In a town as small as Athens, it’s common for recognition to inflate a band’s ego, even when it may not be fully deserved. It’s rare and refreshing to discover a band both modest and fully educated in its craft, technically proficient and musically compatible, with songs that are simultaneously thought-provoking and enjoyable.
Local rock quartet Grand Vapids’ principal songwriters, Austin Harris and McKendrick Bearden, met while studying music at Georgia’s LaGrange College, where they began writing songs for Grand Vapids’ precursor project, the folk-leaning indie rock trio Androcles and the Lion. Those songs, performed as part of a LaGrange senior recital, ended up becoming Androcles’ first EP, As Far As Blindness Could See, recorded at Chase Park Transduction with drummer Paul Stevens and engineer Drew Vandenberg.
Subsequent recording sessions for an Androcles full-length revealed that a new project had emerged. “We start recording these newer songs, and we’re kind of fleshing out the arrangements, and… we just kind of realize, ‘Oh, this is a different band. This isn’t the same thing. The songs are so different’,” says Bearden.
With Stevens taking an active role in writing and arranging new material, and a suspicion that the trio had landed on something different, the group added Bearden’s childhood friend Chris Goggans on bass and changed the band name as recording wrapped.
Recorded and mixed with Vandenberg at Chase Park, Grand Vapids’ debut album, Guarantees, is an incredibly candid look into each songwriter’s personal turmoil during the two-to-three-year span of the record’s creation: Romantic relationships folded; friends passed away and left confusion and grief in their place.
“Kiln” and “Aubade,” written by Bearden and Harris, respectively, were spawned after the death of a LaGrange schoolmate, a songwriter the two admired for his artistic courage. “There are specific lyrics in there that deal with that, but at the same time it’s just kind of grappling with that loss and trying to find some solace in poetry or beauty of another nature that brings a kind of consolation,” says Harris.
“Maybe, in some ways… it’s influenced our decision to continue as a band,” Bearden says. “I’m sure it [made] its way into a lot of [the album] unknowingly.”
Anxious and reflective, Guarantees is an album of sheer beauty, featuring a dense wall of guitars and a chugging rhythm section. Its title track, the album’s final song, begins with the steady thump of a floor tom and a dirge-like chord progression on piano before the chime of a bell and a pleasantly strummed acoustic guitar signal a quick shift.
As Bearden sings about the overwhelming, transformative aspects of love, certain phrases stick out: “You give me new form,” “You shape me all over” and, most distinctly, “You ask for nothing/ And I give you failure.”
As the album’s promotional campaign wraps, having garnered nods from Stereogum, Consequence of Sound and CMJ, among others, Grand Vapids modestly moves forward with an album release show at the Caledonia Lounge Friday. Humble and happy to be playing music together, the band has already managed to cut convincingly through the noise.
WHO: Grand Vapids, New Wives, Art Contest, Moths
WHERE: Caledonia Lounge
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 23, 10 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $5 (21+), $7 (18–20)
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