Atlas Road Crew are not the band they originally set out to be. Gone are the days when they covered Phish at Pavlov's Tavern in Columbia. Today, they're a Holy City-based troupe of diehard Southern rockers.
"We started as bar cover band, playing Pav's every week, making $75, and owing them for bar tabs," laughs drummer Patrick Drohan. "Then, we moved up to the Five Points Pub. We started selling out every time we played until we had a pretty good hometown following in Columbia."
Drohan and his bandmates — vocalist Taylor Nicholson, lead guitarist Dave Beddingfield, bass player Max Beckner, and pianist Bryce James — decided a move was in order shortly after Five Points Pub closed, mostly due to the lack of playable venues at the time. Charleston seemed like the ideal location to zero in on their own sound.
That was two years ago. Today, they've found a devoted local following and a little bit of love on the road, too. This year, Atlas Road Crew will play over 200 shows promoting Halfway to Hopkins, the band's first full-length. Released last month, the record is a solid effort, with Drohan and company drawing inspiration from The Black Crowes, Molly Hatchet, The Allman Brothers, and Kings of Leon.
"We pretty much had no idea what we were doing for our first EP," says Drohan, who's speaking to the City Paper from the tour van somewhere in Georgia. "This album is about us being 23- and -24-year-old guys on the road — life in transition, not certain what will come from it, but just drawing from our journey."
Whereas Atlas Road Crew's self-titled EP was a less-focused attempt, Halfway to Hopkins was more focused. They enlisted the help of three different producers, including Rick Beato of Black Dog Sound Studios in Stone Mountain, Ga. "Working with three different producers was an awesome learning experience, because they all had their own way of operating," says Drohan. "Rick [Beato] is a hilarious dude, but very cut-and-dry with business and has no problem stopping a session if you mess up. He's heavy-handed, and since we went to him first, he set the tone for the rest of the record — how to act in the studio and what to expect."
Beato also played a part on unbridled tracks like the bluesy, playful piano rock of "Low Country Blues," as well as the anthemic "Black Eye Sunrise," with its Rolling Stones brand of soul. Drohan and his bandmates also worked with Columbia-based Cory Plough, whose signature is written on tracks like the soulful "Black Eye Sunrise." It's one of the tracks the band likes the most. "It kind of just stood out among the rest," says Drohan. "We knew when our piano player made that arrangement and we added our touches to it — we all had that feeling that, damn, this one really sounds good. You can tell all five of us are getting into it, playing with our eyes closed, not talking to each other after."
Thirdly, the band turned to Jump, Little Children's Jay Clifford, who helped shape "Abeline" into a ready-for-radio track. Clifford also inspired the energetic, space-rock of "Runaway."
"Cory and Jay were more laid-back, but had great ideas of what to put into a song," Drohan says. "It was awesome to bounce ideas off someone that isn't in the band and not emotionally attached, especially if that third party is trained in music theory," says Drohan.
The theme of Halfway to Hopkins really revolves around the title, an ode to the house halfway between Hopkins and Columbia, that the members of Atlas Road Crew lived in when things first got serious. "We all moved in together into a house with the mind-set of writing a bunch of songs out here, practicing, and rehearsing. It was the first time that we decided we were going to do this for real," says Drohan.
The tribute has garnered local and national attention alike, earning an acoustic session at Relix magazine in New York and a California date playing alongside the Carolina-gone-national act Needtobreathe.
"Our California trip was ridiculous. We were slipped drinks from Eddie Money, and it turned into a night where the next morning, people had nicknames for us — 'The Cabana Boys,' apparently," Drohan says. "We had to try to piece together our prior night of hanging with Eddie Money's family."