Probably one of the coolest things I’ve been witness to in my years in Athens is the transformation of the Modern Skirts. All bands worth their salt undergo a lot of changes between touring, recording, and practicing together for years.
When I first arrived, the Skirts had just released their debut album Catalouge of Generous Men. The most popular track from the record by far was a sentimental ballad called “Pasadena.” No matter where you went in town, if it was the week of a Skirts show, people would be humming “Pasadena.” The song could easily fit on some “O.C.” type tv show, it was powerful and catchy. Instant hit.
But the band soon grew weary of playing this hit, though they loved that it was popular. I remember one show where Jay picked up the acoustic and girls began to squeal in anticipation of “Pasadena.” “Just cause I pick this up doesn’t mean I’m playing that song,” he remarked as the band launched into tracks that would become their second album All of Us in Our Night.
The album was a marked departure from their debut which was full of sweeping piano ballads, the kind of stuff you could lie on your bed and listen to while you cry at the rain outside. I’m probably making it sound more sappy than it was but there you go. Night introduced more experimental themes and sounds. The pop/rock was still there but new elements had been added to the tunes and the live show.
Pre-recorded background music had started appear in the Skirts’ live shows, allowing Jay to gain a bit more confidence as a frontman. Even Jo-Jo, Phillip, and John had shown marked improvements from the first time I had seen them. Spending time on the road forces a band to get good or go home. Their work paid off when a spot opening for R.E.M. appeared. Off to Europe!
So the band has been currently recording in New Orleans, fine tuning music they’ve been introducing on the road. They stopped by Ardent Studios in Tennessee to play, a performance that shows just how far they’ve come.
Their manager Troy has been telling me for a while that the new material is nothing like the past two records. It’s completely true. The Skirts sound like they’re channeling the E6 at times with rapid pace changes and many, many drums. “DUI” is probably the most widespread of the new cuts, showing a versatility that wasn’t there before.
Last time I saw the Modern Skirts, there was a look in Jay’s eyes that I hadn’t seen before. It was one of a man who was completely in his element. Who knows what we’ll see tomorrow?
The Modern Skirts are playing the 40 Watt on Saturday with ExcaliBrah and the Love Language. Doors at 9:30, $12 at the door with $1 of all sales going to the GA Theatre fund.