Morning Brigade to perform at Shakori

Oct. 10, 2013 @ 03:27 PM

“Accidentally acoustic” is how Nathan Spain, who plays drums in the Chapel Hill sextet Morning Brigade, describes the sound of the ensemble.

This group of UNC students, most of whom will graduate this coming spring, have self-released two song collections – “The Crow, The Fish, and the Mirror” and “Above Our Heads.” The full sextet is Spain on drums, Peter Vance on lead vocals and guitar, Gabriel Reynolds on keyboards and vocals, Eli Howells on violin, Christian Adams on cello, and Mary Koenig on vocals and percussion. Morning Brigade will perform today at the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance in Pittsboro. 
Vance had been writing and playing his songs as a solo artist in Washington, D.C. When he came to UNC, he met pianist Reynolds, who suggested writing arrangements for Vance’s songs. Morning Brigade grew from there.
To create the band’s sound, the strings players were recruited. “When [Gabriel] and I were discussing how we were going to move forward, I knew that cello and violin were a unit that I wanted in my music,” Vance said. Koenig, who sings and plays percussion, was in a drumline in high school, and her skills on percussion were a good coincidence, he said.
Morning Brigade also has made a conscious decision not to use a bass player, but to let Reynolds take on that role on keyboards, Spain said.
You can hear the results of those choices on “Above Our Heads.” Tremolo strings and piano give the opening composition “Embers” a wintry, otherworldly feel. Cello and violin also provide the propulsive, rhythmic drive to “A North Wind,” a well-crafted song.
The members of this group draw inspiration from a wide range of sources. “My inspiration for lyrics comes a lot from Conor Oberst,” Vance said. He also likes songwriter Andrew Bird’s sense of structure. “I draw different levels of inspiration, depending on what I’m working on,” he said. “I do listen to a lot of music that has absolutely no influence on the music I like to write and play.”
Spain said he and Reynolds like the sounds of Radiohead, while other band members have roots in Celtic music. This eclecticism “really makes writing sessions interesting,” Spain said.
He considers Vance and Reynolds “unquestionably the musical geniuses” of Morning Brigade. They “hash out the details” of song arrangements, but every member contributes to writing and arranging.
Still, the process is “extremely collaborative, because there are so many things we have to consider,” Vance said. “We have six instruments. … I know I could not write the part for each individual,” he said. “I have the lyrics and general progression and the feel of the song,” but some trial and error also is involved. “Sometimes the song will go in a completely different direction than anyone expected it to, and usually it’s way better.”
Morning Brigade did an East Coast tour this past summer, and is working out the details for summer 2014. Sara Waters, coordinator for the Shakori Hills Festival, “has been good about getting us exposure around the area,” Spain said. “If we can get on a major festival this summer, we might want to build a tour around that,” he said.

Go and Do
WHAT: Morning Brigade
WHERE: Carson’s Grove stage, Shakori Hills Festival of Music and Dance, 1439 Henderson Tanyard Road, Pittsboro
WHEN: Oct. 11, 3:30 p.m.
ADMISSION: For ticket and camping information, visit