Band members (l-r):
Jeremy Sellers–Bass, Vocals
James Sewell–Keyboards, Trumpet, Vocals
Karolyn Troupe–Viola, Lead vocals
Daniel Lawson–Guitar, Lead vocals
Aaron Esposito–Trumpet (not pictured)
In early 2008, Venice is Sinking was loading out after a show at Athens, GA’s Georgia Theatre when the Theatre’s owner, Wilmot “Wil” Greene, approached them. Wil liked the way Venice is Sinking’s atmospheric dream-pop worked in congruence with his wide open art deco theater, and he had a unique proposition for the group: record an album at the Georgia Theatre, onstage with minimal production adornment. It sounded like a fine idea, but it also sounded like late-night talk, so the band put it out of their minds and went back to finishing up their second album, AZAR.
Months passed. And then, out of nowhere, Wil came back with news that he had set aside the time for the sessions and hired a producer. In addition, he and Venice is Sinking developed strong ideas/constraints on how the whole enterprise was going to go down: The album would be recorded live, with no overdubs. It would be recorded with only one microphone like the Cowboy Junkies did on The Trinity Sessions (the number of mics was later upgraded to two Calrec Soundfield stereo mics). Finally, the record would be mixed directly to 1/4” tape with no post hoc editing, splicing, or manipulation other than mastering. When it was done it was done.
The self-imposed constraints would be a challenge for Venice is Sinking, but these sessions also represented a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Wil contracted David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers, Sugar) to oversee and engineer the session; Andy Lemaster (Bright Eyes, Now It’s Overhead) helped out for a few songs. Venice sprung into action, writing new songs for the sessions, hammering out a few road-tested covers (songs by Galaxie 500, Dolly Parton, and Waylon Jennings make an appearance), and corralling some songs that didn’t fit on its first two LPs. The band roped in a new bass player, Jeremy Sellers, for a trial by fire, and then recruited many denizens of Athens’ music scene for guest appearances. The Georgia Theatre became the group’s practice space as they worked non-stop to get back to fighting weight, so to speak. And finally when the recording came, the band banged it out, mostly at night, take after take after red-eyed take. If any one person really messed things up, it was rewind and start again, navigating mic placement, sonic anomalies, and all. Cajoled by Barbe’s indefatigable good spirits, Venice is Sinking finally came up for air four days and nights later, album in hand. The setting, the recording constraints, and the live performance all coalesce into the band’s most unique release. The Theatre affords Sand & Lines an eerie spaciousness, and the music balloons outward, dissipating in the rafters. In fact, the Theatre often acts as another band member, warping the sounds to its own spatial idiosyncrasies. The album is dynamic, not exactly a live record (no audience, no clapping, no “sweetening”), but not a studio recording either. The songs themselves find the band expanding into territory twangier and poppier than any of its previous output. The band’s most open-hearted and vulnerable work, Sand & Lines is an experiment (if not exactly experimental), 10 songs recorded live with two mics, presented in the order of their recording, the document of the sound of a beautiful space that doesn’t exist anymore.
On June 19, 2009, with Wilmot Greene and members of Venice is Sinking helplessly watching, the historic Georgia Theatre was gutted by a fire. Within a few hours, the venerable downtown heart of the Athens music scene—which had played host to shows from REM, Pylon, Widespread Panic, and so many more—collapsed in on itself. It was another shot to the tight-knit scene in a year that oversaw the deaths of so many Athens musicians. Ironically, the band had just launched a Kickstarter.com fundraiser to raise money to put out this very record. Venice is Sinking quickly decided that all of the money should go back to Wil and the Theatre crew to help them recover and rebuild. The Kickstarter.com campaign was successful, and all of the proceeds from Sand & Lines will go to the Theatre. Meanwhile, the Georgia Theatre has entered the rebuilding phase and hopes to be open by early 2011. Donations are being accepted at the Georgia Theatre’s website:
Venice is Sinking will tour behind Sand & Lines, including appearances at various SXSW 2010 events. The band has added a trumpet player, Aaron Esposito, to their lineup, though he might not know that yet.
Photo by Mike White