Positive No started over three years ago, but for a variety of reasons, the band took a while to get going.
Positive No started over three years ago, but for a variety of reasons, the band took a while to get going. Yet from the start, there’s been a buzz surrounding their efforts.
It makes sense if you’re aware of the musical background shared by co-founders Tracy Wilson and Kenneth Close, but it also seems a bit peculiar to judge a group on expectations derived from past endeavors. Their past efforts shouldn’t be ignored; yet it can’t be denied that their current endeavors are equally, if not more, exciting.
The band got started due to a thought Close had while at a show. At this point in his personal history, he’d been out of the music scene for a while. “I watched a friend of mine play a show and I started to wonder why I wasn’t doing this,” he recalls. “It seemed like a missed opportunity. And the idea of playing in a band in my thirties didn’t seem like an absurd idea.” This newfound desire to make music culminated over a winter break in 2011. Aided by modern technology, Close began to write some songs. “One factor that made working on music a little easier was having a digital work station, as opposed to getting a four track out,” he explains. “You could immediately sense layers of songs beginning to form and take shape.”
Wilson was quickly drawn into the process, contributing to songs in ways that went far beyond just vocal melodies and harmonies. While she only sings during the band’s live performances, she contributes to the songwriting process by augmenting Close’s guitar parts with ideas of her own. “The way that I approach playing guitar is a way of developing a melodic accompaniment for what I might do with what I sing,” Wilson says. These early collaborations began to take shape as some of the songs that later appeared on Positive No’s first EP.
However, soon after the band’s initial formation, tragedy struck. Wilson was involved in an auto accident that left her with a head injury requiring a lengthy recovery process. “After the accident, I started to relearn how to sing. There was a heightened sensitivity to sound that I had to acknowledge,” Wilson recalls. This reeducation definitely informed the ways Positive No refined their sound. Compared to her previous vocal work in bands like Dahlia Seed and Ringfinger, her approach in Positive No feels like a new page entirely. The dynamic interplay engages listeners as the swirls of Close’s guitar mingle with Wilson’s hushed vocals.
While Wilson taught herself how to sing after the events that had befallen her, Close took a similar approach to his guitar playing in the band. “It’s crazy to think how much time I spent playing music throughout the nineties, to then return to it and practically have to reteach myself how to play guitar,” he jokes.
After several months of recovery, the two began considering how to approach recording and performing live. “When we were working on demoing, we would send them out to a friend on the West Coast, who began putting drums to a lot of these songs. It was a good way for us to start getting a better idea for what direction we were going to take,” Close says. After these initial exercises, they started to consider potential candidates to fill out their live lineup, approaching drummer Willis Thompson, formerly of Thao With The Get Down Stay Down and Murphy’s Kids, among others. “At the time, he wasn’t playing music with anyone. That probably comes as a surprise to many, but for us, we found him at a very fortunate time,” Close says.
Wilson was quick to seek out an old friend to play bass for them–James Menefee, known for his work in Fun Size, River City High, Long Arms, and more. “I have known James for quite a while, and there is a certain comfort in having him play on whatever you are working on,” Wilson remarks. “He’s so incredibly talented, and he will just sound awesome.” With a full lineup assembled and an engineer in mind, the process began to create their debut EP, Via Florum. Recording took place at The Magpie Cage in Baltimore, with producer/engineer J. Robbins (who has also produced albums by Jets To Brazil, The Dismemberment Plan, and more) manning the boards.
Soon after, the band began playing shows, with one of their first being the first annual Fall Line Fest in 2013. “We knew from the start that we wanted to try and do a bit of touring behind this project,” Close says. “At the same time, we understood how life can kinda just happen,” Wilson adds. “It’s probably why we have worked through a few members due to getting married, having children or both, and realizing being in a band is probably the craziest thing that anyone can do given those circumstances.” The lineup issues began almost immediately, with multiple quick transitions occurring at the bass position before they were joined by Josh Quarles (also of The Low Branches). However, the band soon staged an epic Via Florum release show at which they performed on a stage fashioned to look like a blanket fort, inspired by Close and Wilson’s first date as a couple. “It felt appropriate to recreate that for a big moment that the two of us were sharing by playing music together,” Wilson says. “It was also just a crazy idea, thinking, ‘Could we really set up a blanket fort on a stage and make it work?’” Close adds. “The challenge was quickly accepted, and we just figured out how to pull it off.”
Over the next several months, as the band began playing regular local dates, making several short trips out of town, and planning future recording sessions, their lineup continued to fluctuate. In particular, there were problems with the bass position. “We went through a number of bass players for a variety of reasons,” Wilson says. “Sometimes life just happened, and they weren’t available or able to commit as much as we needed them to. In other instances, we just didn’t find the songwriting chemistry that we desired, and we were able to mutually come to that conclusion to move forward.”
As if this wasn’t a complicated enough situation, there was also another injury situation starting to affect the band’s ability to operate. “I don’t know what it is with this band, but I think we just can’t keep ourselves from suffering some sort of unfortunate injury,” Wilson jokes. This time it was Close who was suffering, dealing with lower-body injuries that made it hard for him to perform, or even to stand up for long periods of time. “I started feeling pains in one of my legs that after months of coping would eventually be diagnosed as a misalignment of my pelvis and spine,” Close explains. “Thankfully, those issues are beginning to subside, but it definitely put the band on hold for a moment.”
At the same time Close was attempting to learn the cause of his injuries, Thompson announced to his bandmates that he’d be leaving the band. “Willis had started becoming a bit more active with a few other projects and realized he didn’t have the same amount of time to dedicate to the project,” Wilson says. Luckily, Thompson was able to stick around long enough to record drums for the band’s debut full-length, entitled Glossa.
“We named the record Glossa due to it being the greek root word for language, and more so tongue,” Wilson says. “We used that idea to really consider what we wanted this record to represent from all of us.” To record the album, the band headed back into the studio with Robbins, and with the lineup that had recorded Via Florum as well. “Not only did we have Willis there, but we were able to schedule James [Menefee] to play bass for Glossa as well,” Wilson says. “If you ever needed a greater testament to how awesome James is, he learned all of his parts in no time and even tracked them with similar finesse.” “By the time we left Baltimore, I was really impressed by how much we had accomplished,” Close adds. “The only thing I might have done differently is not lose my voice by the time we got around to tracking vocals,” Wilson remarks, adding: “We were able to work on that more once we returned to Richmond.”
The 12 tracks that appear on Glossa all fit in with an overarching lyrical theme, which Wilson is quick to point out. “I broke down each song and started to realize that from the comfort and safety of my present tense, I was revisiting traumatic times from my past,” Wilson says. “A lot of these songs act as my final words in those moments that I never had the opportunity to express or share until now.” Some of the ideas behind the songs involve the ravages of nature, the historical and geological importance of an area in southwestern Iceland, ruminations over failed relationships, and the unfortunate nature in which men continue to speak down to women even in current times. “The song ‘You Shoot, I Ladder’ is a direct call to the frustration I face when I constantly encounter people who speak down to me due to my gender,” Wilson remarks. The male half of the songwriting team may not have a direct experience with this phenomenon, but nonetheless echoes Wilson’s frustration. “It drives me crazy that this is still an issue in today’s day and age,” Close says. “It just baffles me to no end.”
The lyrical and musical approach Positive No takes towards their music sets them apart from many of their contemporaries. At the same time, the band is quick to compliment the variety of the music scene they’re part of. “What I love about what’s happening with music in Richmond is that you never really see a bill that is all one way or the other,” Close says. “There is never a traditional shoegaze bill or a full-on garage rock or even punk bill. Every band in town is doing something that feels like it’s their own–and that really speaks volumes.” He also notes that the current social and political climate inspires not only Positive No but artists in general. “If you look around at the art that is created during the bleakest of times, it seems like that’s where the greatest things come about,” Close adds. “As fucked up as things get, I think everyone is really setting the bar high for themselves and everyone seems to be delivering with new releases.”
Speaking of releases, Positive No have no concrete plans for Glossa‘s release at the moment. Wilson’s own label, Little Black Cloud Records, released Via Florum, while Raleigh, NC-based label Negative Fun Records released a two-song EP for the band in 2014 as part of their Singles Club. However, this time around, the band would like to see what other opportunities might be out there for them. “I’ve never really shopped a record before, so I think we’re going to give that a shot and see what happens,” Wilson says. One thing that does appear to be coming together nicely is a new live lineup for the band–though the duo were not prepared to release the names of their new rhythm section as yet. “We aren’t really ready to make any big announcements, but if everything works out, I think people who have enjoyed our live shows in the past will be stoked to see who we have lined up,” Close says.
While Positive No may not have been as active as some bands over the course of their existence thus far, the attention they’ve received has all been well-deserved. They’ve released compelling music from the outset, and displayed the sort of refined intellectual nuance in their songwriting that comes with a greater store of life experience. At the center of it all is the connection between Wilson and Close–something Wilson says she’s never experienced in any of her previous projects. “To be honest, I haven’t really played with, all that many people. I have had people around me support the projects I’ve been involved with in the past but it never translated to them wanting to work on new things together,” she explains. “It just never happened until now with Positive No, and getting to work with Kenny on this. With as many members that have come and gone, the core of the group will always be the two of us, and how we interact with each other as songwriters.” There really isn’t anything else like Positive No happening in Richmond right now, and their example only further proves that the eclectic nature of RVA’s music scene is one of its greatest strengths.