Friday, February 8, 2008

Black Spyral Dancer

by Dave Schaefer

With the name Black Spyral Dancer, images of a grim Cirque du Soleil rush into your mind, and though it’s not a good comparison, the analogy does imply a great show -- and BSD delivers with a healthy mix of metal, rock, poetry and performance.

The band formed in Athens, Ohio, from the ashes of Anything But Kind with drummer Justin Farcas and guitarist Majed Khurshid forming BSD with the addition of Alix Andrews on bass and lead vocals. After a few line-up changes, Matt “Hutch” Hutchinson -- also a former member of Anything But Kind -- joined Black Spyral Dancer about two years later to free Alix of his bass-playing and allow him to focus on the vocals, and the current line-up was formed.

“The band has had members come and go,” Maj says, “But I consider the band BSD once Hutch entered the group.”

Black Spyral Dancer’s sound is a concoction of metal, blues, and melody blended together with the dynamics of Alix’s vocals, which can belt out a scream one moment and a beautifully on-key note the next.

“We had heavy blues and metal influences from the start,” Justin says, “which are evident in our earlier tracks such as ‘Blues Delux.’ Since then, we’ve become more dynamic and purposeful in our writing, and as a result our style has become more progressive and poetic.”

Hutch agrees: “It’s become a more focused, whole entity. In the beginning, there was a lot going on simultaneously that was cool and interesting, but not necessarily cohesive. As a result of some pretty intense gigging and a couple of recording sessions, we’ve basically been forced to evolve into a single musical unit, versus four independent musicians competing for space.”

Once getting together, Maj, Justin, Alix and Hutch didn’t waste any time making a splash on the local scene. Not only did the band make the finals of the Columbus leg of the international battle-of-the-bands-style Emergenza in June of 2007 -- held at the now defunct Little Brothers -- but Maj was named Best Guitarist.

“The Emergenza thing was cool -- I wasn’t expecting to take the award,” says Maj. “It was a nice gesture considering how hard we worked. The other guitarists were deserving as well, but they lacked energy -- I want to see some anger, blood and passion on the face of a guitarist, not just precise notation. I think that was the difference.”

Winning awards is one thing, getting noticed in the often-saturated local scene in Columbus is quite another. I asked them what they think sets Black Spyral Dancer apart from other bands in the area.

“Presence,” Justin says. “I think what really sets us apart is our live show. When the four of us get on stage and interact with the crowd, we aren’t just playing music -- we’re entertainers. We have an infectious excitement to our sets, and it’s a real, tangible experience that keeps people engaged.”

Hutch takes takes his answer in a different direction. “We relate to the world through the music we create, not through the image we give off, like many bands unfortunately do. We just try to write and play what feels good to us.”

“We’re not faking,” Maj adds. “What we feel is what we play.”

But then Hutch has to agree with Justin. “ Come see us play live. That’s the way to truly appreciate BSD.”

I agree. I went to a show to see an entirely different band and stepped away with the feeling that Black Spyral Dancer may soon become a creative force in the Columbus scene. Their energy, and onstage camaraderie is evident, but so is their musical ability.

But having said that, going to their MySpace page and listening to their recorded tunes is a bit underwhelming. The live experience is vibrant, while the in-studio work is a bit flat. I asked Maj about the difference.

“That was done only two months into the band taking its final cast,” he told me. “I wish it did have the energy we have live, but that’s a tough thing to achieve. I want to do a full live recording, but until we drop a major amount of cash, I think we will always have that problem.”

And the recording was a very do-it-yourself process, according to Hutch. But that’s beginning to change.

“We just finished tracking a new single of “Blues Delux” at Pendlwood Studios here in Columbus,” he said. “It was a pretty interesting process -- our first time working with a producer. We had to cut out and edit parts of the song with him and it gave us some insight into a more commercial recording process as opposed to the DIY approach we’ve been used to.”

BSD splits their time between shows in Columbus and back in their home of Athens and they definitely see a difference in how the two audiences respond to their music.

Hutch: “Athens has a tendency to more quickly accept musical styles that break from the norm. Both towns have great music scenes, but I'd say that by and large, I’ve noticed that Columbus crowds tend to prefer our more straight-ahead rock songs, whereas the intricacies and variety of our music is more appreciated down south.”

“And Columbus is a bit more difficult to get into,” Maj adds, “And it’s more widespread. But both are very diverse and informed music scenes.”

All four of the members of Black Spyral Dancer aspire to doing this as their primary job, but the challenge looms even larger for Justin who’s also a full-time dad.

“It’s hands down the most difficult juggling act I have ever been asked to perform in my life,” he says. “The schedules are so diametrically opposed it’s just ridiculous. When I arrive home from a show, I’m at times greeted by a rising sun and a cranky baby -- on top of having no sleep and having played and driven for the past eight hours. It’s insane. And this is only the beginning.”

I have a feeling when that baby’s dad and the rest of Black Spyral Dancer look back, they’ll see success in their past and an inevitably bright future.

Black Spyral Dancer will be playing Skully’s on Wed. Feb. 13.

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