It's been an odd few months for the Reigning Sound. The popular local garage-rock band was rumored broken-up late last year, with band leader Greg Cartwright on the verge of closing his Cooper-Young record shop, Legba Records, and moving to Asheville, North Carolina. Though those changes have occurred, the band has soldiered on as a long-distance affair, maybe even playing more local shows in the months since Cartwright's move than they had in the months prior.
Now, coming off a triumphant performance at last month's South By Southwest Music Festival, the band is back at the Hi-Tone CafÇ this weekend to celebrate the release of its third record, Too Much Guitar!, which will get a national release on the In the Red label April 27th.
With the hard-edged Too Much Guitar! ("We get crankier as we get older," bassist Jeremy Scott jokes) following the understated Break Up, Break Down and the pure-pop rush of Time Bomb High School, listeners get a real sense of the evolution of the band. It sounds as if Cartwright had decided to tear the intense roots-punk sound of his previous band, the Oblivians, completely apart and rebuild it record by record. The result on Too Much Guitar! is a sound every bit as loud and "in the red" as the Oblivians but more streamlined and under control.
Despite the striking, borderline-Springsteenian "Drowning," Too Much Guitar! seems to be, at least more than the band's previous albums, a sound record more than a song record --driven by the motorvating rhythm section of Scott and drummer Greg Roberson and the frenetic guitar and agitated vocals of Cartwright.
"I think it's a better record," says Scott, who never played bass before joining the Reigning Sound and admits he was still learning how to play the instrument on Break Up, Break Down. "It may not be as accessible [as Time Bomb High School]," Scott adds, "but it's more to my liking."
Roberson agrees: "I'm proud of it. We've made three records, and each one feels totally different. The first record was sort of a Neil Young, Byrdsy, folksy record. Time Bomb High School was more pop. And this is a total rock record."
As for the future, plans call for some touring later this year, probably including a stint in Europe in the summer. But for Cartwright and Roberson, band plans will have to take a back seat to daddy duties. Roberson has a 9-year-old daughter who is living with him during the week, and Cartwight has two elementary-school-aged sons in Memphis along with a brand-new baby girl --Ruby -- back in North Carolina. "We'll figure out what our summer vacation plans are with the kids and then block out touring from there," Roberson says.
However things pan out, you can expect the Reigning Sound to hit the road at some point. "We need to promote this record," Roberson says. "Larry Hardy [the owner of In the Red] has paid for this record and released it and our end of the bargain is that we go out and promote it." And there are also plans in the works for a fourth, quieter record to be released on Sympathy for the Record Industry, possibly later this year.
But, as Roberson admits, the band's future holds no certainties: "This is Greg Cartwright's band. He picks the songs. He writes the songs. He books the tours. I never assume that this band is gonna go past the next gig. We're all in it together, but when it's time to fish or cut bait, that's [Cartwright's] call."
"The way I look at it," says Scott, "is that the three of us have been playing together for four and a half years and at no point did we know what was going to happen next. So why should that change now?"