Lauan Records

www.jambands.com (link)
New Groove of the Month
Edited by Dean Budnick

A Fresh Interpretation Of An Ancient Harmony: An Interview with Chad Denney

Our new groove for the month of October is the Georgia quartet Ancient Harmony. Ancient Harmony has made great strides in the past few years to establish itself on the nation's music scene. With a clear and crisp rock and roll sound, Ancient Harmony's music is based on roots in southern rock, but also draws from influences all over the country. It wouldn't take long for a music fan at one of their shows to pinpoint the multitude of musicians and traditions from which the band has forged their own unique sound. Shell Stamps on lead guitar and vocals, Steve Patton on bass, Mike Cansler on drums, and Hal Month on keyboard are the current members of the band. Their live concerts showcase many of their own original compositions, but also include covers from well-known musicians such as Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Phish.

The band originally hails from Albany (say al-BINY) Georgia in the southeastern portion of the state. As their popularity grew, they found that relocating their base to Atlanta was a natural move. Patton and Month both have music degrees from established music institutes, while Cansler and Stamps share a childhood bond that dovetails perfectly within the group. One look at their stage setup might give the impression that there are 6 or 7 different members of the band. Cansler has many percussion instruments to compliment his basic drum set, while Month has 5 or 6 different keyboards at his disposal. The last time Ancient Harmony played in Memphis, Month made extensive use of a rotating sphere with a microphone to add an additional effect to his keyboards, much like the effects Charlie Hunter sometimes uses on his guitar.

Ancient Harmony is now touring the country, supported by their relationship with Lauan Records. Lauan is one of a growing number of pioneering labels that give back to the music community even more than they take. The effects of their live compilation albums has served to increase the national visibility of acts such as Jiggle The Handle and Larry, just to name two. As humble musicians with emerging talent, Ancient Harmony seems like a natural fit for a jamband label like Lauan. I had the chance to speak briefly with Chad Denney, the manager of Ancient Harmony about the band's history, current projects, and future plans. Excerpts from that interview follow.

CS: I understand you're the road manager of the band.

CD: Yeah, I've been their manager since the beginning. Well, I've been with them for a long time. I started out just as a fan in the audience. I know you were probably wanting to interview one of the band members, but they're men of few words. I've been with them the whole way, so I have a pretty good grasp of their music and where they're headed.

CS: Well, let's start with a little history behind the band.

CD: OK, Shell and Mike grew up across the street from one another. They're the core of the band. They've been playing together longer than anyone else. Were you meaning a history from an evolutionary standpoint or just a historical basis of how they got started?

CS: Well, a little of both. Shell and Mike are both from Albany in South Georgia, right?

CD: Yes. Actually, Shell and Mike are from Albany and Steve moved there when he was 4 or 5 years old, so you could say they are all from Albany. Steve and Hal were both had formal training. Steve went to AIM, the Atlanta Institute of Music, and Hal studied at the Julliard School. The band's original lineup started about 6 or 7 years ago. In the beginning, it was just Mike and Shell and Steve playing regional gigs here and there. You know, they were doing weekend warrior kind of stuff. They started doing mostly covers, playing songs they knew and enjoyed, then evolved into a more original band over time. We had a few other musicians here and there before we ended up with the permanent lineup we have now. We had a harmonica player for a time. By the time Hal had joined on keyboard, things were starting to really take off...

CS: But you had an album at by that point already, right?

CD: Well, we did have "Skywater" out by then, yes. From our perspective now, I know it's hard for the band to consider that a full-fledged album. Basically, we went into the studio with Paul Hornsby and cut nine tracks in exactly eight hours. He produced for the Marshall Tucker Band as well as Charlie Daniels. We wanted something for promo material so that we could put the building blocks together for something bigger in the future. I know the band would say today that it isn't something they're particularly proud of. They recorded 12 tracks in something like eight hours in just one day. We did what we needed to do there to get us where we're going.

CS: Both Steve and Hal studying in organized musical programs makes an interesting contrast with Shell and Mike's natural partnership. Do you think that has helped in the development of the music?

CD: Oh certainly. I can speak more about Steve because I knew him both before and after his experience at AIM. I can't tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, "Man, Steve's music has grown so much in such a short period of time." Since the band works together so much, it's only natural that some of that would rub off. I'm sure Steve has taught Shell a trick or two somewhere along the line. But at the same time, there are things between Shell and Mike that could never be taught in any music school. There are some things that have grooved in over time from playing so much together from such a young age.

CS: Tell me how you first became involved with Lauan Records.

CD: We had come to the point when we were ready to make a commitment to expanding our sound on a nationwide platform, so we took a look around to see what some other bands were doing. It so happened that some guys we knew, Day By The River, had recorded on a 3 band sampler for Lauan with Vinyl and Jiggle The Handle also, I believe. It seemed like they had a very good experience come out of that so we looked into it. I put together some promotional materials and a live tape that we had recorded from a festival in Cochran, Georgia called the Summer Sun Music Festival. David Landsberger his partner Seth are the two guys running the show at Lauan. They are from Boulder, CO and Providence, RI, I believe. We got together with all of them and met them in person. The way they do things is really neat. We were part of the second compilation CD they released along with Larry from Austin, TX and Wise Monkey Orchestra from San Diego,

CA. We each got about 24 minutes of space on the CD for our own live music. The way it works is great for all of us. I know there are some music fans in the heart of Texas that might not know about Ancient Harmony if it wasn't for that CD. The same goes for some of our fans and Wise Monkey. It's a great crossover and gives us the benefit of expanding into new markets so that we already have a little buzz going when we tour and travel to play our shows there.

CS: How would you say they do things differently from other record labels?

CD: Well for starters, the three band CD they released only costs $8, and they donate a portion of the proceeds to charity. I think it's a charity that helps homeless people up in Boston. When we've met with them in the past, we all came away with the overwhelming feeling that they were in it with noble intentions. They didn't seem like the greedy corporate music types you always hear about.

CS: Do they have any creative or financial control over the album you're planning right now?

CD: No, not really. What they have is one version of ["Sweet] Memory." We picked that from our archives of live performances to be one 26 minute track on the compilation. They can do with that as they please. If the band picked another version of the song to record, we would retain the rights to that ourselves.

CS: Moving up to Atlanta seems like a logical move for an up and coming band like Ancient Harmony. How would you characterize the music scene there right now?

CD: Man, it's practically exploding. There's just so much going on right now. From a venue standpoint the Brandyhouse has just been doing great. They host jambands there all the time. Things started to really pick up there, of course, when Col. Bruce began to play there on a regular basis. He brought in John Popper, [Mike] Gordon from Phish, and all kinds of musicians were down there playing with him on a regular basis. That really sparked the interest of the music-loving public as a whole. Then of course there's the Northside Tavern and Variety Playhouse, they have some great shows throughout the year. With the amount of talent in the Atlanta area and the enthusiasm that's been growing in the past couple of years, I would almost compare it with what was going on in the Haight-Ashbury era back in San Francisco in the 1960's.

CS: How about the Dunhams radio show on Z-93 and the Grateful Dead hour? Do you think that has done a lot to help promote jambands in the Atlanta area?

CD: Absolutely. Jeff Dunham has done so much since Jerry died to keep the sprit alive and continue spreading the music. He has a live radio show once a week that runs back to back with the Dead hour. That's done so much to help the jam scene overall, as well as bluegrass and other types of roots music

. CS: Tell me a little about the album Ancient Harmony has recently been working on

. CD: Well, we were working on part of an album at Tree Sound Studio in Atlanta. Dr. Dan came in and helped do some production work and we fined tuned Atlas. We worked and stopped and worked some more at Muscadine Records down in Macon, but unfortunately with all the money we've been putting into our touring, most of the funds for that project have dried up. In all likelihood, we're going to end up releasing a double-live album in the coming months. We've been talking with Doug Oade who recorded some shows we played down in Tallahassee not too long ago. He went over the material with us beforehand and we picked out which songs would work best technically, then also some that the band really wanted to do, so that's what we based those shows around.

CS: Ancient Harmony still throws in quite a few cover songs into the mix of their live shows. What do you think their song choices say about them as a band?

CD: In most cases, the songs represent past experiences and influences of the individual bringing them in. I mean, each band member brings in songs he wants to play on his own and then the band works with it from there. Ultimately playing cover songs is a reflection of a musician's desire to express an existing idea through their own creative outlet. If Shell is singing a cover song its because that song has a message he feels he needs to preach.

You can find out more about Ancient Harmony on their web site, http://www.ancientharmony.com