An antiphon is a chant. A verse or a song that is sung in response. In many cases, this is where the connection between a band and their audience begins. When the words a songwriter writes become the voice of one’s internalized thoughts, the relationship begins.
This article was featured in RVAMag #27: Winter 2016. You can read all of issue #27 here or pick it up at local shops around RVA right now.
For Richmond’s Antiphons, their brand of atmospheric indie rock has triggered this connection with many throughout the local music scene. Singer/guitarist Brian Dove spins dreams of yearning for people and places that are not uncommon to most fans of the genre. Starting as a solo project, the current lineup exudes a confident bravado in every musical journey contained on their debut full-length entitled Groan.
Antiphons will release Groan this Friday, with an album release party this Saturday, Jan. 14, at Hardywood.
In 2011, Dove began to start writing music under the name of Antiphons. With a set of home recordings that would end up comprising an EP release, Dove saw the project as a way to subvert what he was currently doing with the band Brother Wolf. “Brother Wolf worked as a means of writing longer songs and seeing how many movements we could shift through,” Dove recalls. “As a reaction to that, I wanted to write songs that felt a bit more direct.” Dove would start to test this more direct material out in town, with one of his first shows being at Emilio’s along with Richmond stalwart Dave Watkins. As the songs began to take fruition, he realized that he wanted to incorporate other musicians in order to give fuller life to the music.
The search would be a quick one. Brother Wolf members Tommy Terrell (guitar) and Matt Stinnett (drums) already had a long standing musical relationship and it only naturally extended to Antiphons. “The three of us having played music together for so long is something that makes it easy for us to communicate creatively,” Terrell describes. “The time spent in Brother Wolf probably drove us to working with Brian in this band. Brother Wolf let our imaginations run wild and write these really abstract songs. With Antiphons, we can get away with not having to play twenty minute songs.”
Reflecting on that time period of the band, Dove is quick to consider that a lot of groups in the music scene helped shape the idea of the band initially. “At the time, bands like Houdan The Mystic and Zac Hryciak & The Jungle Beat were definitely influencing a lot of directions we were taking,” Dove remembers. ”The Jungle Beat is definitely a band I was inspired by and how they could include a lot of dynamic shifts in a single song.” Both Houdan The Mystic and The Juble Beat would become bands that Antiphons would share the stage with when they started playing shows as a full band in 2013 after completing the Antiphons line-up with bassist Ben Medcalf, who helped to shape the initial construction of the group as a folk outfit around town.
Around 2014, Dove decided to move to Oregon for a year. In the time spent there, he lost the tip of one of his fingers in a freak accident and began to write several of the songs that would appear on Groan. “When I was living in Oregon, I started writing a lot of music,” he states. “I was starting to sense that they were going to be taking a distinct turn. We started as this folk band around town and everything I was writing was making sense as being better suited for a rock band.”
Upon returning, Terrell noticed a shift in Dove’s songwriting. “When Brian got back, it seemed like his guitar playing was focusing more on riffs and the songs didn’t just focus on chord interplay,” Terrell says. “There was a strong focus and he was more conscious about guitar.” Referring back to the Brother Wolf days, the band is quick to point out how even the gear was quickly changing between both projects during this time. “In Brother Wolf, everything sounded incredibly clean,” adds Terrell. “Immediately with Antiphons, we started to obsess over tone and effects. We were starting to acquire a ton of gear and learning how to achieve this really big sound that a lot of these newer songs were demanding.”
The band continued to play around town while they started to record what they thought would be Groan, but those plans quickly changed as they started to re-analyze the music scene around them. “When I left for Oregon, the music scene seemed a bit more experimental and a lot of bands were working with math rock,” Dove reflects. “When I got back, there was a certain pop sensibility that a lot of my friends playing music were starting to incorporate.” The band began to record by getting engineer Mitch Clem to record drums and the rest of the recording was done at Dove’s apartment. This proved to be an enormous task as the band sought to find the balance between being socially active and committed to recording on the weekends. “There would be weekends where I would come in town and we would try to record while we were battling enormous hangovers. I’d go record a guitar part and then leave to go throw up and then record another part,” Terrell jokes.
Around the time they finished the record, they started to shift their focus on how they wanted their debut to sound. “I think it was around the time that Camp Howard and Lucy Dacus put out their albums and I thought to myself that our record sounded like shit in comparison,” Dove confesses. “I started to see how a lot of bands around town were putting a lot of work into making their records sound really great and I think we needed to push ourselves a little harder to make that happen.”
After scrapping their previous recordings, they booked time with engineer Tim Falen at The Virginia Moonwalker to start recording again. “What we never realized is that the record we thought we were going to release was just a super long pre-production session,” Terrell says. Along with re-recording the album, the band also found that a number of songs they were going to release didn’t feel like they fit and they decided to drop them from the sessions. “In the time we were in the first recording sessions, we started writing more songs that felt closer to the larger sound that we were trying to achieve.” Dove adds. “Recording with Tim gave us a better opportunity for getting that and I know we wouldn’t have gotten it on the one microphone I had at my apartment.” After the sessions at the Virginia Moonwalker, the band would lean on Bryan Walthall to help mix Groan while Allen Bergendahl lent his mastering expertise to the young group.
Groan is a record that examines the relationships that we share with others and the surrounding environments. The opening instrumental that leads into “Weekends” feels like an exodus for the moments we dream of during the monotony of day-to-day life. “Tiny Rooms” is an exploration of the fright that accompanies anxiety. It’s a call for disappearing into an endless winter and discovering the titular room as a place where trust is achievable. The hope is there even in the tiniest of places: “Losing Teeth” floats gracefully through a plea for the ability to feel in control once again. The song magically transposes this idea by displaying the hushed vocals, guitar interplay, and nuanced effects. “Human Bruise” might be the most personal track off the record with Dove musing about how it’s cool to be alive… most of the time. It’s appropriately the first single off Groan and a video was shot for the song by Terrell as well as edited by Dove, all being inspired by Dove watching a ton of Star Trek and wanting to shoot a video where he played an astronaut examining a vast foreign landscape.
While discussing Groan, the band were quick to point out “Rotten Apples” as a highlight of theirs off the record. “It’s my personal favorite song,” Terrell proclaims. “I think it has all of the elements that I like about our music and I hope people can sense that when they hear it.” Medclaf agreed adding, “It seemed like a conglomeration of all the ideas and sounds that we had been worked towards through figuring out what we wanted the Antiphons sound to be.” Dove mentions that “Human Bruise” is another song that really struck a chord with him. “The mood. The lyrics. The tone. All of those things seem to leave an impression on me when I listen back and whenever we play it live.”
As the band started to consider potential labels that could help them release Groan, one local label ended up being an obvious choice. “We reached out to Manny Lemus from Citrus City about putting it out,” Dove states. “He has done such a great job with Camp Howard, Lance Bangs, Young Scum, and everything on his label. I just asked if he would be into and he was quickly enthusiastic about it. Also, he has done a great job getting a good amount of press for the bands on his label through a more DIY mentality.” The band quickly settled on a cassette release through Citrus City Records, but the desire was there to press this special record to vinyl as well. “Our friends in Night Idea had just put out Breathing Cold and we heard about this Chicago label called Gigantic Noise that was helping them do the vinyl,” Dove explains. “I wrote Phillip from the label and wanted to see if he would put it out. He responded positively and I was pretty shocked by how supportive he was. We didn’t know each other and he was quick to work with us.”
After finishing the sessions on Groan, Medcalf announced to the band that we would be leaving to pursue other projects. The band understood and were able to move forward with bassist Chris Matz. “Now, they will have a real bass player and not one just pretending,” Medcalf laughs. Outside of his new project Buddy List, Medcalf continues to perform with Dove in local outfit Young Scum. “Chris has been a great addition to the band and as sad as we were to see Ben bow out, we are all still super close,” Dove says.
2017 is proving to be an exciting year for Antiphons. With their debut release on the way, the band reflects greatly on the successes of 2016 and what to learn from there. “Just seeing how many Richmond bands decided to get pretty professional about the way their bands operate is pretty inspiring,” Dove admits. “Not only did it make us want to put a record that better displayed us as a band, but it makes us all want to figure out how to efficiently tour behind it.” With the scant weekend tour here and there, Antiphons have already begun the descent to build notoriety regionally.
Groan will be officially released on January 13th, 2017 and fans both locally and nationally will find out the qualities that make Antiphons’ music so special. The band’s true beauty lies in the cadence of their music. There is an emotional turmoil on display that unravels quaintly throughout Groan. Even in the darkest moments, the band effectively evoke whimsical swirls of sounds that elevate you to greater plains where you remain untouched by your fears. Their music joins the ranks of Richmond bands that have risen to the challenge of setting their own unique spin on songwriting in this town. In this day and age, that’s not an easy feat. Yet, Antiphons seemed to have found a choir of supporters that feel compelled to sing the band’s praises. Upon Groan’s imminent release, one can only imagine there will be even more that will become enchanted with the band’s proper debut.
Words by Shannon Cleary. Photo credit: Ali Mislowsky