Interview: Youngster and The Great Oaks discuss new music and more before Friday’s show at New Brookland Tavern

Photo by David Stringer


Youngster and The Great Oaks will be playing New Brookland Tavern on Friday alongside the Canadian indie folk act, Current Swell.

Youngster, which is based out of Florence, began in 2010 as the brainchild of singer and songwriter, Blake Ratliffe. Ratliffe added that the project started after he parted ways with the Raleigh-based band, Octopus Jones.

“… around that same time I started doing this project called Youngster as a solo thing and I slowly started finding people who I was comfortable to play with as a full band. Now I’ve got three other guys who are from Florence. We usually play around Columbia, Charleston, and sometimes in Florence because those seem to be our best markets. We’ve been doing pretty well lately and people seem to really be digging our sound,” Ratliffe said.

Ratliffe added that Daniel Truncellito (guitar), Joseph Truncelitto (bass), Brandon Grove (drums) didn’t join the band until 2013 and that the shows beforehand were played solo.

“The first couple of years were really just me trying to find out what I wanted to do. After Octopus Jones had moved on, I was just kind of left here. It took a while to sort of find my place in the music scene around here and really focus exactly on what I wanted to do,” he said.

But once the band finally formed, they began playing shows throughout the state and even traveled to New York on its last tour in 2014. And while the band has written and performed original material since its formation, it hasn’t  released an album. But that’s about to change with the release of the band’s self-titled, debut record this spring. Ratliffe said that the band will be heading into the studio next week to work on the album with producer, Ryan Zimmerman. But before they release the full length album, the band wants to give fans a sneak peek with an EP.

“As far as recording, we’re actually going into the studio in Charleston next week for several days. We’re going to try to record four songs and we want to release those on a 7-inch vinyl,” Ratliffe said.

He added that a large part of the album will come from the catalogue of songs that have been played live throughout the years. “For the most part, about 80 percent of the record is going to be songs that people have heard when they’ve seen us live. We’re pretty confident with that because most people have given good reactions to those songs,” he said.  The band’s current catalogue of songs includes tracks like “Private Party”, which Ratliffe said will make a new and improved appearance on the album.

That updated version of “Private Party” will be accompanied by 10 other songs for the band’s debut album according to Ratliffe. And while the album seems like it was easy to piece together, he said the EP wasn’t as easy. “It took a while for us to pick out the best four songs we wanted to release on a vinyl record,” he said.

The album will also include the single, “The Changing Type”, which was released as a demo on Bandcamp last year. The song is an interesting mix of guitar driven progressions that calmly play over Ratliffe’s soft vocal lines, which include lyrics like “you and I seem to be so different” and “we ain’t the changing type.” Overall, the demoed track is a good look into the band’s sound and the potential behind the album.

Ratliffe said that the band hopes to attract the attention of labels. But one label that he has in mind is one that is close to home – Hearts & Plugs. The Charleston-based label houses a roster filled with South Carolina bands like ET Anderson, Brave Baby, and more.

“We’re going to be pitching that to a lot of record labels. Mainly independent labels … one of those being in Charleston and it’s called Hearts & Plugs. A lot of our good friends are on their label and we know they treat them well and are genuinely working for the artist. It’s not just for a paycheck and those are the kind of people we want to work with, so we’ll see how that goes,” he said.

Alongside the purchase of the 7-inch vinyl, fans will also be given a digital download card that will allow them to download the album via iTunes. Ratliffe added that the album will also be available to listen on Spotify and Soundcloud.

The Great Oaks

Those who go to Friday’s show at New Brookland Tavern will also get the chance to see The Great Oaks play a set of seven songs. Founded only a couple of months ago by frontman Andrew Wackerhagen, the band grew from songs he composed while on a musical hiatus. Wackerhagen said that his former band Frontier Sons gained some attention but quickly fell apart. That’s when he moved out west and found himself inspired to play music again.

“I was in a band that was getting some regional recognition called Frontier Sons for a little while. And that fell apart due to some internal issues and then I moved to Texas for a little while. When I moved back I had been writing a little bit … I had been out of music for about a year or so,” Wackerhagen said.

Shortly after the formation of the band, he added Scooter Fowler (lap steel), Brandon Wilks (bass, keys, vocals) and Matt Bundrick (drums, percussion). The three previously played in acts like Stonewall Stampede, Kingslyn, and Calculator. And while the past may tie the band to the local scene, it’s their quick progression that may lead them to expand outside of it. The band is already planning on heading into the studio this spring and have already written demos.

“We’ve got probably about 8 to 9 songs to choose from. I’m sure we’re going to cut it down just for now to kind of get it out there. And then maybe to put some songs in the back pocket for later on. It will probably only be about 5 or 6 songs on the album when we get it out,” Wackerhagen said.

I had the courtesy of listening to two demos called “Whiskey Nights” and “Sweet Release”. The first song definitely hints to his time out west. With acoustics, harmonica, and lap steel the song is a solid folk song with some country tones here and there. And the songwriting is strong, especially for an early demo. Wackerhagen sings, “I’m just caught up in these whiskey nights. Be honest honey, I feel like I’m doing just fine.”

“Sweet Release” differs a lot from the first song, but it still fits the tempo of the band. Stressing Wackerhagen’s songwriting abilities, the song begins with him singing, “I fall into a bottle from time to time to swim with these thoughts” over a simple acoustic guitar. Other impressive moments from the song include Wackerhagen’s vocal ability ranging from deep lines to falsettos and the proficiency of the lap steel, which compliments the vocals. Overall, I would be happy to see these songs make the album. Not only does this band have something special, they have something worth playing.

Songs like these might make an appearance on Friday’s setlist, which Wackerhagen promises will be a lot of acoustics, but energetic.

“It’s a lot of acoustics. We have some songs that will get you up and energized and really feeling it. Then we have some intimate songs. We have songs where it’s just me and one other person kind of playing and then it will transition really well into a full band song with lap steel, harmonica, organs, bass, drums … it’s a real roller coaster. It kind of takes the listener on a kind of journey. And hopefully they can connect with it,” he said.

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