Southern Harmony and a Musical Restoration

The following is from the online edition of today’s Columbia Free Times:

Issue #22.15 :: 04/15/2009 – 04/21/2009
Southern Harmony and Musical Restoration

The Restoration at New Brookland Tavern

BY KEVIN OLIVER

As a first generation Southerner, I’ve always been able to view both the history and current events of the region in a perspective unbiased by any family legacy or long-held local civic pride. That’s a point of view not available to local Columbia musician and lifelong South Carolinian Daniel Machado, whose new project The Restoration aims to present through music a historically accurate yet fictitious account of a Lexington family, but his excitement about the musical results shows more than a little Southern pride when he speaks of his goals for the end product. Fans of Machado’s previous work, both solo and with the band Guitar Show, might not have anticipated this new direction, but he says it reflects where he truly wants to be as an artist right now.
“I was very grateful for the response Themes in American Friction received,” Machado says. “However, early into recording the album, I had begun to feel an unpleasant dissatisfaction as a songwriter as I watched a growing separation between the kind of music I’d been making and the kind of music I wanted to make.”
That discouragement almost led Machado to scuttle the album.
“I actually decided to scrap it about a third of the way through,” he says. “I felt that I had backed myself into a very small corner that only allowed me to explore a fraction of my musical interests. To be candid, I began to feel that I had been writing music for 1996, and I realized that my ‘90s influences had somehow dominated my own music.”
Machado, of course, eventually finished that album (Full disclosure: It showed up on my Top Local Albums list last year), but his course was about to change.
“I felt enough closure from my past work after that to disengage from the active band process and allow myself to recede into full creative mode,” Machado says. “I began to revisit my former musical loves: the Mozart I fell in love with in second grade; the Hank Williams Sr. I performed in my fifth grade talent show; the bluegrass standards I played with my high school orchestra.”
This immersion into his musical past opened up new creative avenues for Machado.
“As I enjoyed myself as a listener, I allowed myself to experiment as a writer, and what I ended up with was a batch of new songs that became immensely therapeutic to me,” he says. “I showed them to Adam Corbett [of Guitar Show], and together we started arranging full band renditions, trying out different instruments and bringing in other musicians such as Lauren Garner, Sharon Gnanashekar and Eddie Lord to add their touches.”
What started out as therapy quickly blossomed into something more.
“Before we knew it we had a band that we were giddily excited about,” Machado says. “We tried the band out at a New Music Night at New Brookland Tavern, and I realized that I really wanted to put my full efforts into this new band, even if it meant letting go of my rock ‘n’ roll band for a while.”
Machado’s collaborator in Guitar Show and now The Restoration, Adam Corbett, is blunt when asked about the differences between the two bands.
“It felt like, regardless of our intentions, the sound we got with Guitar Show could be summed up by naming any two popular bands, like ‘Weezer and Queen had a baby,’” Corbett says. “With The Restoration, I at least wanted to attempt to create a more complex sound that might be harder to peg. Including multi-instrumentalists like Eddie, Lauren and Sharon, we’re able to wear multiple hats and trade instruments to fit the requirements of each song.”
Back to that part about the Lexington family history now — according to Machado, it’s all about context and setting the stage, so to speak, for the new songs.
”I’ve made a very conscious attempt to establish a setting for my new songs,” he says. “With Guitar Show I had denied myself, the music and the narrative a cultural identity, mainly because I was embarrassed to be associated with the South and its complicated and often embarrassing social history and present-day controversies.”
The historical fiction of the new songs gives Machado some cover, though he says there is plenty of precedent in being critical of the South in works of art.
“Southern authors such as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor were searing critics of the South despite being loyalists,” he says. “So I decided to finally claim my role as a lifelong Southerner with The Restoration by acknowledging both the beauty and evils of my home as fearlessly as possible.”
The story that The Restoration focuses on takes place between the late 1800s and the 1940s in Lexington, S.C, using the fictional Vale family to discuss many issues that are still relevant today.
“Removed from a present-day context, I hope to use a sort of historical fiction to write about the kind of philosophical fundamentals that unite many Southerners,” Machado says. “[Things such as] deep connections to nature and the land and strong family ties.” He also touches on some of the less traditional values of racism, sexism and religion throughout the songs, lending them a realistic air regardless of when the stories take place.
All of this would only be so much erudite navel-gazing if the music weren’t so darn interesting. Machado’s Guitar Show band might have been rehashed ‘90s rock, but he knew how to write a decent melody and harmony, and those talents translate effortlessly to the new material. If anything, Machado sounds “unfettered and alive,” as Joni Mitchell once sang, and though he’s a free man in South Carolina, not Paris, Machado is intent on making the most of this new musical direction he’s charting.
“We use banjo, violin, piano, and other classical and roots instruments in an attempt to capture the essence of the South,” Machado says. “The classical side of our sound references the European influence one would have found in Charleston or Savannah, and by merging the two sides I’m attempting to reflect the amalgamation of social classes, races, and cultures that make up the Old and New South and the complexities of the relationships between them.”
If it all sounds too complicated and like one might need a musicology textbook or a history lesson to follow along, rest assured that the songs stand alone as enjoyable, rootsy folk-pop with some inventive and entertaining arrangements. Adam Corbett explains the changes in the music he and Daniel Machado have been making this way:
“Personally, I was just ready to put the distortion pedals to rest,” he says. “The old sound was rock, but I don’t think the new sound is any less intense. And, if anything, we are allowing ourselves a broader spectrum of sounds to work with.”

The Restoration plays Friday night at the New Brookland Tavern; The Fire Tonight, The Fossil Record, Transmission Fields and Liesl Downey open. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; admission is $5 ($7 under 21). Call 791-4413 or visit newbrooklandtavern.com for more information.

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