23 August 2010

North Carolina New Wave

Everyone knows that the 1980s got to be cool again in a kitsch sort of way right around the turn of the millennium. (Take that, fin de si├Ęcle scholars!) I've always assumed it was part of the twenty-year cycle of coolness: the thin lapels and skinny ties popular during the 1960s came back to haunt the 1980s; second wave feminism and bellbottoms, new in the 70s, were thoroughly distorted but nonetheless revitalized in the 90s; and wait, what's that? The 90s have hit the runway?

Candace Lazarou

If it looks silly to begin with, it always looks at a little sillier the second time around. The 80s comeback exemplified that rule, I think. And yet, as the trend starts to fade, I feel compelled to admit that many of us who thought 80s chic was pitiable at its peak couldn't help falling under its influence. The vintage 80s arrived in the small North Carolina mountain town where I was living from 2002-2006, just about the time it arrived everywhere else, which meant I was right on time for the NORTH CAROLINA NEW WAVE REVIVAL.

Emily Staton

In conjunction with the world of fashion, the 20-year itch of nostalgia left an indelible mark on the music scene in Asheville, NC. Okay, admittedly, it wasn't so central as all that to the music scene. Asheville's best band certainly didn't lose its way. But my favorite band at the time could be described fairly as retrograde 80s new wave. The members of that band wouldn't appreciate the description, I'm sure, so let me add a caveat. Among the mad wash of neon leggings and blipping synths, they harvested the most interesting ideas and plenty from beyond that limited sphere of influence. That's what makes them worth sharing here.

Charles Corriher

Piedmont Charisma was a five-piece band featuring Josh Carpenter (drums), Chad Pry (bass), Ben Ridings (guitar), Emily Staton who was later replaced by Erin Sale, and Charles Corriher (vocals) who seems to have had a falling out with most everyone in Asheville. I lived with Charles for a time while he was dating my friend and then roommate Candace Lazarou. He gave me fodder for one hundred good stories, none of which I remember anymore. But, while living with Candace (and sometimes Charles) I played in her band, which sounded a lot like his.

Piedmont Charisma (2002)

Some people called the band "Candace Charisma" instead of its proper name, Congratulations, which she hated because it came a little too close to the truth. She also hated her music being described as New Wave, 80s Dance or Synth Pop, but I suppose none of those labels tell a lie. We described it otherwise, of course, but our disavowal didn't save us from sounding like part of a trend. I guess time leaves its mark on shitty art. I can still hear a sincere grasp for something better in those songs, though, so I'm sharing them with the world for the first time. They deserve that.

Josh Carpenter

Perhaps my former band mates would disagree. Two of the four of us have gone on to record better things. Jascha Ephraim (drums and professionalization) moved to California to make it big and, whatever success is, he certainly made it bigger. Evan Hill (guitar, song smithing) now fronts his own band, Wilson the Rocker. Last I heard Candace (guitar, keys, vocals, vision) was driving around the Continental United States in a Kia Sephia, but even she's still making music. I, on the other hand, put my bass away and am now writing stuff so boring that not even my family will read it (this blog included).

Evan Hill

Whatever. Have a listen to Congratulations' only demo. We recorded it in the fall of 2003, if I remember correctly. It's not a great mix, but the guy who did all the work did it for free and did it in a hurry. I hear there's a better mix and another song floating around somewhere, but I don't have either. I do, however, have a copy of Piedmont Charisma's only album, released in 2002, which I'm including alongside the Congratulations demo for an honest comparison. Apparently Piedmont Charisma almost finished a second album before learning to hate Charles Corriher's guts, but it's never been released. Their best recordings are from an early single, which has been posted at Willfully Obscure.

Nearly ten years later, it all sounds oddly dated and post-dated. Who knows, maybe it'll be cool again ten years hence.


  1. I have the better mixed version which I'll send your way. I was recently talking to someone about Congratulations and was describing our influences as Glam Rock, The Kinks and early punk. I say "influences," but it's more like people we intentionally ripped off. I think the closest Candace and I got to New Wave was ripping off Elvis Costello.

    In a cyclical turn of events, I've just started playing with Chad Pry and Josh Carpenter in On The Take.

  2. Good to hear you've joined On The Take, although I hope that doesn't mean things are slowing down with Wilson the Rocker.

    As for Congratulation's influences, well, you're right of course. But, I mean, all new wave bands took early punk, glam and sixties pop as their central influences. That was the magic mix that made the genre! I think Piedmont Charisma's early recordings are notable for minimizing the pop influence and introducing Pere Ubu and The Fall. Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing that other mix!

  3. http://drop.io/congratulationsdemo

    Here they are. Sorry no songs are labeled. I don't have a track list and don't remember any of their titles.

  4. Thanks for that Evan. Below is the track list to the demo I posted:

    1. Accelerative Thrust
    2. Leathers at Large
    3. Return to Form
    4. Cards
    5. Blend Rexes
    6. Don't Be a Stranger
    7. Improve the Color
    8. Stage Presence

  5. charles always told people that i listened to "worldbeat" just because i like traditional music from other countries. i was honestly ignorant of whatever influences we took upon ourselves. charles was very methodical in his replications, which i found very bizarre because i would just figure out something to play rather than studying someone else's techniques.(but yes, i do like the early 80's sound because i grew up with it). i never liked the final cut of our full album because the sound levels are not balanced. ben is barely audible in many songs, and i am too loud at times because charles favored the keyboard sound and he was the only person who attended the mastering session. i wish we had a better recording. our best shows were always at vincent's ear. --ms. staton.

  6. Man I miss Candace. Bunches. If you hear from her please say hello from me... - Srini @tinyvox