"Hayride" from the album Goodbye, Goodnight, So Long Midwestern
It's a clean slate and bright future for pianist Joe Giant and singer/guitarist Tyler Mechem. The two Charleston songsmiths recently changed their band name, assembled a solid collection of radio-ready original material, and expanded their sound from a straight-ahead modern alternative-rock style to a more atmospheric and romantic Americana/rock thing.
Working diligently across Charleston over the last three years, Giant and Mechem gradually built a following in the club scene under the name "Bell" (a.k.a. "bell."). As a versatile rock/groove duo and with various backing lineups, they established themselves with a danceable, piano-powered blend of what they called "rock, soul, and traces of gospel and jazz." With ease, they could jam on a cool riff, deliver a complex reworking of a classic rock standard, or dish out funky grooves to appease drunks in the audience.
In 2006, they released a fairly lo-fi, five-song EP titled Rose Garden & a .45, recorded in Indiana at Sweetwater Studios with producer Chris Liepe. Rough around the edges, it demonstrated plenty of technique, Giant's rollicking piano work, nasty funk chops, and clever dynamics.
For their most recent studio adventures, they spent serious time and effort in an Atlanta studio with acclaimed producer Rick Beato (known for his work with S.C. bands I-Nine, needtobreathe, and Jump), who agreed to release the 10-song collection Goodbye, Goodnight, So Long Midwestern on a start-up indie label called Ten Star Records. With a lineup to match the new moniker, they celebrate the official release of a solid debut full-length this week.
"In the few months leading up to the recording, when we still had a few tracks to finish, I felt like I was finally realizing the sound we wanted," says Mechem. "We finally got to that higher level of songwriting. We were able to find the right feel and the right arrangement for each song. We're very excited about the new album. It's been a long time coming and a lot of work. It's a big deal for us."
After a gig with local band Milhouse at the Music Farm last year, the club's then-manager Jimbo Webb recommended the Mechem/Giant act to local artist manager Johnny Diamond, who was impressed with their original material. Diamond suggested the band do a set of demos with Beato. That demo session evolved into the recent fully realized recording session.
"Joe and I were trying to get ready to make this album, and the way the songs were going seemed way different from what some of the Bell lineups were doing, so we got new musicians to record," says Mechem. "Johnny and Rick suggested a few people who ended up being perfect for the parts. It ended up sounding like what we wanted to do all along, fortunately."
Mechem and Giant recently enlisted a talented bunch for the summer shows: bassist Ben Wells (an in-demand jazz/rock player), drummer Parker Gins (recently in town from Charlotte), and electric guitarist Matt Podesla (of The Working Title). This lineup will hit the stage this Saturday.
"We needed players who were very close [in style and technique] to those on the album, and these guys are very good," says Mechem. "Parker came down here from N.C., and he has a background in jazz. He can play anything, Ben is great — and he can play all sorts of stuff. Matt's a great player, too, so it's the best we've ever sounded."