w/ Prince Crimson
Thurs. June 27
1117 Magnolia Road
In 2011, a New York band called Futurist released their debut album, War is Yesterday. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Curtis Peel, Futurist played a progressive style of folk-rock. The songs were essentially straight-ahead acoustic-electric tunes with occasional swooping violin parts that took the music into more complex territory. Think Bombadil-meets-the-Decemberists. It was beguiling stuff; catchy, romantic, and lush.
In 2017, Futurist put out a deluxe version of War is Yesterday with six bonus remixes of songs from the album. Those remixes take the pleasant folk-rock of the originals and dunk them in harsh electronic textures, dance-music beats, and distorted guitars, more or less making them sound absolutely nothing like they did the first time around.
It was a fitting move for a band that had not only moved beyond its initial sound, but beyond most of the people who created it.
"Futurist is my baby in the sense that I'm the only original member that's still around, and I'm the primary songwriter," Peel says. "Originally, we were a lot more folk-rock sounding, and we had a violin player in the band. We've become increasingly heavy and more electronic throughout the years, so what it is now is a whole lot more in line with what I see it being in the future. It's a whole lot more rock 'n' roll than indie-folk."
In a sense, what's happened to Futurist happens to a lot of indie bands. It's expensive to record an album, and they make their living by touring constantly, so there are often entire swaths of their evolution that aren't documented on record. So by the time we moved from 2011 to 2017, Peel and company had changed almost beyond recognition, literally and artistically.
"We're more focused on harder beats now, and harder songwriting," Peel says. "Not like heavy metal, but grittier and darker. And I think a lot of it just comes from experience. When I was younger, I was more naïve and optimistic, and I've had more nuanced life experience that makes songwriting a little bit darker. So we decided that we didn't want to be limited by that original sound."
Experience comes into play when it comes to the band's equipment as well. Both Peel and drummer Joey Campanella have added some electronics to their guitar and percussion setups, taking Futurist's sound closer to the music that Peel enjoys as a fan.
"If you look at our influences, I've always been a big fan of Radiohead and bands that don't just use face value guitar-drums-bass sounds. It's what I enjoyed listening to, and as I've grown as a songwriter, I've also learned, tech-wise, to become more comfortable incorporating that and using those sounds."
Peel says that the remixed songs on War is Yesterday that reshape the band's sound so dramatically are much closer to the way they're performed live nowadays.
"We still play a lot of the songs off our first record," he says, "I just think that before, they sounded a little bit more indie-folk, and now there's way more noise and way more sounds. In fact, we may release a live record in the future that has a lot of these songs reimagined."
Who the musicians might be on that live album will depend a lot on where it's recorded. The economic realities of playing in an indie band often dictate that Peel — and Campanella, who has been a part of Futurist since 2011 — have to hire different people for different dates around the country.
"Keeping a band together, particularly when you're investing all of your own money, it's hard to do in the modern day," Peel says. "Joey is kind of my right-hand man now; he's as invested as me. But rather than trying to have a certain amount of people as our set lineup, we bring in hired guns for the rest. We record the music and hire people who can play the parts that we can't do. And we hire the best people we can afford for the shows."
Typically, those shows are accompanied by onstage projections created by Peel himself, an animator and graphic designer whose day job is directing videos for other bands. But on their current swing through the South, Futurist will be stripping things down, playing their old songs and new tunes from their upcoming concept album, Omens, as a no-frills quartet.
"In the past, we've had screens and projections and animations," Peel says, "but we're stripping down on that for practical purposes. This is our first time playing some of these places, so it's kind of about making connections and playing venues outside of the New York area. We're playing the whole album live, though, and since I'm very visual from an artistic standpoint, I already have so much in mind for what the presentation for the next tour is going to be."