July 24--Members of the aspiring indie rock band Harbor have the unique distinction of quite possibly being the only musicians who'll perform at the sold out FloydFest 12 this week with nary a driver's license to speak of between them.
That is, if 16-year-old frontman/guitarist Sully Smither, who was eagerly awaiting his to arrive in the mail last week, didn't wind up receiving what many would describe as his ticket out of adolescence.
But whether they need to hitch a ride or not, Smither and bassist Alex Gross -- who also is 16 and still without his passport to the open roads -- have been spending as much time as possible playing shows. And like a lot of young, ambitious artists, the duo is keeping a close eye on their progress after winning a spot on one of FloydFest's stages at a battle of the bands competition in Roanoke earlier this year.
While hitting venues from Central Virginia to D.C. over the past couple of months, Smither and Gross have not only been preparing for the biggest gig of their journey thus far, but also gearing up for the release of their debut EP, "My Little Light."
So with the band's summer touring schedule in full swing -- before they start hitting the books again this fall -- the Smith Mountain Lake-bred singer/songwriters, who formed a kinship in middle school, seemed pleased to report they finally had found a drummer to lay down some tracks for their growing repertoire of original material.
"The thing with music, man, is that every band goes through like 100 drummers," Smither said last Thursday before Harbor's show at The Stoney Badger in Lynchburg. "It's not necessarily tough to find a drummer with chops, but it's tough to find a drummer who knows how to play with a band. Most of them just want to blast beats 24/7."
In March, Smither and Gross began recording roughly 15 songs at the Jefferson Center's Music Lab studio in Roanoke, which serves as a sort of breeding ground for musicians, engineers and performers who are looking to hone their craft.
In that sense, "My Little Light" is just a sampling of what Harbor has been working on since the recording process got started. They plan to release another EP, and then a full-length album over the course of the next several weeks.
The disc has some of the sounds that are fairly common on an up-and-coming band's first effort -- lots of bright, acoustic strumming and earnest lyrics -- but it's a surprisingly cohesive expression for a couple of budding songwriters barely old enough to drive.
"If you connect with someone emotionally, they're going to want to hear that and feel that emotion more and more," Gross said. "That's what we want to do. Sully likes to hide what the meaning is in his lyrics, which is really cool. It keeps people thinking."
"Above the Waves" opens with a somber, piano-driven melody before the drums and bass collide, creating a more up-tempo feel for the track's brooding chorus, where Smither sings, "You're more than just a vessel for what people call souls/You're my breathing apparatus in this ocean that engulfs/Every crevice of my being injected with smoke/You keep me afloat/You keep me afloat."
"Island" has a lo-fi, emo quality to it, playing between the contrast of doubt and redemption, while "My Little Light" brings a bit of power-pop to the mix, with a finger-picked progression on guitar and Gross' rich tone fleshing out the arrangement's rhythmic tension.
The songs certainly represent the band's approach to writing, which is intended to leave the listener room for their own interpretation while still denoting a sense of passion and sentiment.
"People perceive music differently, no matter what the original meaning is," Smither said. "And sometimes what you perceive is much more beautiful than the original meaning. But the most intense emotions are the ones that have the most affect on people."
If you're at FloydFest 12 on Friday, stop by the "Forever Young" stage at 9 a.m., when the guys in Harbor will be performing their set.
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