Farnsworth, a band born under a bad sign
This story was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014.
“Live it” has become a mantra for Charleston blues-rock duo Farnsworth.
It’s the name of group’s first full-length album, which will be released this Saturday. But “Live it” is also what guitarist Chris Vance and drummer Jason Reese tell one another when things aren’t going very well.
They’ve been saying it a lot lately.
On June 20, the band was scheduled to be the opening act for Live on the Levee, Charleston’s popular summertime concert series. It also was the opening weekend of the city’s annual FestivALL celebration, so the crowd was expected to be even bigger than usual.
That’s one heck of a break for an up-and-coming band.
“We felt like, this is it. It’s a big deal to play Live on the Levee,” Vance said.
But shortly before they were to take the stage, the skies opened up with a torrential downpour.
Vance tried to remain upbeat when a local television reporter interviewed him about the show. He said Woodstock went on despite the rain, so Live on the Levee would too.
He was partially right. The weather dried up just in time for the night’s headlining act, US FLOYD. Farnsworth did not get to perform. Reese looked at Vance and raised a fist in the air.
“Live it,” he said.
Last month, the band sent their new album to United Record Pressing, the nation’s oldest vinyl record manufacturer.
Vance and Reese had worked for months on the project, painstakingly recording it using a vintage tape recorder and all-analog equipment.
They sent the only copy of their master tape to a mastering house in Columbus, Ohio, where technicians cut a “lacquer” of the album, an acetate-coated aluminum disc containing all the grooves that would appear on the final vinyl record.
It’s a delicate and expensive process.
“Each individual cut is unique. It’s a very fine art,” Vance said.
The finished product sounded great. But then the mastering house sent the lacquer to United.
“They lost it. They couldn’t tell us where it was,” Vance said.
Without informing anyone, United fired the customer representative who was overseeing Farnsworth’s record. The jilted employee didn’t bother telling anyone where the lacquer was located. United eventually found the disc . . . but not before the band’s record label paid another $600 to have a second lacquer cut.
Upon hearing the news, Vance and Reese had only one thing to say.
The band has plenty more bad luck stories. During a recent tour, they paid to spend a night in a 1968 Shasta camping trailer parked in a converted junkyard — but it was double-booked.
On the same tour, they landed a gig at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s noted Trash Bar nightclub. When they took the stage, there were only three people in attendance: the sound guy, the bartender and some guy from a band who played there the night before.
“The guy literally came back to get his guitar,” Reese said.
Just this week, Reese and Vance learned their new keyboard player Justin Yeats will not be able to perform at the record release shows scheduled this weekend at Sullivan’s Records and Sam’s Uptown Cafe.
“So now we are a two piece,” Vance said in a Facebook message. “Live. It.”
Vance and Reese have taken plenty of hits since starting Farnsworth in 2011, but they keep getting back up.
And for that reason, they have the occasional stroke of good luck, too.
When they decided to record “Live It” using all-analog equipment, neither Vance nor Reese knew much about vintage recording processes.
They also chose to record the album at Sullivan’s Records on Washington Street East, even though the store is not really equipped to be a recording studio.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Vance said.
But once recording began, Vance said it was clear something special was happening.
“The way that room sounds is incredible. It’s surprising how good it sounds,” he said.
Using vintage recording equipment also paid off for the band.
It’s much more difficult to fix mistakes on reel-to-reel tape recorders than on digital recording equipment, so Vance and Reese took their time recording the songs.
It took them an hour just to set up microphones on their first night of recording.
“You have to commit to tape,” Vance said. “You have to commit to a sound. It forces you to think about it.”
The result is a loud, eight-song album infused with vintage rock sounds. If it were recorded 30 years earlier, you would call it “classic rock.”
The album is being released by Charleston-based record label Twin Cousins Records.
Vance and Reese said the label has been extremely supportive, helping their band navigate some of the pitfalls of record-making.
“You couldn’t ask for a better partnership,” Vance said.
Farnsworth hopes to push their luck and record another full-length, all-analog album for Twin Cousins before the end of the year.
They’re hoping lightning will strike twice.
And if lightning would strike anything twice, it’s Farnsworth.