Experience the uncommon with Common Center at Trolley Stop

By Gary Spencer

Photo: (l-r) Sasha Suskind, Austin Garrison, Lewis Connell, Liam Hall, Dennis DeZarn, Jessica Graff, and Ian Smith of Common Center

When it comes to musical acts, sometimes a name is a telling indicator or representation of what a band is all about. But there are other times when a name is so misleading that it truly shrouds what a musical group brings to the table. Take for instance Covington, Kentucky, sextet Common Center: the word “commonly” refers to something that is done by many people or something that is not rare, and the word “center” conjures up inferences of something that is middle of the road. However, when one listens to Common Center’s 2015 debut album, Gypsy River, it’s clear that there is little to nothing common or middle of the road about the band’s music. On the surface, the band tends to be centered (see what I did there?) around an earthy, folksy sound, but from song to song they have no problem throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you sonically and stylistically—gypsy fiddle, light funk, psychedelia, world music, organ jazz, and even some Frank Zappa-esque weirdness—it’s a brew that’s both overwhelming and intoxicating. But this shouldn’t be surprising given the diverse makeup of the musicians in Common Center and their musical backgrounds. So, just who is this mysterious group and what are they all about? Dayton City Paper chatted with Common Center founding member Liam Hall (who clearly likes to talk about himself in the third person) to get centered on all that and more.

Who all is in Common Center, what do they do and what’s their musical background like?

Liam Hall: Twelve-string acoustic guitar, vocals, lead songwriter (self-taught, world music influenced)

Jessica Graff: Violin, vocals (classical training in violin and soprano, strong pop music knowledge and appreciation)

Lewis Connell:  Keyboards/piano/synth, band manager (jazz and classically-oriented family upbringing, digs improv and hip hop)

Austin Garrison: Drums (self-taught, fan of lyrically driven, progressive rock)

Dennis DeZarn: Bass (Songwriter and former band leader, digs deep into multiple genres)

Sasha Suskind: Saxophone (jazz upbringing, punk guru)

Ian Smith: Auxiliary percussion, vocals, hype-man (pure life energy)

Without mentioning anything musical, how would you describe the sound and music of Common Center? 

LH: Dark and driving, organic earthy instrumentation, poetic visuals, oceanic, cosmic perception. Seven sunflowers trying to levitate a snowflake meditating a star.

Common Center defies easy categorization musically. Was this a conscious decision?

LH: Mostly conscious. We might ask ourselves, “It feels like we want to get loud here, what if we tried the opposite?” Also, we create a lot of room for us to each give our creative ideas and experiment with them. A little bit of everyone goes into each song, giving it a flow between up to seven different consciousnesses. We are striving to play like a collective consciousness. Of course, there’s an unconscious aspect to it as well. Carl Jung spoke of the notion of a creative unconscious. Maybe we’re all connected to that in some way—coax something out from within—isn’t that one reason we love art?

What artists might you cite as reference points for the music of Common Center?

LH: Morphine, Modest Mouse, The Doors, Primus, Radiohead, Astor Piazzolla.

What made you want to incorporate such a wide range of instrumentation and sonics into the band’s music?

LH: We’re pushing for a broadly dynamic sound, each of us playing our role in the sonic moment, our cosmic dance where our body, mind, and spirit is fully awake. We all are attracted to the big sound and the ability to expand it, or dial it back into smaller components of that large sound. We enjoy the challenge.

What are Common Center’s lyrics all about? 

LH: There is definitely play with poetic images and syntactical flow. Thematically, he’s exploring multidimensional consciousness, shamanic healing, lucid dreaming, or perhaps just that day’s emotions. Songs are written in an embedded manner, leaving room for the listener to wander in the landscape. Metaphors are a gesture of faith in the listener, and ultimately, the presentation is sound-first.

What can attendees expect from your live show?

LH: We hope that nobody expects anything, especially first timers! What we can promise you is energy—raw and powerful. Anything can happen on stage. Anyone is welcome—the still listener, the wild dancers, the musicians, and we’re all participating collectively. There are plenty of things we will do differently…you’ll have to wait and see!

What does the future hold for Common Center, both in the immediate future and beyond? Do you have any particular aspirations for the band? 

LH: All we want to do is create. 2017 is aiming to be our most traveled year yet, both in consistency and distance, so hopefully that will get us some new ears that want to spread the word. We are all on the same wave of understanding and passion, so if that takes us to a place where the music pays the bills and lets us concentrate solely upon it, we won’t argue. This thing is always evolving, so any stop along the way you might want to hop on, we’d love to have you on board.

Common Center performs Saturday, Dec. 3 at Trolley Stop, 530 E. Fifth St. in Dayton. Admission is $5 at the door. Show starts at 9:30 p.m. For more information, please visit CommonCenter.Bandcamp.com.


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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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