(originally published in Avenue magazine, July 2005)
By Brian Tucker
Heavy rain has poured for twenty minutes now. Rhory True, wearing a MONO band T-shirt and cell phone in hand waits at the entrance to Pyramid Rehearsal Studios – the Practice Shack, off Greenfield Street. Several cars line the eight foot tall fence. Deep inside bellowing sounds of a band rehearsing emanates from this former warehouse. Rhory’s band, The Title Ceremony, will be rehearsing too.
Discarded lumber and half-filled paint buckets dot the entrance. The smell of fresh paint lingers in the plywood constructed hallways – walls painted black and adorned with stickers and fliers for bands renting a space for two hundred dollars a month. Every door is decorated with something and mismatched couches have found their way here over time.
“It’s this way,” Rhory says, he’s quiet and unassuming. We walk along under the bright glow of hanging fluorescent lights and make a right turn. More doors, more stickers and fliers. Rhory opens a stubborn door to their band room and introduces Daniel Beech and Jeff Bridgers
“Brandon will be along soon,” Daniel says. Jeff sits at the drums but says he plays electric guitar, since he was fifteen and started out playing punk music. The rehearsal room is around twenty by twenty feet – old Christmas lights criss-cross the ceiling, some covered with mini red round Japanese lanterns with a peace symbol in black ink. A microphone hangs center of the ceiling and a dry erase board with song titles and ‘No Smoking’ printed in large letters. It hangs on a wall with the words Tobacco is Whacko written across it and several EAT AT FLAMING AMY’S stickers are located around the room. Amps and equipment are stacked along two walls shoulder high and cords run like too many snakes all over the floor.
Rhory, Daniel and Jeff are each nineteen years old, recently graduated from high school and attending their first year of college. Daniel and Rhory were both home schooled, their parents supportive of their interest in music. Daniel plans to attend to school for business and Jeff is studying welding and design. When asked about what he’s studying in college, Rhory pauses and says, “I don’t know.” Everyone laughs.
“We used to play in my garage and then made the move here last summer,” Daniel says. “We hang out here, being goofballs and making music.” Making music is to the point. The Title Ceremony only play music, they don’t have a lead singer. It was a conscious decision to be an instrumental band. The band members met at scattered shows around Wilmington.
“I saw a flyer and called the number not realizing it was Brandon,” Jeff laughs. Their influences are bands they admire such as Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Mono, and Mercury Program. “A lot of bands we were influenced by soundtrack music,” Jeff says.
Pressed about how long the band has been together Daniel says a year. Jeff, with short hair and black rimmed glasses, crosses his legs and says, “I thought it was longer.” The three band members discuss it; never coming to a concrete decision (their press packet says 2003).
Jeff offers an explanation. “Everyone is busier now with work and school,” he says. “When we first got together we played a lot.” The band rehearses a couple times a week and soon they’re having a CD release show at the Soapbox for debut album “Cheerful Impressions Upon Arrival In The Country.”
“We recorded it ourselves with a sixteen track digital recorder in Brandon’s living room,” Daniel says. “Brandon was the engineer,” he adds with a laugh. The band wanted to get it right and didn’t rush the recording process, sometimes re-recording to get the sound they wanted.
“We took our time recording it, over six months,” Daniel says. His discussion of the band, aside from the music, is serious. The Title Ceremony has toured the lower southeast coast, traveling to Chapel Hill and Charleston to as far away as Athens, Georgia and Ft. Lauderdale. “It’s awesome being out on the road. Once you get a piece of it you want it all the time,” Daniel says.
Shows are usually around an hour or so and set lists change up for each performance. The band tends to jam for a while during each show which sometimes leads to creating new songs. Sometimes the jamming will go on for fifteen, twenty minutes.
“For one show, Rhory had to be out of town and Adam Tambouz from He Is Legend played with us,” Daniel says. “It was an awesome show.” But the responsibilities of school have an affect on playing shows. “We tried to keep shows in the state, focusing on bigger cities,” he says, “trying to do over-the-weekend shows.” That includes Wilmington, and playing the Soapbox a lot.
“Thank god for the Soapbox,” Daniel says. “It’s a great place for local bands to play.”
The stubborn rehearsal room door opens grudgingly. It’s Brandon, long stringy blonde hair and bottled water in hand. He shyly says hello, comes in and sits down on the floor and after a few moments talks openly. At twenty-three, he plays drums, bass and electric guitar and a full time electrician.
“I’ve been playing about eight years, all kinds of stuff, alternative pop, nineties rock,” he says, candid about being introduction to different types of music and playing with other groups helped that transpire. Playing with The Fashion Brigade for over a year he was exposed to Fugazi and Minor Threat. “That experience opened me up to different music and more experimental styles – like Mogwai.”
Brandon talks more now, gently dominating the conversation. He speaks fondly of wanting to play at Pyramid as a teenager, where at fifteen he would work part time jobs to scrape money together to rehearse there, even if it was just two people.
A combination of diverse influences and playing in different groups, The Title Ceremony has evolved into an emotional and powerful sound. Matt Keen of Gravity Records calls it “amazing.” He also adds that “it may not be for everyone, it’s something you have to hear to understand.”
“Our music, our sound, its dynamic – pretty melodic parts building to more abrasive, brash parts,” Daniel says.
“Raw,” Rhory says.
“Very angry, dissonant,” Jeff adds.
“You have to hear it to fully get it, though,” Daniel says.
Brandon, talking with his hands, is earnest about their music, “its simple layered melodies built to a complex structure, sometimes soothing. Our feelings are portrayed by our instruments. We pick up our instruments and it comes out – an emotional outlet,” he says and pauses briefly. “We go off in here just like we do on stage.”
“Our music is a break from what’s played around here,” Jeff says.
“Our songs are open to interpretation, especially not having lyrics,” Daniel says then offers, “but our track names are usually silly.”
And creative. Song titles include “Force of Exploding Vegetables,” “Fly Me to Glasgow” and “You Never Knew Church Could Be Like This.” “Five O’clock Free Crack Giveaway” is especially inspiring. The titles are generally without meaning, just spirited, but far from the emotional power of the songs themselves.
“Classical music doesn’t have vocals,” Brandon says of the band as all instrumental. “I heard a sample of Sigur Rós on an MTV commercial the other day. It’s amazing that it got out there, somehow.”
The band is happy with their current set up and has no intentions to add another member. “Vocals aren’t a necessity,” Daniel says. “We don’t want to compromise the music just to have a singer.”
The band says they get asked all the time about name of the group but offer little in the way of explanation. Rhory says that Jeff came up with it in the car and Daniel likes to just turn the table on the person asking and ask them what they think it means. Brandon is more philosophical.
“People put so much emphasis on titles,” he says. “You don’t have to celebrate who you are just to fit in.”
A familiar bass line wafts through the wall from adjacent rehearsal space, sounding like an old Cure song. The Fashion Brigade is rehearsing nearby. The sound fills the room just below the conversation.
“Someone playing next door isn’t too intrusive,” Jeff says. “Once you start playing.”
Everyone listens momentarily to the band playing next door, trying to see if it is a Cure song before agreeing that it does.
“A lot of people playing music are probably influenced by The Cure,” Brandon says.
“They started that whole style of playing – moody, you know?” Jeff says.
“When I was younger I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to certain stuff but I’m open all kinds of things – eighties pop, whatever,” Brandon says. “Synth is really in now with new bands, like The Killers or The Bravery. Music is more based around bands than just pop.”
“The Cure is good for making out with your girlfriend too, that type of sound,” Jeff says, breaking up the mood in the room.
“I really don’t like The Cure too much,” Daniel deadpans.
Word around town on the band is good and shows draw a respectable crowd. A problem is venues. Since the closing of The Mad Monk over a decade ago catching shows is a lot different and crowds are generally smaller.
“I grew up hearing about White Zombie or Fugazi playing at the Monk,” Brandon says. “I wish there was somewhere bigger.”
These days one has to travel to Myrtle Beach to catch a name act. But with places such as the Soapbox, Marrz and Kefi’s, among others, when providing venues for local bands there is opportunity but still roadblocks.
“You can’t put flyers on pole. It’s a $500 fine,” Daniel says. That’s only a small problem in getting the word out on bands and shows.
“I don’t think people want this to be a college town,” Jeff says. “College-aged people tend to be more supportive of different things, especially when it comes to music.”
“Spreading the word is good for local bands and helps build a following,” Brandon says. “In Wilmington that seems how it is – smaller crowds.”
Taking a break in the hallway, The Fashion Brigade has finished rehearsing and is preparing to leave. John Barclay, sporting a lengthy beard and long black hair says of The Title Ceremony, “Amazing. Those guys are really good.”
As they leave The Title Ceremony settles in to rehearse. Jeff begins with a beautiful guitar echo and Rhory strums his guitar. It’s completely open, the band members playing free form. The players remain still except for Rhory who is doubled over his guitar. In the corner at his drums, Brandon is suddenly alive with perfect posture. The impromptu song rises and falls between melancholy and surprising rage, the energy precise and explosive.
It’s not heavy metal – but elegant and powerful rock music. Waves of sound engulf the listener and fill the small room, vibrations moving across your flesh with great effect. Dan and Rhory play facing their amps, the droning and hypnotic sounds creating wave after wave of sound coming down over everyone. Not long after the music builds to a crescendo it quickly ends. Daniel says that it was a jam and asks aloud what to play next.
“Let’s play number two,” Jeff says pointing to the dry erase board. He is motioning to ‘#1 in E Minor.”
The song opens with the sad crawl of guitar sound, an unhurried, strolling style of playing. Brandon begins playing drums, a slow military cadence building to a faster pace. Guitar playing fades in, like the moan of a whale, both sad and spellbinding. The playing slows and slows to the point where Brandon is tapping on the cymbals giving off an echoing sound. He stops and moves to the center of the room, taking Daniel’s bass and begins to play. Daniel grabs a trumpet and leans over to speak.
“It’s just a small part of the song,” he says, seeming a little embarrassed, but the notes he briefly plays lend a wonderful quality to the song. Rhory reaches for a bow and plays the guitar with it. But the band is relaxed; playing confidently yet humbly, exploding with energy along with the music.
Rehearsal is very powerful and emotional. It’s heavy but soulful music, a clear cohesive sound that could dismissed as experimental but isn’t. Their music, each song, is a story without words. There’s no need for a singer, the music speaks for them. The songs elicit a story from the listener, somewhere between personal emotion and honesty. It’s impossible not to feel when you hear the songs, almost demanding emotion from the listener and draws out their imagination.
The playing is fraught with sound effects, different sounds, feedback, and raw power. The concept of not having a singer may be indifferent in modern music but after hearing The Title Ceremony you quickly realize its better off without it.
Once again the barrage of sound comes over the room, and erupts. The whole band comes alive – Brandon, back on the drums, uses the cymbals as a parade all to itself. Music descends into a faint echo of what was just played. The song ends with grace and Daniel looks over at the band and says, “You guys want to try the new one?”
People stand outside the Soapbox waiting to get inside Friday night. There’s no rush, the weather is unseasonably cool like early autumn. Brandon is near the street talking with a few friends, looking like anyone else waiting to get into to see the show. It’s the night of The Title Ceremony’s CD release party. ID’s are checked and tops of hands stamped leaving something undiscernibly green. A young girl frowns as she gets a bog black X across her hand.
“Maybe you could wash it off,” her friend says.
The Valentines are playing inside tonight. It’s their first show. The sound is pleasurably loud and brash. Dressed in all black and pink ties and pink Converse sneakers, they’re channeling pure energy recalling a band like MC5. The guitar grinds along and their long haired singer wails as he moves around the tiny stage.
The Valentines stop to thank everyone and announce a cover of “Get Ready.” They do a fantastic job with the song, play one more and end their set.
Brandon sets up his drums so his back faces the crowd. What may be perceived as a different way to perform for an audience could also be interpreted as providing enough room for the drummer to play. Within moments of Brandon playing the drums his arms seem longer than normal, drum sticks a powerful extension of his arms. Brandon plays passionately, more inspired than several nights ago during rehearsal.
The crowd transfixed, they absorb the energy on stage and match the swells of music that move from the stage through the Soapbox main floor. Rows of heads bob up and down in rhythm to the music. People look on, standing from the stage area to those back by the bar, some are curious and some are slightly hypnotized by what’s going on.
The music is a hybrid of happiness and darkness, a swelling of emotion carried out onstage. Few people look around at the crowd bored, looking for that girl to go up and talk to. Everyone watches the musicians hammering out this incredible sound. And when a song suddenly ends there’s a roar of approval.
The band wastes little time and goes right into another song. Part of the way through Daniel picks up the trumpet and many in the crowd applaud this. “It’s just a small part of the song,” he said before and now it seems like such a moment in the show.
It’s an incredible thing to see about this young band, to play with gorgeous ferocity and yet remain humble.
From 2013 in Star News – Reflections on The Title Ceremony