The Francis Vertigo
In March 2016, South Carolina quartet The Francis Vertigo released their latest EP “Reception”, a fascinating mix of power and finesse, blending adventurous full-kit drumming with layered, melodic guitar lines. The band’s music had a bit of progressive rock experimentation in the mix, but Knights’ skill at creating catchy vocal hooks made the challenging rhythms more palatable.
Wasted Wine is a band based in Greenville, SC. Their songs combine Eastern European melodies, Middle Eastern instruments, cryptic lyrical storytelling, and complex, suite-like song structures, woven together in their own strange blend of homemade prog-rock.
Excons might be the most unassuming and under the radar band in the Upstate music scene. In appearance they look like four average Joe's and in schedule they do not play with the frequency of some other local names. In practice, however, they are cooking up something special and that is exactly how drummer John Byce likes it.
For Byce, the musical journey began in Clemson when he played in the band Grass Cactus in the 1990s. Upon graduation and moving to Greenville he played in a series of bands such as Spicket, Outer Space Ways Inc. and Rocket #9. "I was just hustling, trying to play anywhere I could," he recalls.
Seeking to get his feet wet in a larger music scene, he moved to Chicago with hopes of making music a full time career. As it turned out, it was a pretty eye opening experience in terms of understanding the music industry. "I just wanted to play music full time in a band," he says "and then I met the artists that were in the bands I liked and they all had day jobs. This was my end game and they were still working as stockboys."
Still, he found success with The Fruit Bats who were signed to Sub-Pop Records and were a classic case of a band that almost made it big. Ironically, their recordings from the early 2000s are more popular today than they were then and Byce laughs that the band "was just a late bloomer."
Eventually Byce and his wife returned to Greenville, started a family and all but left music behind. "I didn't play for a very long time. I missed it." That changed when he and some other parents of his children's elementary school put together a Rolling Stones cover band for the school's annual art fair. Rebitten by the music bug, Byce teamed with Porter Whitmire and Taylor Vandiver and the three started playing in his basement. Originally thought to be a jam session among friends, Byce insisted they write their own material and Excons were born. Last summer they added Brett Helsel and the band became a complete four piece arrangement.
Musically, The Excons are everything there is to love about indie rock. These are four guys that are playing for the love of music with absolutely no end game in mind.
"We want to write music that makes you think the song is going one way… and then we take it in a whole different direction." It is this attitude that makes a band sound fresh, different and worth listening to and Excons execute this perfectly.
What, exactly, is going on in the music of Greenville’s Apricot Blush? What is this odd combination of nakedly emotional singing, lilting acoustic guitars, and muted percussion? What is that eerie, haunting howl moving throughout these delicate, passionate songs? And what is it about this self-titled album that’s so compelling and frightening?
To answer these questions, we have to turn to Jackson Wise, the singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who for a time was the only member of Apricot Blush. Because in every way, this startling work is a personal one for him.
On Apricot’s Bandcamp page, you’ll find a paragraph that Wise wrote to explain the record, and for a 20-year-old, his reasons are startling to say the least. “This started as a conceptual album about the journey into celibacy,” Wise wrote. “It’s mainly focused on the trials of being a young adult with a high sex drive and trying to fight that nature in order to grow further in my relationship with a higher power.”
Wise has expanded Apricot Blush into an interesting lineup that, in addition to his guitar and musical saw, features Jonah Terry on banjo, Dan Fetterolf on drums, trumpet player Wesley Heaton, and bassist Mike Robbins