Rising up from the Durham/Chapel Hill area, up-and-coming Americana brethren will be playing tracks from their new recording in the Port City this week. Look Homeward will bring their banjo-pickin’ and Southern-inspired sonic style to Bourgie Nights (127 Princess St.) this Friday, May 22.
Penned after UNC alumni Thomas Wolfe’s novel of the same, Look Homeward banded in 2012. Brothers Lee and Will Anderson added Alex Bingham on bass for the release of their first EP “The Hunger and the Ghost” (2013). Comprising five tracks, the recording was self-produced and recorded with Daniel Goans of Lowland Hum.
“The recording time was a Christmas present from Lee’s brother Will, and the EP was recorded over the course of a couple of weekends in bedrooms with a nearly nonexistent budget,” Greene tells. “These songs are about longing, love, God, mystery, death, and the American South.”
Since the band’s formation and their first release, Will has stepped down in order to attend medical school at Wake Forest University. However, the outfit still is filled to the brim with talent, featuring Wilson Ferdinand Greene IV (banjo) and Evan Ringel (trombone/fiddle).
“We come from an array of music backgrounds,” Greene tells, “but the common thread that unites us is our love for both traditional string-band music and Motown/soul music. The introduction of the trombone and fiddle galvanized two musical influences mentioned above. We like to think about the sound as a marriage of banjo and brass, or even a mixing of Eastern and Western NC. The songs have come more into their own and sound more like themselves than ever before.”
Ringel and Bingham both pursued degrees in jazz music at UNCG, and Lee fortified his interest in music by writing songs after discovering the work of Bob Dylan. While living in a cabin in Foscoe, NC, he furthered his interest by trying his hand at folk music. Sequestered by the snowiest winter in recorded history for Boone, NC, (and without any working TV stations), Anderson’s solitude fully immersed him in the world of music.
Likewise, Outer Banks native Greene grew up listening to the sun-kissed tunes of beach music. “[I] later picked up clawhammer banjo from a close friend while studying at UNC Chapel Hill,” Greene informs.
Once Look Homeward fortified their current lineup, they quickly began playing various venues and working on new, original music. Childhood bonds have helped them secure the necessary talent when it comes to recording. They re-enlisted the help of Groan for their self-titled debut, which was released on May 5. Groan produced the album.
“Lee grew up with Daniel in Greensboro and they have remained close friends since childhood,” Greene details. “Daniel was a major influence upon Lee and one of the reasons Lee is doing what he’s doing. Daniel encouraged us to find out who mixed our favorite records and reach out to them.”
They took his advice and immediately began sending out emails to big-name engineers. Luck (and talent) was ever in their favor, as Grammy-winning engineers Paul Kolderie (Della Mae, Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo) and Ruadhri Cushnan (Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran, U2) answered their calls.
With a producer and two worthy mixers on hand, they set aside one week last spring to record the 11-track album. Groan’s expertise helped their sound evolve from the bare-bones EP to accommodate added instruments. They recorded “Look Homeward” in Fidelitorium Studios, and funded the project with crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter. They also used the engineering chops of Chapel Hill legend Jeff Crawford. It’s currently available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.
Their sense of connection shines through in the album. Look Homeward’s divergent musical sensibilities seamlessly meld, taking on country and jazz elements. While “Steamboat,” which also was featured on their EP, encompasses a pure folk vibe, “Motown” revels in the tumpeting sounds of a gay ol’ New Orleans parade. The album slows down and wears its heart on its sleeve with “Caroline.”
“We worked over 12-hour days and were totally exhausted, but it was an incredible experience unlike any other,” Greene professes. “We all undoubtedly grew closer to each other as a band.”
Now, the band continues to tour in support of the album. The road for any new musician is hard. Ultimately, the teancity to succeed becomes an unparalleled experience.
“Trying to make it as a band requires taking a lot of risks: leaps of faith, not knowing how things will work out,” Greene muses. “We’re pretty damn poor but happy as clams. We’re having a blast, we’re all best friends, and we love the adventure—just taking it all a day at a time and enjoying the ride.”