In Scotland, singing about "the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond" can bring a tear to the most jaded of Tartan eyes. So whenever Ritchie Young brings his band over from Oregon, he makes sure to announce them with the proper pronunciation: Loch LO-mond.
However, on home turf the Portland chamber folk collective pronounces it Loch lo-MOND.
"It's a sin in Scotland, and they'll actually reprimand you if you pronounce it like we do," Young chuckles. "But there's a tiny little lake in Santa Cruz, and that's how they pronounce it down there. That's how we say it. I guess it's like a west coast, United States mis-pronunciation."
There's always been an air of mystery about Young's music, which combines a Decemberists-type lyrical literacy with gorgeous, unusual melodies and spacious, harmony-laden atmosphere. Originally, and perhaps understandably, Young was going to name his group The Mountains (his first recording, in 2004, was titled When We Were Mountains).
Loch Lomond, truth be told, was simply the return address on a box of recording tape Young had ordered from the U.K. And he liked it - however it was pronounced.
"Five years ago, I was telling people my great-grandfather was murdered on the loch," he explains. "I was just joking around. And then I thought, well, that's not honest. I don't like deceiving people. But it's a more romantic version of naming the band."
There are officially six people in Loch Lomond - but sometimes there are nine, and sometimes it's just Young and his acoustic guitar, maybe a kickdrum and a glockenspiel to his side. For this week's Savannah Stopover shows, Loch Lomond will consist of Young and vocalist Jade Eckler.
Just out is a new full-length recording, Little Me Will Start a Storm, a colorful and lissome set of songs that continues Young and associates' string of mesmerizing musical mini-portraits.
The other members of the group, Young says, are classically-trained musicians (Eckler and co-vocalist Johanna Kunin are blessed with perfect pitch). "I'm not the greatest musician ever - I think I'm a decent songwriter - so I just trust them to do what they do," he says.
The exquisite delicacy of Loch Lomond's music is the result, Young says, of knowing how to utilize space as a musical tool.
"At the very beginning, we decided not to use amps or a p.a.," he explains. "We would have nine of us in a room. I would write the song, and we would sit down to flesh it out a little bit. So everyone had to be, basically, quiet. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when you have two or three musicians, everyone wants to play all the time.
"But the music was everyone's best interest. So we would purposely have people not play for half the song, and be very minimal. And they were fine with that. And that's how we write music now, giving each other room."
The key instrument in all of this is Young's singing voice, which brings to mind the Decemberists' bitterly ironic Colin Malloy, giving the (occasionally dark) lyrics a sweetly implied irony.
Young, in addition, sings a lot of his songs in a melancholy falsetto.
"I didn't even really know that I could sing until I was 27 or 28," Young says. "I was playing in some bands in Portland, and I wanted to do my own little four-track recording. I was trying to find someone to sing the songs that I was writing - my girlfriend at the time was like ‘You should just lay down vocal parts, even if they're rough, and that way people will get a vibe of the style of music that you want.' I started recording the vocals and she was like ‘Wow, you can sing.' It was kind of a shock to me. But it's been fun to really progress, and learn how to sing.
"Jade brings plenty in the band. She has vocal training, and so does Johanna, and they help me when I'm slouching over. If I'm not breathing right. I've learned a lot from them. Before, I would eat cottage cheese and smoke cigarettes and slump over."
Loch Lomond's vocals sell the song, every time. "The vocal aspect of the band is what we're most interested in right now," adds Young. "Everyone in the band can sing like perfectly. My voice isn't perfect, but it's different."
Loch Lomond sold nearly 100,000 online copies of the song "Wax & Wire" after Scottish street trials pro-bike rider Danny MacAskill asked (and received) permission to use it in a promotional video. The clip received seven million hits on YouTube.
The song is featured on the band's 2009 EP Night Bats.
Young says he was taken aback by the response. "I never really thought of Loch Lomond's music going together with an extreme sports video," he admits. "What's great about that video is that it's not like the typical Bad Religion, or Southern California punk rock over 1990s, MTV quick-shots.
"I think it's really artistic and beautiful."
When & where: At 8 p.m. Friday, March 11 at Pei Ling; At 9 p.m. Saturday, March 12 at Sentient Bean
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