed Spider Bags for a seven inch, do you want to work with Dan?” And I was like, “Well, yeah.” I’ve been listening to Spider Bags for years. I was in the car with Geoff right right after I bought my first Spider Bags record and I was super-stoked on it for like a year. So, yeah, we hooked up with Dan for that, and we ended up recording with Andy…

Ben whispers to Geoff for help, struggling to remember the name. He means Andy Magowan, leader of Durham jazz group D-Town Brass.

BC: But yeah, he’s this really amazing big band leader, but he also does some recording on the side, and he had a tape reel. So we recorded all of our tracks onto two inch tape, so we got a really cool tape hiss throughout the record. But Dan then got really into it and totally signed on as being the producer, as in like setting up all of our recording dates for us, and calling me at whatever time at night being like, “Dude, I was listening to this song, and I think you need to add this here and take away this here, it’s gonna be awesome, just trust me Continue reading CKIII: Triangle Music interviews Last Year’s Men

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CKIII: Mann’s World interviews The Loners

In the third week of our Churchkey Three interview series, Karen Mann from Raleigh blog Mann’s World sits down with Eddie Taylor from rowdy garage duo The Loners. Enjoy the article, and check back next week when Triangle Music talks with Last Year’s Men.

The free day party action at Hopscotch is going to be almost as good as the main event. Case in point: The Churchkey Three Day Party taking place at noon on Saturday (Sept. 11) at Tir na Nog. The name is a celebration of this indie label’s third anniversary, and the line-up is a great one: Dirty Little Heaters, Free Electric State, Last Year’s Men, The Dry Heathens and Hammer No More the Fingers. To get everyone in the mood for the party, various local blogs are posting interviews with bands on the Churchkey roster over the next few weeks.

I chose to interview Eddie Taylor from The Loners because I’ve known him for ages, and think he’s a great musician and all-around swell guy. I can’t tell you how much fun I had during this interview.

This interview began and ended — and was briefly punctuated in the middle — with a round of shots. That’s how yours truly found out that Eddie really isn’t one for tequila or Jaeger. If he’s going to do a shot, which isn’t often, he says, he’d prefer to do something “girly” like a Lemondrop. That was the one in the middle.

I also found out that Eddie, one of the friendliest and most gregarious people I know, doesn’t much like talking about himself. In fact, he’s downright shy at times. Sitting in a dark booth at the newly opened Neptunes, with ska in the background, we downed that first round of 1800, and I tweeted that I was about to interview him. The Love Language immediately replied “tell eddie we said hey!!” He seemed flattered and almost a little embarrassed that his name was being thrown about on Twitter. That’s the sort of thing associated with rock stars, or people who think they’re rock stars, and Eddie definitely doesn’t want to be a rock star.

“I don’t like rock stars,” he says. “I don’t like seeing friend get changed into something they aren’t. I like them the way they were. I have a friend who did a video game. He’s making bank. I’ve had a lot of friends who have become real successful, and they’re not the same as they were after that.”

Really? Even if being a rock star meant that he, as a newly single dad, would have women throwing themselves at him, plus a nice nest egg for his daughter?

“It’s an integrity factor that gets lost in all that,” he says. “There are very few that hold on to that integrity. Neil Young has always held on to that integrity. There’s a lot of people I respect that have been able to granted they’re great, they’re famous, but they haven’t lost touch with where they came from.”

He doesn’t even care that much about playing anywhere other than the Triangle.

“I’d like to go out and play more in other places but I can’t dump money into that, get to that town and play for five people who don’t really give a fuck,” he says. “I just can’t do that, cause I’ve done it. If someone offers us something in New York, and have a weekend in New York and go play at WFMU, I’m there. But playing to nobody? I can practice and do that!“

Despite, or perhaps because of, this total lack of giving a damn, The Loners have gained a reputation around town as the band that you don’t miss. If you want people to come out and see your band, you make sure to get a show with The Loners. It doesn’t really matter if they play Slim’s three times in the same week. People will go see them, and will love them, all three times. That’s been especially true since they reformed in 2007 (at the goodbye party for the first Kings) after breaking up for several years. During their first incarnation, they were known for putting on shows that might be great and might be crap, but were always entertaining. Now they’re solid every single time.

The Loners formed out of the ashes of Big Joe, Eddie’s alt-country band that moved to Raleigh from Tucson (via Kentucky) after being invited to play the SPITTLE Fest at the Brewery. He struck up a friendship with popular local drummer Chris Jones, who shared his love of ‘60s garage and psychedelic music as well as ‘80s hardcore.

“Chris Jones is one of my heroes,” he says. “I have the utmost respect for that person. I like the fact that I’ve heard us referred to as a Raleigh tradition. That’s a nice feeling. we’re not a national act. we don’t tour. we are what we are.

The band’s sound has changed a little bit over time, he says, but still retains those two influences, but still retains a healthy dose of ‘70s punk and arena rock. That’s fitting because his first concert, back in Murray, Ken., was Rush, Angel and Blue Oyster Cult. He was 15 and tripping his balls off. His main memories are that he accidentally ripped up his own ticket, and the members of Rush wore silk outfits and appeared to over over a massive shag carpet on the stage.

Eddie says he’s had more time to write lately and that he’s been listening to a lot of Guided by Voices. One of his old pals has an “Eraserhead-meets-’50s-Sci Fi” film that will debut at the Fright Night festival in Louisville, and a couple of Loners songs are in the movie. There are a couple of other things in the works too, but he doesn’t want to jinx them by talking about them prematurely. Buy him a Lemondrop and maybe he’ll spill his guts to you.

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CKIII: WNnG interviews Hammer No More The Fingers, part one

Just barely more than five weeks before Churchkey Records takes to the Hopscotch Music Festival to celebrate its third birthday, and it’s time for the second entry in our interview series. This week Chaz Martenstein from from Durham’s amazing Bull City Records talked with Hammer No More The Fingers for his WNnG blog. Check out part one of the interview below, and make sure to come back next week when Raleigh blog Mann’s World sits down with The Loners.

After I had just moved to town, my first group of regulars was a loyal bunch of bored kids from Durham School of the Arts. I was new to the area, so any kind of repeat action and conversation in the record shop was beyond welcome. A name kept getting dropped here and there…I was told I really needed to hear the Droogies. “What? You haven’t heard the Droogies?? Oh Man!” was something along the lines of the regular excited local band chatter. These kids were proud of this small group of guys who had slipped out of the dry, every day high school life to dive headlong into the daunting “local music scene.” Honestly, when you live in an area that is so fertile with music and community, how do you just step outside your garage door and hope to be picked up and accepted by it? I can’t think of a more daunting, scary task for a young band. Turns out it really wasn’t an easy task at all. The band went their separate ways for a good long time until they pieced it back together and decided to start fresh again.

A band popped up. Their name was Hammer No More the Fingers. I remember when the band seemed to just charge around the corner out of nowhere. How can I specifically remember this? Don’t bands pop up everyday? Well, yes. Bands do pop up every day. However. It’s not often that a band pops up with such a strange name that you actually remember not quite feeling the urge to rush out to check them out. Should I really spend my night tonight going to see a band whose name implies a cheesy blues-rock, bar jam band that’s probably from a nameless freshman dorm on Duke’s East Campus? Nah, I’ll be good jamming my Air Supply LP at home tonight. Thanks.

Whoops. Turns out I totally misread that one.

I was relieved, surprised, thrilled, enamored, embarrassed…

DUNCAN: We had a four song demo and a show booked at the now defunct 305 South before we decided on Hammer No More the Fingers. We were really tired of coming up with dumb band names, so we kind of just kept the last dumb band name that any of us thought of.

The name comes from this cheap, chinese made, red plastic pair of pliers that holds a nail in place so you don’t accidentally hammer your thumb. The product is called “Guide Nails.” I think my grandpa picked it up at Lowes and gave it to my dad years ago as a gag. It still remains unopened. The Chinese to English translation on the package is so whacky. Hammer No More the Fingers is one of the more comprehensible sentences. One day I will give “Guide Nails” to my son. I think the name came out of necessity since we had a demo and were trying to book shows, but we all kind of liked the quirkiness of it. I like the name more and more as time goes by.

I kinda wanted to ask why they didn’t just go for the name Guide Nails. Instead, I wanted to probe a little bit and go slightly deeper into the band name process.

DUNCAN: We had a few really offensively bad band names before we decided on Hammer No More the Fingers. I think ‘Amputee’ was in the running. As was ‘Preesh Leatherson’ and ‘Pantera Bread.’

Since I’d heard so much about the earlier bands and many sidetracks that lead down the path to Hammer, I really wanted examples. After pestering the band just enough, I was somehow able to finagle old recordings out of them dating back to their elusive (and probably almost forgotten) high school years.

JOE: Hammer No More the Fingers has gone through several incarnations since Jeff and I started playing music together in the fourth grade. That was around 1993.  Our first performance was at the sixth grade talent show where we covered Green Day’s “When I Come Around.”  I met Duncan at DSA a couple of years later and joined his band Slippery Chicken. We played the Duke Coffeehouse, the Skylight Exchange (now the Nightlight), and various garages throughout the Triangle.  We recorded a 7 song tape with Mitch Marlow (now of Warrior Sound) in 1997 and a full length CD out in the boondocks of Orange County in 1998, which included the hits Power Gods of Utah Part IV the Legacy and Butt Demons from Denmark.

Slippery Chicken – Power Gods of Utah, Part IV the Legacy
Slippery Chicken – Butt Demons from Denmark

Continue reading CKIII: WNnG interviews Hammer No More The Fingers, part one

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CKIII: Dive interviews The Dirty Little Heaters

Just a little over six weeks before we at Churchkey celebrate out third birthday with Churchkey Three, our jam-packed day party at the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh. Today, in anticipation of that, we kick off an interview series with our bands. Below you’ll find a chat with Linnie Greene of Diversions, the weekly arts and entertainment section of The Daily Tar Heel and Reese McHenry of The Dirty Little Heaters. Enjoy the interview, and make sure you check back next Wednesday for the next in the series.

If you ask any local musician, critic or music fan about the most exciting thing on the Triangle scene’s horizon, the vast majority of them will have an emphatic answer — Hopscotch Music Festival.

The three-day event is on the minds and tongues of most local and national music fans, and this week, Dive talks to Reese McHenry of the Dirty Little Heaters, one of many bands that will be a part of Churchkey Records’ Hopscotch daytime showcase, Churchkey Three, which goes down on Saturday, September 11 at 12:30 p.m.

Check the end of this Q&A for links to the series of interviews leading up to Churchkey Three.

Diversions: What is Chuchkey Three? How did you initially hear about it?

Reese McHenry: I heard about it from Kyle [Miller] actually. Churchkey Three — so it’s the birthday party. So we were going to do Hopscotch [Music Festival], and then we heard that there was going to be a Churchkey showcase, because we’re a party of Chuchkey and because it’s got the baddest acts in town that I want to be affiliated with. Even if we weren’t on that label I’d be so happy to do something with Churchkey. I heard it was at Tir Na Nog, because we’re doing it during the day — which is great, so I can go see shows at night.

Dive: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at Hopscotch?

RM: I’m looking forward to The Love Language, Whatever Brains, Megafaun, Public Enemy of course. I was going say Public Image Ltd., which is not playing, by the way. I wish I had the schedule right in front of me, but then you’d have to put like a million bands that I’d want to see. I mean I am really excited about playing the showcase too, because I’ll be able to see all those Churchkey bands in one afternoon. Even if hopscotch wasn’t going on, I think that would be awesome to watch. I’m so excited about the whole thing. I actually have my whole schedule worked out too – I love how they have it that one bands plays at ten and one band plays at ten thirty.

Dive: What role do you think Chuchkey plays in the local music community?

RM: I think that Churchkey has become kind of one of the frontrunners, a really strong label that is able just by their name to pull really good acts. They have Spider Bags on their label now. That’s crazy, you know? I think between the really good acts that they have on the label and those acts being really strong and community oriented, it draws people to want to be a part of their label. I don’t think Churchkey — at this point, I don’t think they have to woo anybody. I think anybody would be happy to be a part of Churchkey.

Dive: What do you think Hopscotch says about the Triangle? Does it make this scene more legitimate?

RM: I think that the Triangle has really good festivals all around — Troika, the Carrboro Music festival, Rebus Fest. They’re all fantastic community-oriented shows. I think Hopscotch is kind of the granddaddy of them all. Hopscotch was able to take these things that have worked with the other smaller — it’s kind of a good stepping stone to this big huge show now. There are so many bands playing at Hopscotch. I think too to be able to draw Public Enemy and other headlining acts like that — it’s great, and what better place to do that than the Triangle.

Continue reading CKIII: Dive interviews The Dirty Little Heaters