CULTURE VULTURE'S Nick Gilbert, James Weber, and Mathew Pelton aren’t Savannah natives. But the sound they hatched together among Savannah’s raucous and deeply supportive house show scene is a true born-and-bred Savannahian.
Musical academics schooled in jazz, punk, ska, and classical music, the trio moved to town armed with a wealth of experience and knowledge. After four years of cultivating a truly unique, progressive sound built on math rock tendencies and killer dynamics, the band is ready to make the next move: Los Angeles.
“We’re moving to L.A. for a number of reasons,” says trombonist Gilbert. “It’s a big city, and we want to try some stuff on the West Coast. That’s pretty much what we’re looking for: something crazy, something different.”
A big fish in the little-but-mighty pond of Savannah, the band is excited to dive into a bigger pool of talent and venues.
“There are more bands that sound like us with the math rock thing going out there,” guitarist Weber points out.
“Someone once told me there are about 150 active bands in Savannah,” Gilbert says. “You’re going from that number to thousands on thousands. There’s bound to be some stuff that’s going to work well with us, I think. Honestly, I’m just excited to meet some new people and see how the move will affect our sound for future releases.”
Indeed: there hasn’t quite been anything like Culture Vulture in Savannah’s scene in recent memory, and there likely won’t be for awhile. An eruption of unpredictable, technical arrangements, Pelton’s jazz-minded drumming, Gilbert’s trombone bubbling, popping, and roaring through an intricate pedal arrangement, and Pelton’s dizzyingly good guitar work, the sound is so unique, it just kinda goes with everything.
Surprisingly, Culture Vulture actually started out as a Mars Volta-style heavy, progressive rock band.
Weber, Pelton, and Sara Clash (Broken Glow, Tokalos) played the band’s early shows; Clash’s face was encrusted in corpse paint and, once, a dog joined them on keys.
“We had these organ pedals—that was our bass sound,” laughs Weber. “This dog came over and started playing them during our set, while Sara was screaming her face off.”
While an amazing mental image—a husky on keys and the typically bluesy, melodic Clash howling and looking like a black metal queen—the sound didn’t quite stick, and evolved into a jazz-influenced math rock blend. Then Gilbert moved to town, trombone in tow.
“Once it became the three of us, it became more jazz—slow and low,” says Gilbert. “On top of that, the scene itself shaped us in a lot of ways.”
One-of-a-kind in a sea of punk, metal, singer-songwriter, folk, garage, and psych sounds, Culture Vulture became a staple of the house show scene.
“We got thrown on all these punk shows,” recalls Weber. “We were playing with Anxiety Junkies, Beneath Trees, Unicycle Escape Pod...”
“We had the energy go up and we got louder almost immediately,” says Gilbert. “Almost immediately, we got really fast. One of the first shows we played, our song ‘Ventura’ was at least 40 clicks faster than the recording!”
The diverse billing was an invaluable influence on the band, resulting in the eclectic stylings of March’s Bomb Shelter Records release, Girls’ Night.
Constantly inspired to push their sound, Gilbert and Weber say the songs they’re composing for their third release are more pared down than their last album.
“There are less effects,” says Gilbert. “The writing creates the texture as opposed to the effects creating texture. How things are being placed when you’re playing notes gives the song the feeling.”
After Saturday’s Jinx show, the band hits the road, heading to the Northeast to see their families, share their sound, give some hugs before the big cross-country move.
Gilbert, Weber, and Pelton plan on throwing themselves fully and completely into the band once they land in California.
“The hope is just to tour as much as humanly possible,” says Gilbert. “West Coast, then probably more of a national thing; we hope to be back through here.”
Culture Vulture looks forward to joining Atlanta’s Little Tybee for Friday’s bill. The progressive indie-folk band has been making soulful, jazz-infused sounds since 2008 and just released their fourth LP, Little Tybee, on June 3.
“The new album is so good!” says an enthused Weber. “Their musicianship definitely shines through; some of those guitar solos are just out-of-this-world cool.”
There’s that Picasso quote: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Few bands quite embody that mentality like Little Tybee and Culture Vulture. And while they’re quite different from one another in sound, it’s a perfect pairing.
“We want to see everyone out there—if not for any other reason, than because we’ve formed a lot of bonds with people in this scene and love seeing them,” says Gilbert.”A lot of people who come out to show have become our good friends. We want to see them before we go. And make a show of it.”