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The Music Biz Dance: Slow Runner survives unscathed with an independent release

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Slow Runner
w/ The Winter Sounds
Sat. Sept. 8
10 p.m.
$8
Cumberland's
301 King St.
(843) 577-9469
www.cumberlands.net
www.slowrunnermusic.com

"Happy Ending" from the album Shiv
Audio File

There's no doubt about it. 2007 has been a difficult year for Charleston-based pop-rock quartet Slow Runner. They survived the major label ride through wild ups and downs and finally stepped away from it all. "We're basically back exactly where we started," says singer/keyboardist and main songwriter Michael Flynn. "We're booking our own shows, doing our own promo ... rising from the ashes."

Armed with a new, self-produced studio album, a cool Wurlitzer, and a solidified lineup, Flynn and longtime collaborator Josh Kaler are anxious to move ahead. They celebrate the release of a 12-song collection titled Shiv at Cumberland's on Sat. Sept. 8. It's officially an unofficial album-release party with a bittersweet vibe.

The latest Slow Runner configuration features bassist Jonathan Gray (formerly of Jump) and guitarist Scott Baumil (formerly of the Young Republicans).

"In the studio, we can be meticulous, layering multiple instruments and tracks," says Kaler. "Live, it's always more raw. All of the songs kind of get the rock treatment. Most of these new songs are very live-oriented, especially compared to the last record."

Slow Runner first started out in 2003 or so, going under the band name "Michael Flynn." Within a year, they compiled an album of self-recorded pop tunes and released them under the title No Disassemble. In mid-2005, the band signed with legendary record exec Clive Davis' boutique label, J Records and re-released a version of their debut album No Disassemble. The band changed their name and tinkered with the touring lineup. Drummer Benji Lee left the Charleston area, so Kaler gradually switched from guitar to drum duties. Additional strummers Dave Middleton and Danny Cassady added guitar, bass, and vocals on stage.

By early 2006, Flynn and Kaler had high expectations. After extensive tours with folks like Josh Ritter, Built to Spill, Gomez, and Evan Dando, the duo started recording demos of over 40 new songs.

"I think they were all a little too eclectic and weird for the label, which is funny because I don't think our music is weird at all," shrugs Flynn. "It's maybe slightly adventurous pop, but it's still pop, you know? I ended up going to New York to co-write some terribly cheesy songs with some random guys [at the label's request]. They totally loved them but I was sort of a brat and not into them. I was ready to dance! I tried my best to sell out [laughs], but it still didn't work. You don't really do the major label thing, then get out of it, and then get back into it. When a major label dangles hundreds of thousands of dollars in recording money right in front of you and it's the best option on the table, it's worth at least trying it. We tried it and it didn't work."

By last fall, they had dozens of songs already pre-recorded and ready to lay down. They had to decide whether to scrap the whole pile and start over completely with a new batch of songs or simply carry on independently with what they had already worked up. They decided to get on with finishing their strongest song sketches — with fine results.

"We recorded it at home and at Patrick Boyd's studio in Charlotte," says Flynn. "This record is a bit more sophisticated than the previous one. I've always tried to take a minimalist attitude toward writing and arranging, but I tried to take those filters off for this recent process. Like, let's just blow it up and see what happens. We tried different things this time.

"Artistically, we're so much happier right now," adds Kaler. "It was so much fun going back and reworking the songs and going to the studio to mix and polish things up. One of the very few cons of not being with a label is not having any money, so we had to call in a few favors. Time was limited in the studio, but it felt right. There was no one breathing down our necks or anything."

Flynn and Kaler finished their official album recording sessions over the spring and split the newly-polished tunes into two main groups of "rock" songs and "quiet" songs. Shiv is the rock collection. The quiet collections, tentatively-titled Together We Will Outsleep the Night, is due in late-December or early January.

Knocked around, but not beaten, Slow Runner could very well accomplish everything they aimed for, artistically and commercially, over the next year or so ... major label or not.

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