July 25--On the first night that singers/songwriters Adam McHeffey and Kari Spieler decided to collaborate while attending State University of New York at Purchase, they wrote a song.
In and of itself, that may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but four years and two additional band members later, "Johnnie" is still a set-list staple for McHeffey and Spieler's Brooklyn-based band, Swear and Shake. They say they keep returning to the song -- a hushed, acoustic folk showcase of Spieler's warm contralto pipes -- to remind themselves of where they've come from and to honor the immediate musical chemistry they felt during that first writing session.
"It is the song that sparked our partnership," Spieler writes in an emailed response. "We could tell when we started working on it that there was something special happening.
"We're constantly growing as songwriters, and eventually it probably will get bumped out of our set list. Right now it's a great representation of who we are as a band, and that's why we've performed it for so long."
Friday, July 26, Swear and Shake will make its Chattanooga debut as this week's Nightfall headliner, bringing a sound to Miller Plaza that should appeal to fans of The Band or indie-folk ensembles such as The Head and the Heart, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes and Fleet Foxes.
Although they're not afraid to honor their past, members of Swear and Shake are in the middle of a full-steam effort to record their third, currently untitled album at Maple Ridge, a "home/barn/cabin" in upstate New York that lent its name to their full-length debut last year. For some bands, tackling a sophomore project is an exercise in attempted musical one-upmanship. For this next project, however, McHeffey says the band wants to showcase how the dynamic has shifted with the addition of new drummer Ben Goldstein and to share music that is "live-feeling" and that tells stories, real and fictional, inspired by the musicians' experiences during their first months of full-time touring.
Material from the upcoming album probably will make its way into their Nightfall set, McHeffey says, and if all goes as planned, the crowd will get just as involved in the performance as the band.
"When audiences sing along to our songs, I absolutely lose it," he says. "Those are the times that I feel most connected to the music, and each night I strive to have another few moments where the audience and the band feel connected like that.
"I think the idea is to cover the entire country and have every show be a 100- or a 1,000-person sing-along."
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
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