The transition from childhood to adulthood is marked by a musical maturity as much as it is by an emotional and physical one. A lot of kids start bands when they’re 13, mimicking their favorite songs on the radio or whatever their older siblings listen to. Mostly these bands are formed just for fun, a leisure activity where one can momentarily live out dreams of being Billy Corgan or Michael Jackson. It’s rare that any adolescent band lasts more than a few months, let alone years. Tastes change, people grow out of their rock star dreams and others just give up.
But North Carolina’s Annuals grew up together, their tastes evolved together (even while going in different directions) and with their 2006 debut Be He Me, they are inching closer and closer to fulfilling those dreams of rock stardom. Recently, buzz spoke with Mike Robinson, who has been playing bass guitar with the different incarnations of Annuals for the past seven years.
“We started when we were 13 or 14 playing pop-punk,” Robinson said. “And as we began to evolve musically, the band got bigger and bigger.”
The group began as a three-piece band with bassist Robinson, singer Adam Baker and guitarist Kenny Florence. Seven years later they have grown to a six-piece collective, encompassing the best of ’60s pop, ’90s lo-fi and the modern jubilance of indie extravagance (as well as holding on to echoes of their punk roots). Comparisons run the gamut from Broken Social Scene and Animal Collective to Brian Wilson and Mercury Rev.
“The palette we pull from is pretty huge. We listen to everything,” Robinson said. “But ironically, we hadn’t heard bands like Arcade Fire before any of these songs were already written. We really like all of those bands, but we don’t really consider any of them as influences.”
The Brian Wilson tags are perhaps the most legitimate, as Robinson and crew were turned on to the Beach Boys about three years ago by current guitarist and percussionist Zach Oden during a transition away from an “emo” stage.
“For the most part, we all listen to different things now,” Robinson said. “But, if there is one album that our band is a direct descendent of, it would have to be Beck’s Midnite Vultures. It’s a staple of all our record collections.”
The band hired producer Mickey Petralia, who produced Midnite Vultures, to help with their debut album, which also features many self-produced tracks. The self-production gives the record a very intimate and “lo-fi” sensibility that Robinson explains was not necessarily intentional.
“We’re not going for lo-fi, but we’re just not real engineers. We know how to use ProTools, but we aren’t professionals,” Robinson said. “We like to record a lot though. We’re always taking the tape recorder around finding random conversations and nature to tape.”
Many of these strange sounds and voices found their way onto the album. The epic opener “Brother” begins with the sounds of crickets and the natural world before allowing a small acoustic guitar to break in. Throughout the album there are background vocalists yelping, chanting and on “Carry Around,” thematically discussing magic – creating an environment that feels both emotionally alive and distant.
“These are Adam’s songs that he wrote and he’s definitely drawn to the more emotional, as am I. We’re all very passionate about music,” Robinson said. “But Kenny is drawn to more musically proficient bands and he’s obsessed with the technical aspect of the sound. So, we are also a total production nightmare for venues when we play live because we have so much stuff.”
The numerous instruments, sounds and members of the band almost threaten to implode as they crash together on Be He Me, but there is a dramatic unity that keeps everything together and afloat. It is precisely this tension that gives the album the poignant weight that it carries.
“We take making music very seriously, but at the same time, we’re all extremely close and honest with each other, something that comes from being together for so long,” Robinson said.
And though the band remains a group of kids in their early 20s, they now sound as skillful and affecting as any of the names mentioned as “influences,” a testament to dedication, hard work,and never giving up on your adolescent dreams.
Check out the year’s hippest new band, Annuals (with Oceans, Evangelicals, Hot IQ’s and Coco Coca), the Canopy on Thursday, Nov. 9. The show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.