"Charleston's been good to us," says Firework Show's drummer Brandon Gallagher, speaking from behind his kit. "There is no fierce competition between bands, and people are just open-minded." It may be that acceptance that has encouraged these experimental-rockers — College of Charleston grads and all-around music addicts — to grow as fast as they can handle. And they've perked the ears of the local scene.
"We've been trying to think a lot harder about the business side of this," says Braxton Brown, who handles the keys. "It's just really time-consuming."
Trying to manage themselves has the band facing the more aggravating areas of the music industry, like booking and promotion. "But, it's been the best thing for us," lead singer and guitarist Zach Bodtorf adds.
A CD release party at the Pour House is a step in the right direction. The six-song EP is titled Glee Noise (a term coined by City Paper Music Editor Ballard Lesemann). "It's all about serendipity in music," Gallagher explains. "You take an accident, a glitch unique by nature, and you accent it, repeat it, almost worship it. That's Glee Noise."
The Glee Noise EP is full of explosions of colorful keys, thunderous drums, and sizzling riffs. And like a great Fourth of July fireworks show, the songs leave listeners ooh-ing and ah-ing.
In the studio and on stage, Firework Show's emphasis on improvisation lets them stumble across their songs. "Sometimes accidents can create the most important musical ideas," says Bodtorf.
The bandmembers collectively focus on the creative flux of the full-band sound to shape the main theme and style of each song. "We always know somebody's going to take it to a new place," Gallagher says. "And we'll follow them there."
For the band, it's a matter of getting out of the music's way, not forcing it in any particular direction. Take a few songs from Glee Noise. "Not So Blue" sounds very bluesy, with a prominent organ groove driving the song. "Echoes" has the free-form structure of a jam band song, but it mixes in prog, psychedelic, and the rousing power of Southern rock. "Mountain Man" builds until it feels like a backwoods brawl might erupt.
All four members write, but Bodtorf takes on the task of putting lyrics to the twisting tunes and complex rhythms. Surreal and minimal, the words wait, often letting the songs speak for themselves before being sung at all. Bodtorf has trouble articulating his approach to writing. "The subconscious works in many ways," he says. Sometimes he will hear a short phrase in a dream, placed over an intruding melody he toiled over the day before. A comparison to sculpting was as close a description as he could provide. "It's not the best way to write a song, and it takes awhile," he explains. "But everything feels unified. There's a melody there, and if you chip away enough, you'll find it."
Admittedly, an intellectual approach to music helps. "We cater to a certain listener, someone who is educated about music," says Casey Atwater, the group's bassist. It's true; their experimentation may leave the uninitiated scratching their noggins. But make no mistake; their music is always listenable and never dull. An affinity for pop music keeps them searching for the perfect hook. It is glee noise, a marriage between the avant-garde and the accessible.
While Firework Show came together in 2005, Bodtorf and Gallagher began developing their musical partnership over a decade ago. Before coming to Charleston to attend CofC, the two cut their teeth in post-punk bands around their hometown of Greenville.
"We decided we wanted something a little more avant-garde," Gallagher says, "and that's the core drive behind this whole thing."
In 2006, with an earlier lineup, Firework Show packed the Music Farm and swept CofC's Battle of the Bands competition. Atwater joined in 2007, shortly after his previous band opened for Firework Show. Brown lived below Bodtorf and Gallagher, and he participated in their ever-expanding jam sessions. "We started getting really into jam bands. We wanted anybody who could play anything," says Gallagher.
The band recorded Glee Noise at local studio Charleston Sound. The final mixes are mostly from single takes, with minimal overdubbing. "It's by far the most polished recording we've ever produced," says Gallagher.
Listening to the songs on the new collection hints at the perpetual energy of Firework Show's live performances.
From here, Firework Show's future seems bright. They hope to hit the road behind the EP before heading back to the studio to record a full-length album. "We want to record everything, full-length LPs, double-albums, the works," says Gallagher. "Touring and playing for people is a huge part of it, but the main reason we do it is to make the music."