Spotlighting this month's hottest up-and-coming artist

CoSign: Redgrave

on June 07, 2012, 12:00pm

redgrave CoSign: Redgrave

I was only the fourth person at the L&L Tavern around 7:15 p.m, but Angie Mead was already sitting down at the bar sipping a drink. She apologized for being a little maudlin: When she walked into the bar, School Of Fish’s “3 Strange Days” was playing on the jukebox. Years ago while Mead spent some time in LA, she briefly dated Josh Clayton-Felt, School Of Fish’s lead singer who was “just the nicest guy.” He died suddenly of cancer in 2002 at the age of 32. Mead is now 35, and she told me she hadn’t heard that song in years and everything just came flooding back to her. The emotion was still in her eyes and her smile, and you could read something honest and storied on her face. “It was my teenage anthem.”

Mead is the lead singer, guitarist, and one half of the Chicago band Redgrave, who, along with drummer and Chicago clutch-player Stephen Howard (Pinebender, Ambulette, Zither for The Blue Man Group) have only been a band for a little over a year. Mead had known about Howard for over ten years from watching him play with Pinebender and various other acts, and fell in love with his mystique at his shows. She recalled a one particular performance of his that drew pulled her into his orbit, after one of his seven hip surgeries. “He was playing a baritone [guitar] and had an IV coming out of his arm. He was really angelic, wasn’t looking at his hands — the tones and the madness that was coming out of his instrument, what he was doing and what was coming out of his head. I was mesmerized.” There’s no need to look further than this for one of Mead’s main influences when she saws out the riffs on her backwards, upside-down guitar in Redgrave.

Redgrave – “Dick Moves”

Their debut EP, National Act (out June 12th via Lovitt Records), oscillates between songs that gradually thaw and songs that straight set shit on fire, simmering slow-core and incendiary blues rock – like if The Kills and Sleep suddenly became one and called in Low to clarify the tone of the whole outfit. It’s careful not to get ahead of itself, and Mead and Howard keep all the sounds warm, contained, and still loud as hell. “People can’t believe it’s just two people,” says Mead. “Well, I play with two amps, but when we recorded, we played through three amps. I wanted the record to sound like what you would see live and I’m pretty proud of that.”

 CoSign: Redgrave

Just like the blues acts that both Mead and Howard admire, National Act and, to a certain extent, Redgrave itself were measures for desperate times. “I had lost my job, I had been in a long relationship that I just broke up with the guy, and I lost my house all within two months of time. I didn’t know what else to do. I was always a singer, I always loved singing and playing guitar, and I always repressed it for a long time because I didn’t really know how to do it without other people. So all these shitty things happened and there was literally nothing else that I could do with myself. ‘Ok, I’ve got my guitar and I’m fucked up right now and I’m gonna write some fucking songs about it,’ and that’s all I could to. It went from being in a really dark place to having these great opportunities come around.”

Mead started writing these songs in August of 2010 in her bare apartment. She booked time at at Strobe Studios six months ahead of time without having any songs to work with just to give her the motivation to write. ”Everything was written on an acoustic guitar that I’ve had since I was 15, and it was almost kind of country-esque — I never wanted the songs to sound that way. I kind of took another person being involved from a more rock background to be like, ‘Oh, I’ve got this great drummer now, it’s this fucking hard-hitting rock. I’ve got an electric guitar with a 4×12 cabinet. Let’s hit this shit.’ I didn’t intend for them to be acoustic songs — where they stand now is how I heard them in my head and where I want them to be.”

Both Howard and Mead, after years in the music business both on and behind the stage, found that the relationship formed by Redgrave was what finally what they were looking for. “I really don’t know what I would do without [Steve]. He came around at a time where I really needed somebody to be like ‘Your music is awesome’, and it happened that that person become a very good friend that I can depend on and is loyal.”

Track Premiere: Redgrave – “Taunt”

The connection between the two and their history as musicians and people add a gravity to these songs that rarely are found on a debut, like the the huge dirge “Lik-M-Aid”, which Mead wrote about Howard. It’s hard to even tell who’s taking the lead on the songs, whether his colorful half-time drumming is towing her baritone drones, or the other way around. When she belts out the chorus, “But if you go my way, I will go yours,” it starts to make sense. ”I’m pretty self-conscious about things coming off as too vulnerable,” says Mead, “and I find that those are the hardest to present to my band-mate. ‘Lik-M-Aid’ is a pretty emotional song for me — about appreciating [Howard’s] faith in me.”

Redgrave fills spaces. The songs on National Act pour into your ears and crash into the walls, all with just two people trudging, riffing, jamming, listening, and connecting. Mead and Howard’s paths have wound around Chicago and the whole world, and their histories that followed are dug into the grooves of this record. Even for an EP, this sounds like a career band — it’s what having a life under your belt will do for your music. “This has always been what I’ve wanted to do for so long — just rock it out.” Mead’s eyes still look like they have those stories written on them, only she’s glowing more and she lets out a big laugh. “Just took me 35 years to do it.”

Redgrave 2012 Tour Dates:
06/09 – Chicago, IL @ Martyrs
06/13 – Chicago, IL @ The Whistler (Record Release Party)
06/21 – Iowa City, IA @ Iowa City Yacht Club
06/22 – Des Moines, IA @ The Lift
06/23 – Clive, IA @ Bombay Bicycle Club
06/29 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall

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