Inside Gallery Espresso, the guys from Les Racquet —Patrick Carroll (guitar and lead vocals), Kenny Murphy (bass) and Daniel Malone (drums) — take turns wearing each other’s hats. They’re swapping and drinking each other’s coffees. They’re faking exaggerated whispers behind cupped hands.
At one point, they even get out of their chairs to demonstrate their onstage moves, giving them handles on the fly like “Dinosaur Stomp,” “Dorothy” and “I’m–walking – No, I’m not!–my–hands–are–on–fire.” Their enthusiasm and brotherly familiarity is infectious.
The indie band’s been touring steady for the past 15 months — hitting venues with names like Honey, Pumphouse, Biscuits and Blues in Minnesota, Kansas City, California, with their catchy–not–kitschy jazzed–out rock. Lately, though, they’ve been digging in their heels in the sand, playing extended–stay gigs at Tybee Island Social Club and Live Wire Music Hall.
Les Racquet has a Live Wire gig Saturday, Jan. 19.
The guys tell me that people compare their broad–minded melodies and amalgamated rhythms to everyone from Franz Ferdinand to Frank Zappa. Not surprisingly, the band draws from a diverse pool of influences, citing Paul Simon, Ani DiFranco, Dr. Dog and contemporary jazzers like Brian Blade and Esperanza Spalding.
There’s a crowd–pleasing positivity in tracks like “Oh Yeah!” off their EP Be Water My Friend, reminiscent of Edward Sharpe’s Magnetic Zeros with less twang. While their lyrics hit most high and low notes of similar indie–rock outfits, it is their three–part harmonies that set them apart. Public Radio’s Homegrown Music just named Les Racquet “Best New Band of 2012.”
While the comparisons are nice, the secret to the band’s burgeoning buzz and nationwide cult following may just be that they’re “not trying to be anybody else but ourselves.”
Les Racquet formed in late 2010 when Carroll and Murphy moved from Boston to Brooklyn and met Malone — who doesn’t believe in coincidence — through a mutual friend. When they were invited to play SXSW in 2012, the group decided to hit the road and try the “full–time, going–for–it thing,” which meant measuring their ambition against couch surfing — and the possibility of the muffler of their van falling out on the highway. It meant living the dream of playing shows, even if the only person who showed up was Malone’s cousin.
“We still killed it,” says Murphy.
The three musicians first came to Savannah in February of last year, to try their luck before heading to Austin for SXSW. The first place they hit on their way into town was Live Wire. When they were informed no band was due to play that night, they offered to get up and do it themselves, for free beer.
It was the start of something beautiful. Les Racquet came back in early March, again at the end of the month, and again in May. They set up operations on Tybee Island from last October until the end of this month, when they’ll hit the road again.
They’ll be back at SXSW this March.
According to Malone, the goal is to “make you so won over by the theater of the whole song that you actually feel what we did ... and to make the music that we really want to play, intellectual music, as accessible as possible.”
If the music you make is any indication of who you are (which it is), then Les Racquet is, quite deliberately, all over the map. The confident evolution of their live sound improves with every mile they earn writing and performing.
“There are a lot of hours in the van where you don’t have much to do, and you see each other all the time, so sometimes you just don’t want to say anything else so you sit and write,” Carroll says.
But the guys agree that the best part of the industry of cool by far is playing onstage together. “Every time we’re onstage,” Malone says, “it’s the most important show we’re gonna play. Every time. Even if you saw us yesterday, you still might want to come see us tomorrow.”
Adds Carroll: “With traveling so much, stage is home. That’s our goal, that’s our place to be. That’s where we’re comfortable. No matter what’s out there going on in the crowd.”
Through a Kickstarter project, the musicians raised $10,000 to fund their first full–length album — 14 tracks and a February release date —which they’ve just finished recording at Elevated Basement. They clocked in 128 studio hours over 11 days.
The songs on the album are inspired by their tour, with some older songs that didn’t make the EP and a Kenny Loggins cover. They’re excited to give people a lush, more layered sound with baroque production value, as a contrast to the stark simplicity of a three–piece live show.
“It’s a good representation of where we’ve been,” Malone explains, “because there’s some nights and some places that are very danceable ... there are other times when it’s a melancholy atmosphere. Other times, it’s a bit chaotic. Other times, it’s a celebration. And I think in the end, the album is gonna capture that.”
Their energy and enthusiasm translates. Les Racquet is racking up a cult following all around the country.
“We rise to pressure,” says Malone. “It’s a big wave, but we’ve got a big surfboard. And when we start getting into it, talking the big talk to ourselves, we always say how cool would it be when we can bring everybody with us. Everybody that’s helped us along the way.”
After a few months out on Tybee and jamming with local musicians at Live Wire, Savannah can feel a lot like home.
In the here and now, Les Racquet is excited for the year ahead. They have new management taking some of the weight off the administrative details, so they’ll have more time to focus on the music. The key, they all agree, is to maintain: To push each other and never give up.
“There’s always bigger, there’s always better. Always. And as long as you don’t stop, then you’re still going, then you’re still successful. You just can’t stop at all costs,” Murphy says. “There just always needs to be next time.”
Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19