Stripping It Down to Basics

Technology is admittedly convenient. It enables modern music artists to cram a plethora of recorded vocals, a menagerie of differently-tuned guitar lines and a flood of drum samples into one jumbled sound and loop the entire piece over itself repeatedly on top of feedback and a synthesizer riff.

Acoustic playing does not permit such sound mixing, but it does facilitate collaboration between artists. An example of such a collaboration is this weekend’s “Writers in the Round” acoustic show at Mike ‘n Molly’s featuring local artists Megan Johns, Kate Hathaway, G. Lee and newcomer Briana.

“The show the four of us are playing together is going to be relaxed,” Johns said. “All four of us singer/songwriters have a great respect for each other.”

G. Lee, just returning to the music scene after a hiatus, developed the idea of the four artists each playing a short acoustic set at Mike ‘n Molly’s, and they were quick to comply.

Hathaway and Johns are particularly notable due to their current projects. Johns is near the terminus of her recording an album with The Greytones; it is a heavier, darker sound fronted by jazzy prose. Hathaway, voted Best Female Artist at the Champaign-Urbana Music Awards in 2005, is in the midst of writing songs with her younger brother James. Their kinship and profound friendship capacitate them to write

two-part harmonies and lyrics together with fluency. The Hathaways plan to fully flesh out their new sound with a fresh lineup consisting potentially of an additional bassist, keyboardist and drummer.

Despite their novel endeavors, both entertainers thoroughly enjoy playing by themselves. “I have thrown out songs that do not sound right when I play them solo and acoustically,” Johns commented. “I love how raw unaccompanied music can sound.”

Hathaway added, “If a song is stripped-down and still sounds good, then you know it’s great.”

Acoustic sets typically attract a less-noisy crowd than if the performers were backed by a band, so every note, every chord, every pluck is very comprehensible to the audience.

Not just the sonority, but lyrics can also be more penetrating when displayed in a live acoustic set. People have the luxury of being just a few feet away from the singers whose words are then very easily absorbed. For these artists, this is a lucky phenomenon because both women sing about very personal matters.

Johns crafts character sketches of people involved with mental illness, homelessness and death. She strums her guitar until a particular chord triggers melodies and words that combine in her head to form the beginnings of a sentence. This sentence emerges as an entire song later as she continues this intuitive process.

In her lyrics, Hathaway shifts from her own worries to abstract ideas not possible to summarize. She does not have a specific fashion for her craft, but knows that the music surrounding her is an indirect influence. Hathaway adores artists like Fiona Apple and Neko Case for their

original deftness.

Hathaway and Johns actually met when in the thick of their first full-length production. Both were recording with Andy Lund, who introduced them to each other. Johns’ solo CD was composed when she was still enrolled in a Champaign high school and had little experience with a full band sound. She plans to continue doing at least some solo work for the rest of her life. Hathaway’s Sprout Don’t Pout was released two summers ago and has received airplay on multiple Champaign-Urbana radio stations.

This Saturday night at Mike ‘n Molly’s, Johns, Hathaway, Lee and Brianna are coming together to bring you “Writers in the Round.” Each of the four will take turns exemplifying their stirring, stringed inventiveness. Come out for an hour to glimpse a bit of each artist, or the whole night for the full flavor.

As Hathaway put it, “Acoustic sets are very intimate, because you have nothing to hide behind.”

Come out to Mike ‘n Molly’s (105 N. Market St. in downtown Champaign) Saturday, Oct. 14 at 9:30 p.m. for “Writers in the Round,” featuring G. Lee, Megan Johns, Kate Hathaway and Briana. The show is 21+ and tickets are $4.

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