BYE-BYE, 'BIRDIES 


It’s too often forgotten that when social critic Eric Hoffer quipped about leaping “from the frying pan into the fire,” he didn’t exactly mean it as a negative. “We feel free when we escape,” he wrote, before uttering his famous phrase. Hoffer wrote of hard-earned freedom, the kind that burns so good.

As Orlando musicians Brad Register, Curtis Brown, Tyson Bodiford and Michael Yardley – better known as Summerbirds in the Cellar – stumble into rehearsal for a furiously paced, monthlong East Coast run to promote their new album, Druids, their minds have to be drifting to that old frying pan. Hungover and dreadfully weary, the group still has to pack and squeeze in quality time with their girlfriends before they get in the van.

“Take the night off,” their manager calls out. “You leave Friday.”

That Friday marked a fresh course for the music scene standouts: They had a new lawyer and manager, and a long-in-the-making sophomore album recorded in three different cities. The impetus for the new attitude came as a result of the band’s difficult split with Slow January Records that was just finalized.

“It was the best opportunity at the time,” Summerbirds keyboardist Brown says. “We don’t regret [signing with Slow January]. It was kind of obvious that it wasn’t working. [Slow January owner Christopher Sapone] was on board to do this record, but we didn’t really benefit much from doing the last album [Summerbirds’ debut, With the Hands of the Hunter It All Becomes Dead] with him.”

Sapone says, “Summerbirds are really fantastic musicians and very silly people, but like most artists are completely incapable of taking care of themselves. They put on a fucking great show, [however]. They are one of the few bands that sound better live than on record.”

Slow January provided them a small advance to record their follow-up to With the Hands of the Hunter …, and they headed to St. Louis to lay some basic tracks in between tours. The initial intent was to curb the lush but expensive studio tricks that provided their debut with such epic yearning.

“We didn’t really know what we wanted on the first record,” Brown remembers. “I think the last one was too ‘produced.’ After touring and playing a lot together, we realized we’re a much more aggressive, raw band than we were.”

Over the next tumultuous year, however, Summerbirds felt that the growth of the band lent itself even more to the emotional layering that a proper studio engineer could offer. Last year, they went back to Austin, Texas, for sessions with Hands producer Andy LeMaster with the hope of recapturing the ethereal sonic beauty of their earlier days, but something was still missing. Register and Brown, who grew up in Lakeland, had to go back home.

Aaron Marsh, frontman for Copeland, has become something of a salvation for studio-hungry Florida artists in need of inspiration; Marsh’s work as a producer has helped to raise the profiles of locals Anchor & Braille, Anna Becker and others. So it was a no-brainer for Summerbirds.

“When he realized we were struggling to finish the record, he called up and said, ‘I’ll do it for free,’” Brown says. “It was kind of a gift. We could do whatever we want. The pianos [for Druids] were all done in Lakeland – some trombone, just things we never played around with before.”

The result is a moody, defiant exploration of betrayal and loss enveloped by warm textures of heartbreaking melody – a breakup letter composed on Quaaludes. When Register sings, “It gets hard to see where we started, gets hard to see where we’ve been,” on “Ugly Inside,” it doesn’t feel like self-pity so much as the acceptance of a group that has reached a turning point.

Now on their own, unsigned and creatively unencumbered, Summerbirds in the Cellar finally has peeked over the fire, and it doesn’t look too bad.

“I told them from the beginning that Slow January is only a stepping stone to get their music into the ears of a biggie indie or major, and I hope something happens for them,” Sapone says.

Brown and Register, who moved to Athens, Ga., for a short time in order to experience the music scene, have even moved back to Orlando and bought houses, rejoining drummers Bodiford and Yardley, who accommodated their bandmates by commuting.

“We started the band here,” Brown says. “It’s definitely our home. I feel like there could be more beneficial places to live for the band, but I feel like Orlando has a lot of potential. All the bands that come through feel the same way – that it’s at a really good point right now.”

music@orlandoweekly.com

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