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Many a musician has written a song about love, but few enjoy discussing them. Andy LeMaster, singer and mastermind behind the rocking, synthesizer-heavy Now It's Overhead, kindly volunteers some of his feelings about his relationship-themed, self-titled debut album and its inspiration -- as painful as it sounds for him to do. On the phone from Presto! Recording Studio in Lincoln, Nebraska, LeMaster pauses and coughs as he reflects, with both cynicism and pride, on a bond he shared with another man, calling it his "first real relationship."
"I was with this person for two years," the 26-year-old LeMaster says in an accent that reveals his South Georgia roots. "The songs were written over that period, and I just started recording them as I wrote them. They're not in the order they were written, but I feel like they unfold thematically that way, and they're not all obvious love songs or songs about lack of love." He stops and laughs.
The only clue that LeMaster's album might possibly outline a homosexual relationship are his line drawings printed with the artwork, one image revealing a boyish figure whispering into another lad's ear as their arms melt around each other. But this detail is immaterial. The songs on the album are capable of transcending gender as they capture (with gut-wrenching candor) the powerful, universal feelings that occur between any kind of couple. "It's got some human points to it that people can relate to," he offers.
Like a screenplay, Now It's Overhead covers each chapter of a love affair, starting with its idealistic beginning, traveling through the in-between highs and lows, and concluding with a bitter finale. The introductory "Blackout Curtain" begins with an optimistic refrain: "Don't ever go away from here/And I will never go away." But complications quickly set in as paranoia takes hold of the protagonist. The second track, "Who's Jon," finds the singer asking, "Who's Jon, anyway? What does he mean? What did you expect me to say?" in a voice brimming with jealousy and suspicion. A few fleeting moments of quality bliss follow but are quickly lost; the album arrives at its sad conclusion with "A Skeleton on Display" in which LeMaster mumbles desolately, "Walking off alone with your back to the one you said you loved/Stepping out of skin we grew together in as never ending/But you ended it." Lingering over a single swelling synth note, he chants "I will always miss you" until a mournful trumpet adds one final melody. It's the stuff heartache is made of: a brilliant musical travelogue of a romanticized affair doomed from the start.
Offering the perfect complement to the lyrical themes, Now It's Overhead's dark sounds walk hand-in-hand with a pop sensibility -- like Depeche Mode with balls. "Blackout Curtain" throbs along with the strumming of an acoustic guitar as a droning, electronic melody beeps over a wash of airy synthesizers and a sustained sample of a woman sighing. After a simple melody ricochets from speaker to speaker, another layered, breathy chorus fleshes out "Who's Jon" with subtle "oohs" and "ahhs" and a lighthearted electric guitar line to form the tune's bedrock. The vocal drones are replaced by the hum of an analog organ, swelling with guitar and an almost-militant drumbeat to introduce "Hi." The indie-rock Beach Boys of "Hold Your Spin" follows, bounding blissfully along. The last two cuts, "Goodbye Highway" and "A Skeleton on Display," stand out as the saddest moments with their minor-key melodies of somber piano, plodding bass, samples of unintelligible layered telephone messages, shimmering synthesizers, and female/male vocal harmonies.
Produced by LeMaster, Now It's Overhead glows with meticulous attention to detail. After doing time in several high school cover bands, LeMaster invested in a four-track, since there was no recording studio in his small Georgia hometown of Toccoa. Local bands soon sought him out, turning LeMaster into an engineer by default, and he found himself investing in more equipment.
LeMaster would not have a chance to explore his own songwriting and singing until 1996, after he moved to Athens, Georgia, as part of Drip, a heavy-rock trio. Drip released two albums on the small Athens-based label Ghost Beat Records before disbanding in 1998. By then, engineering had become a full-time job for LeMaster, who founded Chase Park Transduction Recording Studio with former Sugar bassist David Barbe and current Glands four-stringer Andy Baker, recording such esteemed acts as R.E.M., Japancakes, Amy Ray, and Sea Worthy. He's also engineered records by Athens heroes Macha and traveled all the way to Nebraska to work with songwriter Conor Oberst's Bright Eyes.
Only a year later, Now It's Overhead began to take form as LeMaster's first truly personal project. "I just started writing these songs without any plans for a band or a record and eventually wound up with nine or ten songs and realized I should probably find a band," he says. "I asked my friends to be in it. They said they would, and they played on the record."
The other friends who became part of Now It's Overhead include former Drip drummer Clay Leverett as well as Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor, also known as the Athens dream-pop duo Azure Ray. "I've always played in bands with Clay," says LeMaster, "so that was an obvious decision. Even when there was no Now It's Overhead and I was recording songs, I had him come to play on them.
"After about half the songs were recorded, I was thinking what sort of textures they needed on them, and I thought of Maria and Orenda. I asked them to come hear the songs and see if they had any ideas. They did, eventually saying they'd be in the band. Everyone came in after the songs were completed, but the parts they added definitely took them to another place."
Right now, LeMaster is preparing to embark on his second Now It's Overhead tour, supporting the hard-rocking Desaparecidos, Oberst's collaboration with guitarist Denver Dalley. Plans for a second Now It's Overhead album are only in the conceptual stage, but one thing is certain: LeMaster does not want to sift for inspiration in the wreckage of another tangled love affair. "God, I hope not," he says and laughs with a sense of relief. "No, that's definitely not my plan. I have ideas about what the subject will be but not enough to say anything about it yet because it's not concrete, and I don't want to jinx myself."
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