Few small-scale shows possess the same magic as an outdoor AthFest Club Crawl gig; the ripe summer heat and cheap booze provide the perfect conditions for sonic enchantment. With a sorcerous sway, Neighbor Lady commanded one such performance at the festival in 2016, on the back patio of Little Kings Shuffle Club, with a twangy, reverb-soaked set that culminated, fittingly, in a captivating cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams.”
It was apparent even then—barely a year into the group’s tenure—that singer and guitarist Emily Braden’s modest personal songwriting outlet was unfolding into a full-band force to be reckoned with. “I never thought Neighbor Lady would be a serious thing,” says Braden. “I just thought I would play some songs with my friends and call it a day.”
The Rome native began writing her first batch of Neighbor Lady tunes sometime in 2015, before asking a few friends to join her live at what was originally planned to be a solo set. “After playing a few shows and seeing how people responded, it inspired me to be more serious and write more songs.”
The four-piece—comprised of a veritable who’s who of Athens indie-rock talent, including bassist Meredith Hanscom and former Dana Swimmers Jack and Maggie Blauvelt—began gaining traction around Athens and Atlanta on the strength of a profound chemistry and authenticity. (It also helped that Braden has the voice of a Southern seraph.) Former Reptar drummer Andrew McFarland soon took over the kit as the group began landing higher-profile gigs.
After much build-up, the crew began recording its debut album, Maybe Later, in 2017. “It was a very relaxed and stress-free environment to record in, and I hope we can do it [that] way every time,” says Braden of the process. The band then signed to the small Sacramento, CA label Friendship Fever, home to fellow Athenians Deep State.
With a sound incorporating elements of rock, pop and country, Neighbor Lady might be one of the few bands capable of claiming to have opened for The Growlers and also toured with Futurebirds. Though the group’s stylistic diversity is evident on the seven-song record, where each player’s personality is uncannily distinct, Braden’s voice shines through the din like a lighthouse through fog.
“I went back and recorded the vocals when no one was in the house, and it made it so much easier for me,” says Braden. “I was able to experiment with harmonies and power through the songs in my own way.”
The opening track, “Let It Bleed,” wastes no time in pushing Braden to the edge of her comfort zone, as she belts with full emotion, “You have no idea what’s gotten into me!” The cathartic release is made even more powerful knowing the songwriter’s initial hesitance to take the project public. “All of these songs loosely touch on procrastination,” says guitarist Jack Blauvelt, who now lives with Braden in Atlanta. “Not the ‘I’m too lazy’ kind, but rather the feeling of being too scared to express your deepest thoughts and just pushing it off until later.”
With the recent release of Maybe Later, Neighbor Lady will play back-to-back release shows in Atlanta and Athens this week before heading out on an East Coast tour in July, as Braden and group inch ever closer to finding comfort in sharing those deep, dark thoughts with the public. “These songs just come out of Emily,” says Blauvelt. “They’re genuine, and I think that’s the best way to go about songwriting.”
Fact Sheet: Neighbor Lady’s Maybe Later
Best Track: “Fine,” which focuses on loneliness and desperation and possesses all the tension of a Wild West quickdraw.
One Shining Moment: Braden’s pipes are supreme, but check out “Consider Me Mean” for an opportunity to slow things down and hear them on full display.
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