- D.S. Resch
It's been about a year since Kent supergroup Beaten Awake formed with four local musicians raised in the wake of this college town's great '90s boom of bands such as Party of Helicopters, the Man I Fell in Love With, Harriet the Spy, and Six Parts Seven.
Looking for new inspiration, friends Joel McAdams, Jon Finley, Ryan Brannon, and eventually Allen Karpinski began practicing in Brannon's second-story apartment and playing impromptu gigs at Kent's Zephyr Pub last year. What emerged was very different from the balls-out guitar rock of their old bands -- a genre-bending brand of arty folk-pop. All they needed was the perfect band name.
"It happened right before we started the band, so the story was pretty fresh then," says Brannon, raising his drink. "To the [first] anniversary of me getting my ass kicked while I was asleep in my room. Let's see if we can do it again tonight."
A little over a year ago, Brannon (Beaten Awake's drummer, bassist, and default manager) found himself the victim of a late-night scuffle with a jealous boyfriend, who walked into his apartment (where the quartet is currently sitting, drinking whiskey and beer) and began pummeling him while he slept.
"I was like, what's that noise?" pipes up Finley, who was sleeping on the couch that night. "I saw Ryan coming out of his room. He was like, 'I think I got beat up.'"
"I was literally beaten awake," says Brannon.
It's an expression of their rebirth as agents of melody.
"It took me so long to realize I just wanted to make pop songs," says McAdams. "I used to be in a band that was only concerned with being loud."
The band's sugary buzz is a product of dueling singer-songwriters with different styles. McAdams pens quirky, low-fi ballads that sound like Lou Barlow on too much Beefeater, and Finley writes moody folk rock that growls like early My Morning Jacket. Onstage, they alternate vocals, keyboards, guitars, bass, and drums. It might actually feel like two different bands if not for the backup -- Brannon on drums and bass, and Karpinski on lead guitar -- melding the two talents into one sound.
"If I have one responsibility in this band, it's to bridge the distinctions that they have as individual songwriters and bring them closer together," says Karpinski.
The band's synergy is working. It's already landed a record deal on the local label Audio Eagle/Fat Possum Records, run by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys (who co-produced the album). That long-player, Let's Get Simplified, should be released this fall, with a subsequent year-end national tour. An early copy of the impressive 12-song disc fulfills their promise, from the polished pop of "Bubble Bath of Sharks!!!" and "Brownstown" to otherworldly indie-rock gems like "Tigers Tale" and "Broken Fang." Hopefully, it's just the beginning.
"I love the record. I love every song on there. I don't think there's anything I would change," says Finley. "When I listen to the record, I get excited. But I get even more excited about the next batch of songs we're going to play, because I know they're going to be so good."