The most peaceful, sanity-saving moments for bands on tour after tour come in different forms. For some, it’s blowing off steam after a show, when the work is done. But for many, it’s the quiet time when the gear has been loaded into the club, and there’s not much to do but have a beer and wait for soundcheck.
From the Beat Kitchen in Chicago, relaxed in halcyon reprieve, Bill Taylor sounds content for someone who’s on the road … again. The Kingsbury Manx, the Chapel Hill band in which Taylor pulls van, vocals and guitar time, is out on the highways for its new record, The Fast Rise and Fall of the South. The record’s release marks a new phase for the band, after a debilitating wreck, a membership change and a shift in songwriting. Wilco’s Mike Jorgensen recorded and co-produced Fast Rise. Prior to their CD release party Saturday at the Cat’s Cradle, they will open three consecutive shows for Wilco in Chicago.
Besides Jorgensen being a friend of the band for some time, these shows represent something more. Taylor explains, “We’re pumped. These are far and away our largest scale shows. We’re fans of Wilco, so if you look at it that way, we get to see them three nights in a row.”
Hooking up with Jorgensen wasn’t just an accident. “Mike and Paul [Finn, Manx keyboardist] were in a band together called Movere Workshop. They had an album that was to be put out by Overcoat [Kingsbury Manx’s former label]. As luck would have it, Paul started playing with us on keys after moving to Chapel Hill. Since he’s a great keyboard player, we benefited and were able to start asking more of that position,” Taylor elaborates.
The new album works in keyboard and even Mellotron textures, somber guitar strum and floating bass lines coming from a shift in instrumentation after the amicable departure of guitarist Kenneth Stephenson.
“Paul has been picking up a lot of parts on keys that were on guitar,” Taylor says.
Recording with Jorgensen was also a gear-shifting process in the way the band functions, Taylor says. “It was a fresh start. We had been doing records with Jerry Kee, and it was great, but we had become so familiar with things. We just wanted to shake up the process. This time around, we were really prepared and had the skeleton down before going on. So Mike had a lot of free rein there, and he gave us total control on the final versions.”
For Taylor, the road can be endless, and it can have its effects on a band that finds itself behind the wheel more often than most Triangle groups.
“We were stuck in Seattle when we got in a bad wreck [in October 2003], and we had to drive two rental vans cross-country to CMJ in New York, stopping in Chicago just to borrow equipment from Mike Jorgensen,” he says. “We were building up a head of steam to our record release at the time, and then the wreck happened.” The wreck of the van, known affectionately as the Vanx, proved to be a turning point.
“That’s when Kenneth left, and things weren’t too sure for the band as a whole since nothing was really going on,” says Taylor. “Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of touring. I actually still get stage fright. It’s bad. I was too nervous to try out for chorus in high school.
“When we were leaving CMJ the other day, the van wouldn’t start, but it’s fine now,” he says jokingly. “It’s like I was telling someone the other day, ‘We weren’t a miserable band, we were just surrounded by miserable things.’”
The Kingsbury Manx plays the Cat’s Cradle Saturday, Oct. 1 with Mowing Lawns and Cities. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and costs $7.