More bands are making concerted efforts to produce music untethered to one genre. Innovative outfits like Australia’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard come to mind. In just nine years they’ve released 15 albums, spanning everything from garage and punk rock (“12 Bar Bruise,” 2012), to acoustic folk-rock (“Paper Mâché Dream Balloon,” 2015), to psychedelic rock (“Nonagon Infinity,” 2016). King Gizzard’s last two albums in 2019 are pretty much polar opposites, too: April’s “Fishing for Fishies” is a psychedelic pop-rock-blues-boogie album and August’s “Infest the Rats’ Nest” is straight thrash metal.
Being classified in 2019 with one genre (even song to song) is what Charleston, South Carolina’s Rare Creatures want to avoid. Their 2018 self-titled debut, from which they’ll play this Friday night at Palate, reflects that intention well.
“Kind of like [King Gizzard], it’s just make a song and then whatever it is, it is,” Coleman Sawyer (vocals, guitar, violin) observes. “It’s definitely been pretty important, like when we did our first album a lot of stuff is drastically different from other songs on the album because we didn’t want to get locked into a thing.”
Once fans develop expectations for music, Coleman says it’s hard to avoid being pigeonholed. He cites another influential indie-rock band Alt-J, who essentially created a niche in the music scene with their debut “An Awesome Wave” (2012).
“They have this exact sound with the first record; everything is different, it’s like this one kind of specific genre and they’re the only band in it,” Sawyer explains. “Then when they started changing from that, people didn’t like it. We set ourselves up so we can do whatever we want, and people aren’t expecting one specific thing.”
Rare Creatures strives to be an unpredictable rock spectacle, as they weave between heavy synth rock and melodic acoustic rhythms. Alongside Sawyer are Hugh Camp on bass and synthesizer, lead guitarist Aaron Reece, and drummer Logan Crank. The four-piece male ensemble added Kelsea Brown on keyboard in August to add the depth and dimensions to live performances as in their studio album.
“We did put keyboards in and a lot of vocal harmonies and things like that [on the record],” Sawyer clarifies. “She’s starting to sing with us [and] actually running computer keyboard set up [for live shows]; so she can even do things that sound like full horns, not just keys.”
While Rare Creatures tends to pivot and shift unpredictably in songs like “The Howl,” it’s not at the expense of the story. In fact, the tonal change carries “The Howl” beautifully, as we follow a self-destructive character who goes through a breakup or more specifically a divorce. Listeners jump in between moments of melodic reflection and electric emotional bursts. There’s a boiling point in the song before it decrescendos. Loosely based on his friend, Richard, who is featured in the music video, visual acts of lashing out take center stage: doing lines of coke, excessive drinking and “blowing up.”
“The idea is it’s like a wolf howling,” Sawyer explains, “how it seems aggressive and angry and whatever, but it’s really just kind of like an expression of loneliness. . . . Richard is really a great guy. He’s not like an angry guy or anything like that. It’s like if Richard was Spider Man, then that song is about Venom.”
Rare Creatures pieced together their first album with Matt Zutell at Coast Records in Charleston. Between day jobs, school and touring, everyone had to come into the studio when they could to record their parts. While the band’s forthcoming sophomore album doesn’t have a title yet, they’ve settled into a different process by live-tracking everything together this time around. With eight songs in the can, Sawyer says they only have a couple more to go before settling on a release date.
“We may actually finish it this time without a release date in mind and do some label shopping,” he divulges. “So it’s possible we might try and go for a record deal with a finished album. . . But you basically have to make it on your own and then get a good deal. Sometimes it works out the other way, but I find a lot of people who get signed are getting a very small percentage of what they’re making.”
Though many songs don’t have titles yet, they are being played on tour already. One has Sawyer reflecting on stressful times while making the first album. Feeling burnt out, he wrote about just breathing and self-care—which for him, was stepping back from school.
Another new track features a down-tempo catharsis, and its subject matter is close to the band and Charleston community’s hearts. It’s about a beloved radio DJ taking his life last summer.
“He just helped everybody in the community; it was really sad when it happened,” Sawyer remembers. “One thing that was really confusing, everyone universally loved him. It’s just hard to imagine that he didn’t know that and this song is basically saying we hope you knew how much we love you.”