Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, all you need to say is "Filligar is a cool rock 'n' roll band," and the point is made.
Returning to Savannah for a Jinx show Aug. 3, Filligar — you saw them at Stopover in March — includes guitar, bass, drums and piano. The music skillfully blends rawness and finesse, showmanship and chops. Think Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Think Wilco. Think Crazy Horse. Or the 1970s Stones.
See? A cool rock 'n' roll band. What else do you want to know?
After kickass, jaw-dropping shows at SXSW and CMJ, Filligar was named "One of the Best Live Acts in America 2011" by the RSL music blog. The indie quartet's sixth album, Hexagon, hasn't been out all that long, and the reviews are almost uniformly staggering.
A big reason that Hexagon stands out from the glut is the use of Casey Gibson's keyboards — they provide both atmosphere and backbone, melodic meat and supportive potatoes, for a thick gumbo of (very well-written) music that would otherwise be guitar-based, like that of so many other young bands.
It makes Filligar stand out.
Gibson himself stands out, as the three other guys are Mathis brothers — Johnny (guitar), Pete (drums) and Teddy (bass). They all grew up together in Chicago, and began playing together (three-chord punk, for the most part) in the early 2000s, in the Mathias family garage, when Gibson was 12 years old.
Most bands who start when the guys are 12 really suck. They play too fast, they think they're cool, they get worse and they break up. How come that didn't happen to you?
Casey Gibson: That's a very good question! Either we are totally bananas ... obviously, being in a band with three brothers helps. You can't really run off with a girlfriend — everybody knows where you are. It's been a lesson in determination and patience, and honestly if we weren't having fun doing it, we wouldn't be doing it.
Was it a learning process, musically, over time?
Casey Gibson: Oh, sure. As you grow up, doing anything for this long, your tastes change. And you get new ideas of what you think is cool, and what your friends think is cool. A lot of people like to talk about how our sound has changed over the years. But I think if it wasn't changing ... you know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results.
Honestly, we don't put too much thought into it. We listen to different stuff, all four of us, and the sound is just kind of an amalgamation of that.
By now, are you the fourth brother? Or are there places you can't go when they get into it?
Casey Gibson: You spend enough time in the same van, I wouldn't say there are any boundaries. We're as close at it comes. That said, I definitely am glad that I'm a little bit of the black sheep in the band. I've got my own thing going. But at the end of the day, we don't think too much about it. It's just a fact of life now.
Were you classically trained? Were you one of those kids they stuck in front of a piano when you were little?
Casey Gibson: I started playing when I was 5. I lived in an apartment building in Chicago, and you could always hear our neighbor across the hall playing the piano. So the story goes, I was begging my mom for a year to let me start taking piano lessons. And finally, at 5, she caved in. I can't really remember a time that I wasn't playing. When I was growing up, it was crazy. Recitals and piano camp, it was pretty intense.
So how come you're not Van Cliburn now? How did rock 'n' roll piano 'get' you?
Casey Gibson: Honestly, I still practice my classical piano. I took jazz lessons in college. If music is good, no matter what the genre is, I'm gonna be a fan of it. That said, I think things started really clicking for me when I started reading about Nicky Hopkins, Billy Payne and Billy Preston. All these guys who really made the keyboards cool. Jerry Lee Lewis and all these guys.
Because the guitar gets all the credit for revolutionizing rock 'n' roll, but there's a lot of cool rock pianists out there. I guess keyboards went through kind of a bummer phase in the '80s and '90s, so I'm trying to pull them out of the woodwork and make 'em cool again.
Are you familiar with Benmont Tench, from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers? His keyboard work adds so much to that band.
Casey Gibson: We were lucky enough to get to play with those guys at Summerfest in Milwaukee maybe two years back. And he was a true highlight. I mean, watching that guy play, he looks like a man possessed up there.
Are there boundaries when you're recording? "Let's not put 'Tomorrow Never Knows' on this album, that would be too weird"?
Casey Gibson: We're definitely fans of the weird, so the weirder the better! Sometimes we have to reign it back in a little bit, but we just like to have fun with it. Our recording process has changed a lot over the years. The record before this one, we did in marathon sessions. Had a bunch of songs, then just went in and tracked everything in three weeks. This one was recorded like piecemeal. We were still touring on the last record. We'd have a week off, two weeks off, and we'd pop into the studio and record a track or two. I think it's dependent upon the set of circumstances we're given. Right now, we've got a great studio out in L.A., and after this tour is done we're probably going to go back out that way, and let it happen organically. I guess that's the best way to do it.
You're known for your live shows. Would you rather be on a stage, or in the recording studio?
Casey Gibson: There's nothing like getting that instantaneous feedback from an audience. You can be in a studio thinking yourself in circles. Live, you don't have the ability to do that.
We love all parts of our job. We're lucky that we get to do what we do.