Last spring, Charleston band Old You were an amusing troupe developing a reputation as a versatile bar band with a groove-oriented setlist of funky classic rock, electric blues jams, and guitar-heavy originals. Fronted by a striking female lead singer/guitarist named Young-Mi Feldsott, they were an attractive act with jammy tendencies.
Things are quite different for Old You this spring. Feldsott and her bandmates — drummer John Pope, bassist Paul San Luis, and lead guitarist Caleb Bodtorf — have a more textured and mature sound. They've held back on booking some of the cheesy cover band gigs and focused on performing at music clubs where audiences pay attention to and appreciate original music. They've even recorded a debut mini-album titled So Steady, a five-song collection that will hit the street this week.
"It's been challenging along the way," says Bodtorf, speaking last week as the band loaded up for a road trip to Augusta, Ga. "When we started, we weren't well rehearsed, and we were trying to figure out our sound. It was difficult to learn new songs, and it was difficult to write new songs as well. That process was slow, but we're much more comfortable and confident these days. When we had to learn Journey and play wedding gigs, no one enjoyed it. We're a lot more trusting of each other now, and we can put our own style on the covers we play."
Old You still performs casual bar gigs, but they're trying be smarter about the cover band/original band balancing act. Bodtorf and Feldsott also perform at bars and clubs around town as a paired-down guitar duo handling jazzy standards and mellow pop and rock. Appeasing mainstream audiences at bars and private events can often require a diplomatic touch and a handful of goofy selections, but they've developed a smooth sense of professionalism about it.
"I think we've really gotten the hang of it, especially now that our originals seem to be as well if not better received as our covers," Feldsott says. "Every once in a while, we will learn a new cover, but for the most part, we've chosen our favorites and learned how to own them when we perform them."
The big news this season is Old You's new disc. Through the winter and spring, they overdubbed their instruments and vocals and eventually assembled five keepers as an EP.
"It's been almost a year in the making," Bodtorf says. "We originally tried to work at Awendaw Green, and Eddie White arranged services for us for almost next-to-nothing, which was great. But we were playing 15-20 shows per month, and it was really tough to get all the way out there. So we set up at home, took our time, and recorded it ourselves."
The sessions kicked off after Bodtorf and Pope assembled a makeshift studio in their Hampton Park abode with Pope taking the helm behind the mixing console. "We had a couple of good mics and borrowed a few more from friends. John engineered and produced the whole thing," Bodtorf says. "He's become a wizard over the years with Apple Logic Pro."
Local engineer Joey Cox mastered the final mixes at Charleston Sound Studios. There's a crisp and lively production quality on the disc, from the clean tones of the guitars and bass to the trebly buzz of Pope's tightly tuned snare drum. The rhythms and arrangements are tight, and Feldsott sounds strong and soulful throughout.
"We seem to be moving in a new direction musically, which is why we decided to put our older tunes on this EP to represent the old Old You," Feldsott says. "The new sound has almost a trip-hop vibe going on, but the jazz and soul elements are still there. It's mellow, psychedelic, smooth, and danceable."
The disc starts strong with the melodic opening ditty "Abeline" (one of the band's earliest originals), and it follows with the trumpet-accented swing-pop song "Cairo" and the reggae-tinged closer "Sleuth." The loungy feel of "BEC" allows Bodtorf some space to show off his hot jazz-fusion chops. The upbeat title track is snappy, intricate, and funky.
"It's a little bit bittersweet," Bodtorf says of So Steady. "We wrote those songs quite a while ago, and we don't really sound like these recordings any more. We still play these tunes, but we play them a little differently. It's a document of where we came from, and we had to get it out before we finished recording our newest stuff."
Old You has already set up the home studio for another big session. Pope has tracked drums for a new batch of songs that the band hopes to release as their debut full-length later this year.
Feldsott says that they've heard fans compare their latest material to such acts as Thievery Corporation and Morcheeba. "John and Paul have both been heavily influenced by the hip-hop group J.Davis Trio, which I think has really shown up recently in our writing," she says. "But I won't be spitting rhymes any time soon. I'll leave most of the hip-hop contributions to the rhythm section."
In the meantime, they'll juggle recording and local performances with more road trips around the region.
"Our goal for 2012 is to be on the road as much as possible," Feldsott says. "Our van was demolished last month [in Atlanta, thanks to a drunk driver], so there's been a minor setback, but I think it may also be a chance for a fresh start. I have a feeling this is going to be a great year for us."
Just don't look for Old You at the noisy cover band dives. They've already ascended to the next level.
Old You also performs on Sat. June 2 at the Piccolo Spoleto Intern Block Party at Marion Square, which runs from 6-10 p.m. Admission is free.