Artist to Watch: The Vinyl Suns

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On a rainy November night in Athens, Ga., a muffled, distorted guitar can be heard through the walls of a home off of South Milledge Avenue.

The distinguishable sound is the work of fresh-faced Athens darlings The Vinyl Suns.

Formed just recently in August of 2015, the four-piece has established themselves as one of the most prominent bands in the city, playing blues, rock, and “a hint of everything.” To prepare for their upcoming gig at the local 40 Watt Club, the band is holding a practice to work on finalizing their set list.

The practice is held in a rustic room that has been gutted and stripped down to accommodate instruments and other musical gear; equipment is strewn about the garage-like space, furnished with a couple of sofas, an oriental rug in the center of the cement floor, a large Walter White poster filling one of the walls and a cooler with a lid that features the album artwork for Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap.

Lead guitarist Chris Callahan explains that they are guests in the home and that the owner works at the Georgia Theatre. “We put up an ad saying we needed a place to practice, and he answered,” he recalls.

In the college town that produced R.E.M. and The B-52’s, it’s not at all odd for music lovers to lend each other a helping hand. In one corner of the room, a stack of old posters for Georgia Theatre shows that have come and gone serve as mementos for the homeowner and more décor for the practice space.

The bassist has yet to arrive, so the three present band members are not in full practice mode. Classically trained drummer Jack Lloyd strings Christmas lights around the floor and his drum set, while Paxton McClelland, guitarist and lead singer, is tuning his electric with his shoes off. Chris is working on a riff, and Paxton joins.

“Give me the freshest thing on your head. Besides your hair,” Paxton quips.

Chris’ strumming slows and his mouth gapes as he loses focus: “I don’t work good on the spot.”

When left to his own devices, his fingers move up and down the frets like the strings are laced with butter; the more complex the movements, the tighter his eyes squeeze shut.

Just as Chris and Paxton get into their groove, bassist Trae Berry arrives, sneaking in the door with his bass and a Wendy’s bag in tow, a hoodie protecting his long hair from the rain outside. He finds his way to an office chair and plugs his bass into an amp, merging seamlessly into the current jam session that has broken out.

The topic of today’s practice is deciding what song they’ll mesh into the end of one of their originals at their gig at the 40 Watt.

“I think we should do ‘Seven Nation Army,’” says Trae, earning the approval of Paxton.

Chris is on the fence, and Jack isn’t shy about his dislike for the track, “I hate that song. It sucks. It’s just so simple.” While seemingly harsh, the playful bickering is how the band comes to reach an agreement on artistic decisions.

“Well, Bo Diddley only knew how to play one thing. That’s why everybody loved his shit,” Chris retorts in a voice mimicking that of the blues legend. He starts improvising melodies on his electric as Jack and Paxton catch up.

Trae stands up and observes the three of them from the middle of the room with his arms crossed, intently watching and analyzing, evoking an image of an ingenious mad scientist. As the only member of The Vinyl Suns who doesn’t attend the University of Georgia, Trae gives music lessons in his hometown about an hour away from Athens. When the improvised jam session is over, and the group returns to debating their cover song, Trae has some more input, “I don’t want to just play song after song on our set list. I want it to be a memorable experience.”

After a few more moments of deliberating, they decide to take a break. Chris and Paxton both walk outside with unlit cigarettes hanging from their lips.

“I’ve been playing guitar since forever. I couldn’t even tell you when I started playing. My dad played in a band and got me into it when I was really young,” says Chris.

When Jack and Trae eventually make their way outside, they all begin reminiscing about their formation while Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” blares from inside the practice room, courtesy of Jack.

“We lived right next to each other,” says Paxton, pointing at Trae, “And he was always playing guitar. And I played guitar but I kind of sucked.”

The lessons turned into jam sessions with Chris, who they knew from high school, and they became a more serious group. But, they were still in need of a drummer. They knew Jack as one of their friend’s new “random roommates,” and happened to be there on the day he moved in.

Jack cuts in, wanting to tell the story from his perspective, “Within two hours of me moving to Athens – my mom hadn’t even left yet –somehow the news came around that I played drums. Chris was like, as he was walking out, ‘Hey, I heard you play drums.’ So, the day I came to Athens, I joined a band.”

“I think we should play ‘Time’ all the way through,” interjects Trae, shifting gears.

Chris asks for clarification, “Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’ or our ‘Time?’”

The “Time” Trae is referring to is shorthand for the band’s original, “Time Keeps Slippin.’”

The track embodies the band’s collective persona, clever and cheeky with “a hint of everything.” As they practice the song they’ve played at least a hundred times before in the empty practice room, they perform with an energy that would suggest they were standing in front of a packed house at the Bowery. This is the passion that they bring to their art. It’s in the contortion of Chris’ face when he slides his fingers over the neck of the guitar and the power of Jack’s drum hits. It’s in the gruffness of Paxton’s vocal and the rhythm of Trae’s bass. Music is not just their craft; it’s part of them.

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Artist to Watch: The Vinyl Suns – DARBY MCNALLY

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