Futurebirds have been at it for six years now, officially, since the release of their eponymous EP, and as the landscape of Athens, Ga., evolves, the band has become one of the scene’s elder statesmen. They spent plenty of time opening for local legends like Drive-By Truckers and Widespread Panic and they’ve played plenty with contemporaries like T. Hardy Morris and Dead Confederate and The Whigs. But as they celebrate the release of their third full length Southern indie record, Hotel Parties, they find themselves headlining a bill with Athens up-and-comers Tedo Stone.
“It makes me feel sorry for those guys,” lead vocalist Carter King joked. “I don’t think that we live up to the high pinnacle that the Drive-By Truckers were for us! Those guys were not only an amazing band that all of us were fans of, but they’re brilliant dudes and great guys to have on the road. You learn so much from going out with a band like that. But Tedo [Stone] — they’re great friends of ours and we’re happy to be playing a show with them in Birmingham.”
Futurebirds’ music sounds like the company they keep. It lies somewhere in the ether between country and rock. It might be called Americana or Southern indie, and it sounds like a collection of the bands’ homes (Athens and now Nashville); and their mentors.
“The Truckers have one of the most incredible teams around them,” King said. “The people they hire that work for them are also family members, and because of that, it goes beyond an employer/employee situation. Everyone is working harder and more efficiently. Everyone is looking out for each other. That was a huge thing that we took from them, among a thousand other things. And Patterson Hood is unafraid to do what feels right to him.”
Hotel Parties is a bit more focused, King said. While “psychedelic” has always been an adjective attached to their music, this one is “less washed out and spacey.”
“That kind of came as a result of the collection of songs that we brought to the table didn’t fit that mold,” he said. “We brought in Brian Paulson [who sports a resume that includes Wilco, Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo] to help us out with the mixing. We got done tracking and overdubbing and we had been so connected at the hip with this thing for so long — a few months at that point — so we brought in Brian Paulson, who has an incredible track record and he hadn’t heard a lick of the record. We talked to him about how he saw it, and he helped us with the mixing. It was cool to have someone that had no relationship with this thing and see how he heard it with totally new ears. He’d bring out different melodies in songs or tones or vocal effects that we hadn’t necessarily thought of. We just cleared the room out for a couple of hours and said, ‘We’re going to let you listen and get it to where you like it and then we’ll come back and talk it through.’ And when you walked back in [expletive], it was a whole new song. That helped us get out of our comfort zone.”
The band reconvened in Athens to prepare for the tour, and they’re working at Nuci’s Space, a non-profit health and music resource center that sits at the heart of the Athens community and houses the famed “R.E.M. steeple,” the remains of the church at which that band played its first ever show on April 5, 1980. And while some members have moved away from the city, the band remains as much a part of that place as their forefathers.
Futurebirds are at Saturn on Thursday, October 15. Doors open at 7 p.m., while the show begins at 8 p.m. Tedo Stone opens. (Futurebirds will also perform a free, acoustic in-store performance at Seasick Records at 6 p.m.) Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 on the day of the show. For more information, visit saturnbirmingham.com.