Futurebirds are musical mutts whose varied influences are beginning to pay off. In 2011, just a year after the Athens, Ga., band's debut album, Hampton's Lullaby, Futurebirds found themselves out on the road opening for Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Audiences lapped up their mix of Southern rock, '70s country-folk, neo-psych, and harmony-laden '60s pop, which coalesces into a rootsy, ambling sound that intermittently tips into the freakout zone. "We're Crosby, Stills and Nash if they drank way too much tequila," jokes guitarist Carter King.
Everyone in the band writes, sings, and plays each other's instruments, which goes a long way toward explaining the rich summery harmonies and the musical diversity you can hear on last April's Via Flamina EP. The four-song digital release features a trippy take on Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" alongside a cover of Stevie Nicks' "Wild Heart." In the case of the latter, they were attracted to the song after seeing video of Nicks singing it a cappella while getting made-up for a Rolling Stone photo shoot.
"It's before she snorted her nose off and it's just really great. We covered that impromptu version of the song," says King, who admits the song's chilling harmonies can be hard to pull off live. "From night to night, you never know what's going to come out."
The six musicians originally met up while working in bars, engineering recording sessions, and playing in various bands around Athens. Before long, they were together in the studio with Drew Vandenberg, whose production credits include Deerhunter, the Whigs and the Drive-By Truckers. (Vandenberg is currently working with them on the full-length follow-up.)
When it comes to arrangements, Futurebirds songs rarely stand still. Tracks start quiet and get loud, instruments drop out to accent the harmonies and the wail of the pedal steel. Many songs come bathed in enough reverb to drown Dick Dale, or pause for distortion-drenched left turns. This creative tension is reflected not only in the songs, but also during the sessions themselves.
"Everyone's civil," King laughs. "Some people want to push it over the edge into craziness and some want to tame it back to keep it a little more straightforward. The middle ground that we reach seems a good spot to me."
It's a modus operandi that took root during the recording of the band's first six-song EP, and has blossomed over the course of touring nationwide these past two years.
"Bands when they're smaller have trouble getting out on the road and having places to play," says King, who notes that a friend in a booking agency was instrumental in getting the group nationwide gigs. "We were fortunate in that respect and tried not to waste it. There's really nothing else we'd rather be doing, and it's the best way to get people to hear the music."
And Futurebirds definitely know how to travel. They've got skateboards, paintball guns, and a kickball in their trailer. Last summer they chilled for a day at a thoroughbred horse stable in Lexington, Ky. "We're like brothers out here," he says. "And we know how to have fun."
Meanwhile, the band has been talking to a number of labels, trying to decide where to go with the next album.
"We're looking for a mid-to-late summer release," says King. "We just want to do what's best for us, and what's best for the record itself."