"I write songs every day," says Mississippi-born, Charleston-based songwriter Owen Beverly. "The ones that are energetic and might hit people hard — I put those aside in a special, coveted pile that says 'Tent Revival' on it. I'm excited about the band, and I love playing in it."
In his current situation, Beverly acts as chief songwriter within a synergetic group of players rather than as the featured solo artist in charge of a backing band. From the sound of things, he's perfectly delighted with it.
In recent years, the indie-styled songwriter earned a strong reputation for penning gutsy alt-country anthems and pop-rock ballads, as well as his musical collaborations with such local acts as The Working Title, Slow Runner, Leslie, I-Nine, Steve Fiore, Cary Ann Hearst, and Jump, Little Children.
After the release of his 2003 debut The Drunk Lover EP and the twangy follow-up, Shooting the Bull, Beverly's songwriting style seemed firmly established. However, with his latest band project, Tent Revival, his musical ideas burst away from the usual categories and headed into exciting new directions.
"Our music is a little more like my first EP ... kind of like that heavier, darker, rock 'n' roll type stuff," Beverly says. "I'll probably never stop making solo records, but that's not to say that this isn't 100 percent what I'm focused on and trying to make something happen with. This is really fun for me because I feel like I can bring anything to those guys. No matter how heavy or light it is, they just do it aggressively, which I like."
The current Tent Revival roster features an impressive combo of skilled players — drummer Benji Lee, bassist Matt Heath, and lead guitarist and cellist Bryan Gibson. Guitarist Brian Whitman regularly joins in as well. All four previously toured and recorded with the Atlanta-based alt-pop band I-Nine.
"They're great players, they have chops, and they're reliable guys to be with on stage," Beverly says of his colleagues. "Sometimes we're a five-piece, and sometimes we're a four-piece. We've tried both, but we're not sure how it will turn out next year."
Tent Revival started taking shape after Beverly did a national tour with Jay Clifford (formerly of Jump) a year ago as the acoustic opening act.
"I'd asked them to play a couple of songs with me at the end of my set, so I could have some full-band songs," Beverly remembers. "They learned a couple of my newer songs. At that time, I was heading into a different genre than my recent records. It sounded good, and there was a certain chemistry there. They actually talked to me about starting a band together, and playing shows and stuff. I already had a new batch of songs that had a similar feel to them that, I felt, needed a full band orchestration for them to really come across. It came together, and we've just done the weekend warrior thing since then."
With Lee based in Brooklyn, and the rest of the lineup situated in Atlanta, the Revivals make the best of their time when they get together. Sometimes, Beverly heads up to Atlanta for a quick studio session. Other times, he greets his bandmates in Charleston for a quick rehearsal before a brief road trip.
"Since we're all so spread out, we don't have a lot of time to collaborate," Beverly says. "On some of the songs, I'll write specific parts but some of the harmonies and instrumental parts are worked out in the practice shed or as we're tracking it. I try to bring songs in that are as finished as they can be, though. We don't usually waste a lot of time trying to write a song from the ground up, but everyone pitches in as we work on things for the first time. We're just getting a bunch of demos, really, and trying to let things materialize on their own. They have, for the most part. Hopefully, we'll finish a record in 2010."
One of Beverly's many distinctive singing voices — the groaning croon with the rapid vibrato — leads the way on one of the band's recent demo tracks, the intense, guitar/percussion-based "Backyard Possum." There's a cool creepiness on the beautifully textured minor-key anthem "Government Work." Gibson's cello kicks off another strong new track, the strummy, sultry ballad "Prettier Than You."
The band's most recent Charleston show was an opening set last month at the Pour House, warming up for Lindsay Holler's Western Polaroids. Powerful and confident, the performance surprised some in town who've become familiar with Beverly's more straightforward, country-tinged style of Americana and pop-rock. He and his bandmates rolled through a dynamic set, with Gibson switching from his Les Paul to the cello with ease, and Lee pounding an abbreviated three-piece kit with more than a few tricky accents and rhythmic patterns. While Beverly and the band flirted with elements of '60s-style folk-rock, '70s-era Southern rock, and '80s-style jangle-pop throughout the set, the edgy character of their full-band sound remained consistent.
"Ultimately, people are just going to have to deal with the fact that I'm slightly schizophrenic," laughs Beverly. "I think one of the things that works well with our live shows is the fact that, from song to song, there's a lot of different styles and grooves. People like to hear us switch it up, you know?"