Southeast Engine Returns with Canary
By Kyle Melton
Americans watched helplessly as their nation descended into economic despair in late 2008. Dayton native Adam Remnant took a look at the situation and created an artistic statement both observational and transcendental. On Southeast Engine’s fourth album, Canary, Remnant ties the American experience of economic hardship and its deep musical roots from the modern era to the Great Depression, resulting in an album that drives to the core of our identities and the bonds that sustain us.
With their last release, 2009’s From the Forest to the Sea, Southeast Engine – Adam Remnant (guitar/vocals) Leo DeLuca (drums), Jesse Remnant (bass/vocals) and Billy Metheny (piano/organ/banjo/guitar) – began to break through to wider audiences with their earnest take on Americana and Remnant’s captivating storytelling. Last summer the band toured out with the legendary San Francisco outfit Deerhoof, which enabled them to reach a larger audience.
“Deerhoof is such an inspiring band,” Remnant said. “They play with incredible energy and musicianship. I feel like we learned a lot as a band watching them night after night. Of course it was also great to play with a band at that level where you know you are going to play to a large audience every night… Despite the difference in our sounds, we were always well received.”
Upon returning home from tour, Remnant experienced a chance encounter that set the tone for the band’s next album.
“A fellow stopped by my home one day in Athens, Ohio,” recalled Remnant. “[He] explained that his father had built the house I live in back in the 30s, and that his family lived just across the street. He was just a child at the time and he described his life at that time in that area. This meeting must have left an impression on me because I naturally started writing songs from the perspective of a family living in Southeast Ohio during the 30s. After a couple songs were written relatively spontaneously, the concept grew into an album’s worth of songs. It was thrilling to take on the life of another character from another time.”
Remnant cast himself as a member of an Appalachian family living through the Great Depression and told of the ways in which life is affected by changing circumstances on every level. Throughout Canary, the central theme of sustenance from interpersonal relationships during times of economic hardships binds the songs together.
“I had already started writing the songs for Canary and developing the themes before the national economy took a clear turn for the worse,” Remnant said. “Once the economy became front-page news and a daily reality, I saw an added relevance to the songs. The last couple Southeast Engine albums had a very strong spiritual element in the forefront of the lyrics. This time I wanted to keep things more grounded and deal with the interpersonal relationships between family members, communities, and lovers. I also focused on how we relate to our location and sense of place. However, I found in writing about these immediate relationships, that the divine is intertwined with all of them.”
Recorded over four days in February, 2010, at 3 Elliot Studios in Athens, Canary beautifully captures the devotion to the purity of classic American musical forms. Since the completion of the album, Southeast Engine’s longtime label Misra Records came under the direction of the band’s drummer, Leo DeLuca, who has injected a new enthusiasm into the label. The band’s new release will be offered on yellow cassette, as well as the traditional CD/vinyl/download options.
“There certainly seems to be some energy behind this release which is encouraging,” Remnant said. “The yellow cassette idea was Leo’s. We’ve discussed the challenge of getting folks to buy a physical product these days. For the album pre-order, we added a limited edition poster so that the fans can get a unique item that they won’t get from a simple online download or stream. The cassette is the same idea. Leo thought to make the cassette yellow as well to represent a canary.”
Heading out on tour in support of Canary, Remnant and the rest of Southeast Engine seem energized by the new album and the potential for reaching wider audiences.
“I like the idea of the band growing with each release – the music spreading, reaching more and more people,” concluded Remnant. “As a musician, this feels purely instinctual. Some argue that just knowing you made a good album or played a good show should be enough satisfaction on its own. I understand the logic, but I can’t help but want to see it get out there.”
Southeast Engine will celebrate the release of Canary with a show on Saturday, April 9, at Canal Street Tavern, 308 E. First St. Also on the bill are the Motel Beds. Doors open at 9 p.m. and admission is $5 for 18 & up. For more information, visit www.southeastengine.com.
Reach DCP Music Editor Kyle Melton at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at thebuddhaden.net.