A musical legacy can be a tough thing to live down, especially if an artist attempts to move dramatically away from, both stylistically and artistically, the beast that created the legacy in the first place. Boston’s Geoff Farina is no exception to that rule. For 12 years, Farina fronted Karate, a hybrid post-rock/indie-jazz three-piece that released seven albums on Chicago’s Southern Records (along with a slew of EP’s and singles elsewhere), toured incessantly (playing over 600 shows worldwide) and created a legion of diehard fans the world over.
Karate enjoyed a healthy amount of success, crafting a unique musical formula that influenced many along the way. But when the band decided to call it quits in the summer of 2005, they didn’t turn a blind eye on their musical past or attempt to live anything down. In fact, Farina was the first to acknowledge his past’s influence on the present. “Even though [Karate] was trying new things, there were certain limits to it that I felt I couldn’t overcome. I really wanted to build something new from scratch, and I started thinking about a new band and new songs as Karate was winding down,” he says. Enter Glorytellers.
Glorytellers is, according to Farina, “Something totally new.” Joined by the likes of former Karate band mate Gavin McCarthy, along with John Larue, Luther Gray, Andy Hong and Ty Citerman, Glorytellers takes painstakingly huge steps away from Farina’s past song writing in Karate. And again, he’s the first to admit it. “I’m trying to orchestrate songs differently than we did in Karate. Some of these songs are almost classical in the sense that the chords are often arpeggiated and unfold over time, and even though the harmonies are relatively specific, they are articulated one note at a time which gives them a more abstract, painterly quality,” says Farina. To this effect, Farina strayed from the formulaic success of Karate’s song writing, utilizing alternative instruments (including steel-string and flamenco guitars) and taking influence from music way before his time. “I started listening a lot to older blues, ragtime, and other pre-WWII music, and there was a whole world of rhythm ideas that I had never really paid attention to. There were really interesting bands in which an acoustic guitar player played bass lines, and some of those ideas made their way into Glorytellers songs,” he says. Essentially, Farina’s efforts has transformed Glorytellers into the yin that was Karate’s yang.
And on their first ‘S/T’ record (Southern Records), Glorytellers lives up to Farina’s promises, becoming that “something totally new” he alluded to. If you’re a Karate fan, you’ll recognize Farina’s voice and his carefully picked guitar methods, but the similarities between Farina’s past and present end there. Instead, ‘Glorytellers’ carefully guides the listener through understated and classically formulated tales of single motherhood, the tribulations of sending children to war, bearing witness to a drug-related murder and more. Lyrically, Farina has moved away from the personal ambiguity that defined Karate’s lyrics, opting for a more narrative role, complete with beginning, middle, end and maybe just a little bit of personal interpretation along the way. “Each one of those songs is about something that really happened and that was in some way moving or influential to me, and I spent a lot of time and effort trying to collect and articulate details for these songs. That’s not to say that the songs are autobiographical, and in many cases the narrator is just an observer, but they all tell a story I feel strongly about,” he says. Guided by urgent and abstract guitar harmonies (some of which are done on pre WWll guitars), the music of Glorytellers transforms Farina’s tales of resolve and uncertainty into telling glimpses of real life. A real life affected by struggles, triumphs and dismay. Reaching for harmony. And much like Geoff Farina, not afraid to confront, analyze and move beyond the past.
In the end, the music of Glorytellers allows for a newfound freedom in Farina’s musical legacy. A freedom learned by acknowledging the past instead of running far away from it. I think we call that “personal growth” in most circles…
Glorytellers on MySpace: www.myspace.com/glorytellers
Geoff Farina Web site: www.geofffarina.com
A track from the record: ‘Awake At The Wheel‘