Kim Reville wrote this article for the latest edition of The Columbia City Paper and did a really good job with it.
Wasted Wine will be at Cafe Strudel on September 19th and at Coffee Underground in Greenville on September 5th so go check them out.
Wasted Wine do things their own wayNestling in the corners of coffee shops and dive bars with their artillery of instruments, it does not suffice to say that Robert Gowan and Adam Murphy play standard coffee shop folk music.
Wasted Wine, a quirky upstate duo from Greenville, S.C., has put together something that is disarmingly distinct and utterly genre defying. In the simplest terms, the two have created something that sounds like the lovechild of Tom Waits and the Decemberists.
Gowan and Murphy admit that theirs is a sound that is not easily classified. Gowan describes their music as a “mix of folk, classical, klezmer, French rock, and gospel with a hint of hip-hop.” Murphy simply prefers the term “chamber folk.” He elaborates: “I think our music combines some of the intimacy and sophistication of chamber music with the rawness and immediacy of folk music.”
Their intricate, at times exotic, style is primarily the result of an innovative use of atypical acoustic instruments including the bouzouki, harmonium, and bulbul tarang to achieve an opulence missing from a lot of arguably bland acoustic folk. The two members share vocal duties, but both are proficient on a number of instruments. Gowan is most often heard on violin, but he’s also responsible for his share on the guitar, harmonium, and harmonica. Murphy takes on most of the guitar and percussion, but frequently steps up to the harmonium and bouzouki. With only two members, the pair has perfected an instrumental and vocal juggling act that has the minimalist feel that would be expected from limited manpower while still providing its audience with multi-dimensional compositions.
It was the bizarre assemblage of instruments between the roommates that motivated Murphy and Gowan to form Wasted Wine in 2006. As Murphy recalls, “Eventually, we realized we both had a bunch of acoustic instruments lying around and started playing together in our apartment.”
Since Wasted Wine’s inception, the two have written between 150 and 200 songs together, though according to Murphy, “many of them were throwaways, genre exercises, experiments that didn’t work, or just bad songs.” With time, Murphy continues, “we’ve begun to emphasize the theatrical aspect of our music more, and blend other genres and influences with our ‘core’ sound in a more natural way than we once did.”
The duo released their first album in 2008 with ten of what they consider their “benchmarks in songwriting.” Their debut album, And When You Wake Up, is a showcase of Wasted Wine’s romanticism and gift for narrative. This album doesn’t have singular standout tracks as much as it has noticeable shifts in tone. The first track, “Karl Zann” sets a bold aggression that flows effortlessly, albeit counter-intuitively, into the haunting and somewhat malevolent “Heaven.” Through the first four somber tracks, the lively “His Best Friend’s Wife” provides an excellent midpoint and transition into the album’s more ethereal second half.
What’s most enthralling about these gentlemen and their music is their inherent complexity and diversity. With musical influences ranging from Prince and Three 6 Mafia to Bob Dylan and J.S. Bach, it’s not surprising that they somehow seem both contemporary and classical; whimsical and pensive. The album is a merit to their talents for dark storytelling, but the accompanying mix-tape provides a healthy reminder to listeners that these intellectuals have a sense of humor. Murphy states, “it mixes folk music, shaggy dog stories, and the structure of hip-hop mix-tapes to create one big goofy mess.” This mix-tape, entitled The Earth Rejects Creation, Vol. 1, is available for free from their website.
This polarity applies to live shows as well. A live set can move unfaltering anywhere from the macabre to the lovelorn. “Caroline,” a rhythmic tale of cannibalism, may be paired with the sweet escapist ballad “Relent.” At any given point they are likely to break out “Roll With It” – their cover of a Three 6 Mafia song. Even visually, Wasted Wine creates something dichotomous. Murphy sits nonchalantly and slightly pigeon-toed, strumming delicately, and looking out to directly engage his audience. Conversely, Gowan leans forward, sings brashly, and shuts his eyes in confident introspection.
Wasted Wine is looking to evolve their live performances as much as their music. In time, this forward thinking pair hopes to continue including other media and performers, including belly-dancing troupes and actors. The pair currently employs guest musicians and accompanying vocalists to add to their live shows and recently performed their music along with animated work by visual artist Axel Forrester. The duo has grown from playing in their apartment to, as Gowan describes them, “an award-winning, radio-played, self-sufficient machine of unique sounds and baffling lyrics.”
Wasted Wine will leave you with the impression of old souls that view the world in sepia tones – before you realize that you’re waving to the taillights of a car blaring Lil Wayne
Wasted Wine will be performing at Café Strudel on September 19.
(h/t) Columbia City Paper