Drawing a lot of much-deserved attention in the Charlotte music scene recently, indie pop-rock group Cement Stars is set to perform this Friday at Snug Harbor to release their new EP. Founding members Shaun and Bryan Olson were kind enough to talk to me a little bit about their upcoming album, “Form & Temper.”
Forming in 2006, Cement Stars was created by Chicago-born, Charlotte-based brothers Shaun (Miami Dice) and Bryan Olson. After years of writing and recording, Cement Stars collaborated with Charlotte producer and musician Paul Jensen and released a full-length album, “Geometrics.” Though it may seem surprising, neither brother has had any professional music lessons.
“I started banging on pots and pans at the age of nine,” said Shaun. “I basically learned everything I know by listening to records and watching music videos. I eventually talked Bryan into playing guitar about six years ago. He picked it up really quickly. And the next thing we knew, we were writing songs together.”
Since the release of “Geometrics” the band has filtered through different band members. Percussionist Cody Hare joined the band in 2009, playing synthesizer and auxiliary percussion pieces for two years before leaving the group to pursue his solo electronic productions. In 2010, guitarist Joshua Faggart began contributing to the band as a guitarist and songwriter.
Enid Valu and Kurt Dodrill joined the band earlier this year with Valu bringing synthesizer and vocals to the table and Dodrill marking the return of bass guitar to the band. The Olson brothers acknowledged that the change in band members has significantly changed the dynamic of the band’s sound.
“We used to be a more electronic-based band. But once we got the new members, it grew into that full band sound that you hear with the new songs,” Shaun said.
Later in March 2011, the band caught the ears of the founders of the Electric Mountain Music Group, who immediately saw potential in the artistic direction that Cement Stars was taking and asked the band to join the label.
“It has been a pleasant, laid back experience working with [Electric Mountain Music]. They are all talented within their craft whether it is producing a record or designing album art work,” said Bryan. “I had met Jason through a mutual friend and Scott shortly after when he emailed me about collaborating on a track he was developing. We never finished that track, but we did record an album.”
The guys and girl of Cement Stars are in their mid to late twenties and the musical influences of the band reflect that. While the band did not acknowledge any specific recent musical groups that have had an impact on the band, they did acknowledge being “always inspired by what’s going on currently.”
Friends of the band, photographer and photo editor Valu joined Cement Stars earlier this year shortly after percussionist Hare left the band. Valu’s vocals are strewn throughout the quartet’s newest release with soft subtlety. Nevertheless, when her parts come, it is difficult not to be taken aback at how Valu’s delicate vocals and harmonic synthesizer can richly envelop the group’s sound.
Kicking off the EP with “Passable Ghost,” Cement Stars layers guitar riffs and pulsing keyboard harmonies to take listeners to a dream-like state of consciousness before “Holograms” uses tribal percussions to transition into something a little more fast-paced. Both in “Holograms” as well as the following track “Fractals,” Bryan and Valu’s voices fuse into something truly majestic.
Listeners will not likely be able to listen to “Fractals” in the background. Showing up in the middle of “Form & Temper” it is perhaps the highlight of the album. With barely-audible, high-pitched vocals that cut into the deep guitar intro like a knife, “Fractals” demands your full attention while taking your mind elsewhere. “Form & Temper” showcases a lot of heavily-layered sounds, making it difficult to believe that only guitar, synthesizer, bass and drums were used, especially in songs like “Fractals” and the equally grandiose “Ivy.”
Following “Fractals,” “Misguided Sons” provides a welcomed change of pace. Featuring thumping guitar rhythms and detached vocal delivery, “Misguided Sons” blends electronic and surfy sounds together. Leaning more on instrumentals and away from the synthesized sounds, “Ivy” is a bit heavier than other tracks on the album. And “Run with the Night” brings the album to a satisfying, yet haunting end.
Drawing from a variety of musical groups from different areas both in time and geographically, Cement Stars skillfully demonstrates a musical style that appeals to a variety of music fans. Listeners of 70’s groups like Cocteau Twins and The Cure to fans of newer bands like Temper Trap, Mute Math or Explosions in the Sky are sure to appreciate what Cement Stars have done with “Form & Temper.”
The band has shared the stage with popular acts such as Nite Jewel, Toro Y Moi, Future Islands, Ear Pwr, Yardwork, Autolux, Holy Ghost!, Holiday Shores and Twin Sister. Alongside Coma League and The Bear Romantic, Cement Stars are scheduled to perform this Friday at Snug Harbor to promote the release of the new album.
Beginning with this album release show, Cement Stars is going to participate in a Southeastern tour through Fall to showcase “Form & Temper” with The Bear Romantic (led by multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter Jesse Clasen). The members of both bands have gone on record of citing a mutual appreciation of each others’ music.
“[Clasen is] an awesome, talented dude. We have huge respect for each other,” Shaun Olson said of The Bear Romantic’s lead singer. “He and Bryan have done some recordings together and it just seemed natural to do a bunch of shows together.”
The Bear Romantic released their freshman LP “Firewood” earlier this year as Clasen began forming a band around the tracks that he had already recorded. The Bear Romantic’s “Wild and Young” and Cement Stars’ “Ivy” will be released on “Jeff Hahne’s Homebrew Vol. 5,” a free compilation of some of Charlotte’s best new local music. Both bands will also perform next to Temperance League, Lucky Five, and Side by Side at the Hahne’s release party at Neighborhood Theatre November 4th.
While not all music-listeners were enormously impressed by Cement Star’s debut “Geometrics,” it was hard to overlook the enormous potential the Olson brothers had even with such a limited production value.It is clear that the band, with the addition of some fresh talent, is really starting to find the sounds that they seemed to be looking for in “Geometrics.” With “Form & Temper,” my only complaint is that it is only six tracks.