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Photo By Laura Roberts
Yardsale

Yardsale Finds Its Identity

By Kevin Gibson

That the band Yardsale rehearses in a scuba diving shop is only one of its quirks. This is an ensemble that began as a quartet of college guys looking to rock out and has grown into an ensemble of eight that is focused on tight arrangements and continued evolution as a band.

The key quirk about Yardsale, however, would be the in-jokes. They are endless.

During a recent weeknight practice session, only half of the band could convene due partly to illness (even rock bands can't escape those nasty viruses that circulate during the winter months), but getting a straight answer even in diminished numbers can be tough with these guys.

Even though the band is keen to discuss its new album, Knock Alley West, (see review, page __) and its recent appearance on WFPK's Live Lunch not to mention inclusion on the recently released Louisville Lullabies compilation it's just as likely to go off on a tangent about Mexican Coca-Cola.

Lead guitarist Chris Scott is quite a fan of this beverage, and at this session revealed he had just bought a 30-pack. He offered drummer Colin Garcia the last Mexi-Coke in the practice space fridge, but Garcia insisted he would never drink a man's last Mexican Coke.

"Dude, I've got 30 more at home," Scott continued. Garcia wouldn't bite.

So … about the band.

Knock Alley West came out about a month ago (the official CD release happened January 30 with shows at ear X-tacy and the Vernon), and has been greeted warmly so far. It's a carefully crafted rock album that exhibits a wide variety of styles and influences but manages to sound cohesive at the same time.

Left to right: Elmer White, Ellen Cherry, Kirk Kiefer, Jacob Lee, Chris Scott, Andrew Rhinehart and Colin Garcia.

Yardsale has always had a bit of twang in its sound, but the group now seems to owe more to The Band and the Stones, with a tip of the hat to the Beatles for good measure. It's catchy, yes, but it's not exactly pop. With Yardsale, you get lots of prominent guitar work, vocals reverberating everywhere, and most notably a keen attention to detail when it comes to arrangements. And energy. Crazy energy. Yet Yardsale is a band that understands how to let a song breathe, and much of that starts with a mindset of collective creativity. Everyone seems to bring something to the table.

And that is also why it's so easy to get off track in a conversation with the band; pretty much everyone is happy to speak up except for guitarist/keyboard player Andrew Rhinehart, who never said a word during Yardsale's Louisville Music News interview (probably to avoid embarrassment). Let's just say that the phrase "sexual reassignment" somehow came into the conversation before bassist Kirk Kiefer finally revealed some insight about how he and rhythm guitarist Jacob Lee began writing the album.

"We would get together every Wednesday and we would sometimes discuss beforehand, ‘ Oh, I have this thing or part of a song,'" Kiefer said. "Sometimes we would get together and find a Gram Parsons song or something and say, ‘OK, let's write a song like that.'"

Three of the new tunes "Mississippi's Flooding," "Fencepost" and "Reflection" were actually written pre-Yardsale by Lee and performed by the original lineup. During a follow-up interview, Lee (who couldn't make the initial interview session) noted that while all of the songs have changed somewhat since their invention, "Flooding" in particular has undergone a startling metamorphosis. The recorded version is a searing blues-rocker that builds to a ferocious climax, making it a band favorite on stage.

"It's gone from … well, let's say I did not expect it to turn out the way it did at all," Lee said. "Colin and Chris in particular have contributed a lot to its transformation."

But the meticulous approach has paid dividends. While at first listen many of the new songs could be labeled as simple bar-band rockers, repeated listening opens up the intricacies therein. The opener, "Until I Can't Remember," is a classic example. And "Dream of Amarillo," written as an ode to Emmylou Harris, is another quiet masterpiece.

Kiefer said, "We wrote a full set of lyrics [for Amarillo] and we sent it to Brett Ralph," a noted local songwriter, "and he gave us some good suggestions. We edited based on a lot of his suggestions."

But the lesson they learned was to make every lyric every word in every lyric, if possible count. A song lyric is poetry, after all.

Talk at rehearsal then turned to the recording sessions, which were completed in just a couple of days in early 2009. The term "Lord Douche-ington" gets bandied about, and things again get off track. But the band eventually revealed that most of the basic tracks were recorded live, and even some of the lead vocals were kept around from the initial sessions.

Overdubs, however, took longer than expected. The band decided to add horns and female backing vocals to a couple of tracks, and things went so well that … well, enter a local group called the Sandpaper Dolls, Catherine Irwin (Freakwater) and a host of others who contributed. It sounded so good that Ellen Cherry, Elmer White and Melanie Dillman would end up joining the band to help replicate the results.

FROM ALL DIRECTIONS

Kiefer and Lee do most of the writing, with Scott, Garcia and Rhinehart bringing insight and perspectives during arranging. And then there are the latter three, which bring in yet another level of input and influence. Quite a collective, indeed. Let's take a look at this band's lineup, member by member:

Kiefer: A mild-mannered "run-of-the-mill IT guy" (his words) by day, he's a musical dynamo who can play multiple instruments and has performed in a number of Louisville bands over the past few years, including the Ralph's Kentucky Chrome Review, Bad Blood and the Health and Happiness Family Gospel Band. "The Beatles made me pick up a guitar," he said. "They got me into music, just hit me at the right time I suppose. Michael Nesmith is a huge influence and probably still my favorite songwriter. His influence on my songwriting, both musically and lyrically, is pretty major."

Lee: His top three influences are Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Neil Young. "Waits is a musical innovator, and Neil is a great guitar player," Lee, who works as an archivist at The Filson Historical Society, said, "but the songs come first. I don't know much music theory, and I can't read music, so I've always placed a lot of value on great songwriting, particularly the lyrics. If you can tell me a story or capture an emotion with lyrics, I'm much more impressed than if you have an intricate musical arrangement or play a virtuosic solo."

Scott: Yardsale's intrepid lead guitarist teaches scuba diving lessons for a living. He started playing guitar as a teen-ager with classic stuff like Zeppelin, Hendrix, Cream and Exile-era Stones, but his guitar influences point to guys like Robbie Robertson, Steve Cropper, Hubert Sumlin, Springsteen and Mike Bloomfield. "They all have this absolutely biting guitar sound that I really identify with," he said. "It almost sounds like they are attacking their guitars."

Rhinehart: A music instructor and grad student, Yardsale's keyboard player and muti-instrumentalist lists 1960s Motown as a key influencer "because the grooves are amazing and the chemistry between the musicians is timeless."

He also notes classics like Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and James Brown, along with the requisite Beatles, Stones, Hendrix and others.

Garcia: He previously drummed in a band called Friends & Relatives and his day job, as he describes it, is to "cater to the rich, the super-rich, the quasi-rich, the socially-convenient rich and the elderly."

As for his musical influences, he lists Art Blakey, Zach Hill, Keith Moon and John Bonham. "Seems like a tired cliche to cite Bonham as an influence," Garcia said, "but any drummer who goes out of his or her way to say otherwise is, well ... a pretentious liar."

Cherry: A financial operator for a local liquor store chain, Cherry fills out the vocals. Prior to joining Yardsale in mid-2009, she was doing "an absurd amount of karaoke." Her influences? Freddie Mercury and the Monkees. "As a kid, I remember singing along to the Monkees with my sister," she said, "which is probably how I learned to work out harmonies."

White: The band's trombone player, White spends his days as an operations supervisor for a third-party logistics company. His music influences range from the Beatles to Sinatra and Count Basie. "I liked listening to anything with an altered instrumentation or at least something outside the usual guitar/bass/drums" formula, he said. "As a horn player I tend to gravitate towards anything with a big brassy sound."

Dillman: Yardsale's trumpeter works at Owens Music and previously played and sang in the Confessional. Key musical influences are Wynton Marsalis, Norah Jones, Carole King, Janis Joplin and Brandi Carlile. She also lists Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart and Bach because, "I'm a classical band nerd at heart."

Yes, that group of eight is a musical gumbo that is difficult to pin down. That's a point of pride for Yardsale, actually, and yet it can be a challenge. And this gets them riffing on what types of music Louisville supports and doesn't support.

"It seems to me that if something is considered hip, it's often unlistenable," Kiefer said. "Half the crowd is talking they're just there because that's the scene, not because they want to listen to the music."

"One thing I like about this band is that there is no trying to impress anybody," Garcia responded. "We all have our influences that we bring to the table, and it becomes a commonality."

"I want to impress someone because we put on a good rock 'n' roll show," Scott then interjected, "not because of how esoteric we are."

Part of getting accepted, Kiefer admitted, is just gradually meeting the key players in the local scene and impressing them with the songs themselves. "It's a little easier to get our foot in the door now," he said. "We've certainly been getting a higher profile."

"I think people are starting to accept" Yardsale's music, Garcia said, as Rhinehart sat nearby plucking silently at a guitar. "We're kind of classic rock, and people are afraid to say that."

"So what are you if you aren't an indie rock band trying to sound like someone?" Kiefer asked no one in particular. "We're not trying to sound like Arcade Fire. And we can say we aren't a classic rock band, but we generally end our show with a '70s rock song."

"But we aren't ending the sets with the 95.7 play list," Scott responded. "What I play on guitar is just how I play guitar I'm not trying to ape an influence. I'm not trying to play guitar like Robbie Robertson."

"Yes you are," Kirk responded. "You are sooo trying to play like Robbie Robertson."

And once again the conversation devolves into in-jokes and riffing. Kiefer and Scott begin talking about being complimented that the songs are diverse and yet still work together as a cohesive unit.

"That's what my mom said, too," Garcia piped up, and he was greeted with the requisite razzing by his bandmates. (You'd think he would have learned by now.) Shortly thereafter the discussion inexplicably turned to an episode when the band appeared on "Fox in the Morning," with Garcia wearing a t-shirt reading "¡ Bernson!" to, um, impress host Barry Bernson.

"I think he knew I was just being a smart ass," Garcia said, "but he's just got a fun name to have on a shirt. Something about Bernson just flows off the tongue. You can't put ‘ Clyft' on a shirt."

Um.

COMING TOGETHER

Yardsale wasn't always such a large collective. It was Kiefer and Lee who came together during college and started writing and playing songs together, after meeting sometime around 2001 (by Lee's recollection), leading to the official formation of Yardsale in 2003 with two other members who have long since departed. Lee went on hiatus for several years to finish school, leaving Kirk to steer the ship with other band members.

Several came and went, although Kiefer didn't get far in naming them before Garcia interrupted his train of thought.

"What about the baby years, when you were playing with infants?" Garcia said. "The Yardsale Infant Era."

Anyway.

Things didn't really get rolling until Scott joined and Lee returned to the fold, which happened shortly before the release of 2007's Electric Western. That album offers insight to the band's evolution, but it wasn't fully realized. Garcia and Rhinehart then came along and the band released a live, eight-song disc called Yardsale This Week (which alluded to the band's ever-changing lineup) in 2008.

It was around then that the new direction became clear, and the Kiefer-Lee songwriting team started to heat up. The current group appears to be a solid. At least for now.

"I think we've got about as good a lineup as you can ask for right now," Lee said, "with everybody doing a good job of holding down their parts, and Andrew being capable of playing lot of different instruments. I'm very happy with how it has turned out."

His new bandmates agree. Well, mostly.

"I've known them for a few months now," Dillman said. "I still feel like the odd man out because they are such a tight knit group. But they are fun to be around and fun to play with."

"I give it up to Kirk," White said. "Getting four people together is hard enough it's easier being married than to be in a band and keep it together, so eight people can be a real headache.

"But it's a close-knit group. That makes it good when it's time to stand up and say that's a bad idea. Nobody is afraid to do it. You come up with a much better end product that way."

And then there's the humor. Cherry has been part of the band since early summer of last year, and is almost rendered speechless when asked about it. "Oh my god," she said, pondering the question. "You just have to sit back and watch, I guess. They are very off the wall it all comes out of left field, yet it all makes sense somehow."

It was Kiefer who made a comment about dead babies during the Live Lunch show, something he now "mildly regrets."

"And then the cops came to your house later," Garcia said.

"Can I not even say dead babies on the air?" Kiefer said.

"They gave us a list of things not to talk about," Cherry said, "So he figured anything else was fair game."

"Really," Kiefer explained, "our stage banter is more about making us laugh, because we're the only ones laughing. And I'm OK with that."

Editor's Note: It became obvious to the writer that the best bet for getting straight answers would be to pose a series of questions to the band members individually, thereby providing no opportunity for them to play off one another's sense of humor. As such, below are highlights from our Q& A With Yardsale:

If Yardsale was a death metal band, what would it be called and why?

Kirk: "Zombie Ferris Wheel. Came up with the name in the early Yardsale days, and seems appropriate for a death metal band."

Colin: "We would be called Bloodgasm. Because we know a guy who has in fact experienced one."

Ellen: "Probably Yardsale. It really sounds great in the metal Cookie Monster voice. Go on, try it."

Elmer: "The Morning After Pill. No wait, BROCEPHUS."

Which member of Yardsale do you think would be most likely to wear Spandex pants on stage? Why?

Andrew: "Kirk or Jacob because they are out front the most and I think spandex and cowboy boots would make an excellent fashion statement."

Colin: "Me. Because women, statistically speaking, wear spandex more than men. And I'm the only one comfortable enough dressing up as a woman. Yep, every word of this is fact. Humorously factual."

Ellen: "I'm pretty sure we all have at one point. The trick is not to not wear it at the same time as someone else that's just tacky."

Which member of Yardsale would be most likely to drink Chris's last Mexican Coke during a practice session and why?

Jacob: "Colin pays no attention to personal boundaries, so I'd guess him. But, if Colin didn't swipe it, I'd be next in line. I do love Mexi-Cokes."

Andrew: "Definitely me because Mexican Coke is delicious. Worst case scenario, we would have to share it."

Colin: "Jacob. Because he doesn't pass up an opportunity to experience Mexican luxuries. That, and the large bottle probably does something for him too."

Melanie: "Colin. Drummers are like that."

Is Yardsale stalking Barry Bernson?

Kirk: "Isn't asking that question entrapment?"

Jacob: "Not ‘ stalking.' But, he is a person of interest."

Chris: "No, he stalks us. The sonofabitch is outside my window every night."

Andrew: "Not collectively; it would be too obvious. Maybe a little, virtually, in our free time. The band does make a point of visiting every one of Berson's Corners."

Colin: "Not intentionally. But in a perfect world it would be the other way around. Although, I did read somewhere recently that Barry Bernson is the most ‘ stalkable' TV funnyman. Second only to Merv Griffin's corpse. Wait... is he still alive? Who cares."

Ellen: "Stalking is a very technical ... a very LEGAL term. We prefer to think of it as just seeing what he's up to from minute to minute."

Melanie: "Who told?"

Elmer: "Why, did he say something about us? What was it? Was it good?"