With more than a half-dozen band members, The Affectionates out of Durham, NC, have a unique collection of sounds amongst them. Their animated music video for “I Pick You,” off of their 2016 EP “What To Build, Who To Destroy,” is somewhat indicative of their music’s whimsical nature and marriage of lo-fi, electronica, folk, and indie-rock. It pays a bit of homage to their NC heritage with its star player being a singing cardinal—looking for a daisy to pick and fly away with—and folks who know the band may recognize the fowl’s facial features as those of lead singer and guitarist Jeremy Blair. “Yeah, I guess that’s my face on the cardinal,” Blair confirms to encore, “though I didn’t realize it until my friends pointed it out to me.”
The group’s beginnings inadvertently started in 2013 with Blair and violinist Matt Osment. Their “little folk project” was called Effingham, but Blair and Osment had more in mind. “It kinda imploded when we pushed to go bigger and take the show on the road,” Blair admits. Once Burt Sazerac (drums) came on, they soon picked up Kate Gonaughts (lead guitar, synthesizer). “Kate was a pro who was hired to play some keys in the studio and joined before we even did the recording,” Blair tells. “Come to think of it, I don’t believe we ever even paid her for that session. (Sorry, Kate.)”
The original four are now joined by Lisa Keaton (vocals, tambourine), Michael Charles Wood (synthesizer) and Jordan Dupree (bass). The Affectionates released “What To Build, Who To Destroy” last May. This Friday they will visit ILM’s Satellite Bar and Lounge with openers Jordan & the Sphinx. Blair took time to tell encore more about their upcoming show, as well as current and future projects.
encore (e): Tell us about “What to Build, Who to Destroy” and the process of developing these five songs.
Jeremy Blair (JB): There was a point early on, while we were searching for a style and vibe that resonated with everyone in the band, when we hit on something that flew the doors open creatively and then this EP took shape quickly thereafter. We can pretty much pinpoint the catalyst being a switch of rehearsal spaces from a dull practice studio on the edge of town to a complexly decorated surrealist art/music space in downtown Durham called Fellowship Hall. The aesthetic of the space was disorienting and it was literally uncomfortable to even stand in the room. It made you want to hurry up with what you were doing so you could go stand outside and collect your thoughts. It affected the music in exactly this way, too. We upped our energy, upped the tempo and just started playing loose. Our drummer, Burt Sazerac, was probably the first to go off script and just go with it. We all followed and by the end of that rehearsal we were a different band. We left agreeing that we needed songs to match the vibe in there. The songs “DJ Blood,” “Farewell, Sweet Anabelle” and “Cry Wolf” were written using that energy. “I Pick You” and “Make Our Move” existed prior, but both got a decent face lift in the process. Sadly the space was gobbled up by the Durham gentrification machine shortly after we recorded, so this EP is our memory of it.
e: How do you collaborate on songs?
JB: I write the lyrics and melody, mostly … Kate Gonaughts also writes and our next album, which is in final production now, will have a Kate song on it. The process is my favorite part of being in this band. I bring a half-baked song into the studio with our drummer and bass player Jordan Dupree, and we jam. We jam and we play the song 10-plus different ways and we don’t stop until we are smiling and having fun playing it. Then we grab a quick room recording with a phone and send it out to everyone else; Michael Charles Wood, Matt Osment, Lisa Keaton, and Kate … and they start dreaming up riffs and vibes to add to it. We’ll do a lot of one-off writing sessions where it may be just myself and one other instrument and we’ll just jam along to that room recording until we have some riffs figured out. Once everyone has an idea of what they are doing on the song then we come together in the studio, take a deep breath and let it rip. Nine times out of 10 it turns into a song we all really like, with the other resulting in a colossal waste of time.
e: The violin often sounds like organized chaos—is that by design? How do you marry these lyrics with instrumentals?
JB: The lyrical melody is pretty much the basis for the songs, so as everyone writes their part they are listening to that melody and writing to it, except that is … you guessed it, Matt on violin. The violin is our wild card. Matt is the only one on stage with a license to just get a feel and go with it. He’s got the ear for it and can put the violin wherever it needs to be to make any particular performance get bigger and more vibrant. I recall that when we recorded “What To Build” Matt took four or five violin takes for each song … each one unique and spontaneous. During editing we listened to the violin takes for hours and had a blast picking our favorites.
e: How does this album reflect your growth as a band?
JB: I think this album gave us a purpose for continuing. Without it happening the way it did (and at the time it did) we probably would have burned out by now. It is also creating a significant challenge on which to follow up. I think we set the bar pretty high for ourselves and it’s invigorating to attempt maintaining parity. This album also opened the door for us to join our label 10 Foot Woody Records in Columbia, SC, who loves it as much as we do and are putting effort and money into its release and promotion. So this album really gave us footing to push from.
e: How do your musical influences play into your own approach to music and style?
JB: With seven members it’s nearly impossible to find a common influence. They exist but are fleeting. I think this lends to creating unique sounds in the studio. We don’t have a common thread to fall back on so we’re forced to be in an uncomfortable spot creatively and keep to adapting until we’re playing something that makes us all smile.
e: Tell me about the concept of your “I Pick You” video. Who did the animation?
JB: The director and animator of this video is Rich Gurnsey from Raleigh, NC. I have been a huge fan of Rich’s work for a long time and feel really fortunate that he took it on, and wow, what an amazing job he did. The concept was pulled from the song, which is quirky and awkward on purpose. I shared with Rich that (in my head) when I sing the song I am a bird singing to a really ugly flower. Hence the whistle solo—it’s a bird! [laughs] Rich basically took it face value and made a wonderful piece of visual art in his own aesthetic. I cried when I saw it for the first time. Probably the second and third times also.
e: What can you tell us about the next project?
JB: We’re all really motivated and excited to make music together right now and we know things can change in an instant, so we are pressing to make as much music in this moment as we possibly can. In July we recorded a full-length follow up to “What To Build.” We literally ended our release tour on a Sunday and were working on new songs on the Monday after. That album is in final production and will come out on 10 Foot Woody Records in spring . As of right now we are three songs deep into a third album, which we want to record early next year also. Somewhere in here we want to make a couple more music videos for the upcoming album, too.
e: What would you like to say about Jordan & the Sphinx opening for you?
JB: Jordan & the Sphinx impresses me every time I see them play, which is a lot because there is no single band whom I have shared a bill with more than these guys. I’m a sucker for a front man with a magnetic personality and Jordan just exudes charisma. The first time I heard Jordan sing I had just seen The Black Keys a couple of days before and I thought their two voices sounded exactly the same. . . . I don’t think he particularly liked the comparison, but we’ve been super buds ever since anyway.