FLAT LAND AIMS HIGH WITH NEW ALBUM, ARROW TO THE SUN
There’s something about being a band that automatically adds dimension to the music. Rather than the one-dimensional nature of a solo artist, a band offers a multidimensional experience. Collaboration adds depth to the process of writing and creating a unique sound, drawing from the diversity of experiences within the group. A commune approach benefits the music far more often than the self-serving hierarchy prevalent in much of the industry. The more people the music touches, the farther it will resonate, giving the band opportunities to take their show on the road. Geographically, flat land may seem unimaginative and one-dimensional, but if you take the time to look and listen carefully as you travel those roads, you may find an experience you weren’t expecting. The music of Flat Land, a band that took root in Gainesville, Florida, is a fusion of grooves and sounds that create movement, mood, and thoughtful expression. They take creative license to a new realm, and we get to experience the journey.
Gainesville is a college town, home to the University of Florida. Their school of music is what brought the members of Flat Land together four years ago. All are very different in their fields of study and musical strengths, but owning those differences is what makes them unique. Percussionist, Ian McLeod, is a UF grad, and currently an instructor of music theory and composition at Full Sail University. He’s also involved with the UF drumline. His younger brother, Grant McLeod, is the band’s drummer, who majored in industrial engineering. Guitarist, Christopher Storey, is from Hattiesburg, MS. He earned a masters degree in percussion performance at UF, and marched with the Bluecoats Drum & Bugle Corps based out of Canton, OH. Both Ian and Christoper are well versed in music theory. Fae Nageon de Lestang majored in entomology at UF. She’s played violin since middle school, filling her need for a creative outlet. When she was added to the band, she sang backing vocals and played violin. After the lead singer moved away, Fae was asked to replace him singing lead vocals. Though stage fright was a problem she’s had to overcome, she’s grown into the role nicely. The bass player position has been the hardest to fill until the addition of Brandon Miller last December. He’s a University of Central Florida graduate and a session musician in the Orlando area, also adept at music theory. These five members are now collectively known as Flat Land.
The band name is somewhat autobiographical. It describes the ground beneath their feet throughout their home state, and gives a nod to the intellectual side of their makeup. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is a satirical novella written in 1884 by Edwin A. Abbott. He uses math and philosophy to comment on the hierarchy of Victorian culture and, through a fictional world, examines dimensions as they relate to mind, body, and space. Flat Land’s approach to making music is very much a study in dimension and relationships through the use of music theory applied in a nontraditional way. There are no boundaries in their approach to a composition, and they don’t shy away from adding flavor to a piece using experimental improvisation. They bring a wide variety of musical tastes to the studio, giving them a deep well from which to draw inspiration. There is a challenge to writing collaboratively when you put five creative personalities to one task. Success is measured not only in the finished piece, but in the management of personalities to achieve the goal without killing each other. They hop around a lot in the creative process, building from a concept into a song. Once the basic structure and lyrics are in place, they turn the work into a composition. It’s a layering effect that adds spice and dimension to their music.
The roots of this band being mostly in Florida has given them a special diversity of influences that translates into their music. Florida is a melting pot of cultures and sounds that go far beyond its confines. Travel the miles from one end of the state to the other and variety is as prevalent as the sun. Though Florida doesn’t get the recognition of an Austin or Atlanta, the support of music is no less abundant. Earlier this year, the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival in central Florida hosted a Battle of the Bands contest. 780 bands applied to participate, and Flat Land won the competition. It was a big honor, and one of the reasons they’re committed to making their community a vibrant place for music. In the spring of 2015, they entered the One Spark competition in Jacksonville where projects are pitched to earn start-up grant money. In the music and arts section, their idea for a youth music education program earned them a $15K grant. With the help they received, they founded Future Music Makers, a nonprofit organization that helps create opportunities for young people to foster creativity and a passion for music. Thus far, they’ve been able to provide instruments and scholarship money to assist students with private lessons. It’s been a fun and rewarding experience on many levels.
Flat Land toured extensively last year, building a grassroots network of fans and making real connections through music. They’ve been in the studio working on their new album, Arrow To The Sun, set to be released July 8. It’s an engaging journey through the musical spectrum, combining elements you don’t often hear together, challenging your mind’s ear and all of your sensibilities. This band understands music thoroughly, both in composition and performance, and this album is a rendering of that knowledge through genre variety and sound dimension. Their music has been referred to as “ethereal funk fusion,” and there are certainly elements of that throughout the album, but Latin beats, along with rock, pop, and jazz are also used in surprising combinations. Listen carefully, as every song takes you someplace you didn’t expect to go. What ties it all together beautifully is Fae’s transcendent vocals. She is genre and decade defiant in her delivery of style and mood that fits the music. It becomes what her voice delivers, and the music seems to obey her, unquestionably.
In “Poco a Poco,” already released as a single, you’re pulled in immediately with a Latin beat that holds throughout the song. Fae’s vocal is the unexpected bit of savory in this as she delivers a smooth, uplifting Amy Winehouse, if she was gigging in a Cuban club. The percussion in this is spicy hot! “Say You Cared” is the first of several short intros on the album, offering a slight space between the introductory first minute or so and the rest of the song. This one sets the mood for the 60s-like groove of “Black Rain.” Fae’s accompanying violin gives her vocal an orchestral-sounding backup to temper the effect of the mood she’s in until the weather takes a decided turn for the better. With the heavier drum beat leading the charge, a groovier rock guitar takes over and leads the vocal to sunny skies. “Feeling” demands that you move with the music from start to finish. So much is happening in this song and all of it is fantastic! It resurrects the best of the disco era in the spirit of “Funky Town,” with the push and pull of the violin creating some groovy fills. If you took a disco ball, encapsulated all the songs of that era, and spun them into a single piece, this might be it. Masterfully done!
“Turn” does a lot of that with a bongo beat and Latin sound that tango with a rock guitar that changes decades as easily as chords. If Amy Winehouse sang with Santana, this might be that song. “Dusk to Night” plays gracefully along the lines of the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” before adding a spooky choral drop into “In the Doldrums.” The many movements in this give it the feel of rock opera, with classic rock guitar elements throughout, a slow groove, bits of an Asian-sounding orchestra, and a hint of the “Theme From ‘Shaft.’” Parts of this are sung in duet with a male counterpart acting the part of the voice inside your head. Fae’s strong, high vocal, beautifully sung, serves to win the battle of wills. Adding vocal dimension to the music here complements the operatic feel of the song. “Can We” is a short guitar rock ballad with Fae’s accompanying vocal that expresses regret and the hope of starting over. This leads into a retrospective on the relationship in “Relax, Retry.” The guitar work shines in this one, showcasing its funkiest groove. The violin and guitar do an operatic tango worthy of Phantom of the Opera, followed by solo guitar work off the strings of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Fae’s vocal keeps the mood upbeat and hopeful. The album ends strongly with “Rufio’s Last Stand.” Fae’s vocal work takes a turn towards Billie Holiday in her delivery, manipulating the phrasing and tempo of the song to emphasize the message. A strong beat sets the tone before Fae’s vocal adds a jazzy sass. The violin joins forces with a grunge-sounding guitar and a solid drum beat takes this to the finish line.
On Arrow To The Sun, Flat Land demonstrates the art of turning blank space into a multidimensional listening experience. The sophistication and nuances on this album are breathtaking. Every song is a detailed work of art, expressed beautifully through collaborative composition. The production is stunning in wrapping the music around the vocals so that they seamlessly coexist in supporting one another, elevating the performance to its greatest height. Staying true to the story behind the name of the band, the title of the album serves the original novel. The one-dimensional arrow shoots for the three-dimensional sphere of the sun in Spaceland. The purpose of Spaceland is to open the Square’s mind to new dimensions. With the completion of Arrow To The Sun, Flat Land invites the listener to engage in the sound experience, hoping you will be moved in mind, body, and soul. They’ve chosen to release this album independently, maintaining creative control of the music-making process and subsequent distribution of the product. Their passion for music is inspiring, and by supporting their efforts, we validate the notion that creativity has value. It encouraged Flat Land to take a different tack in setting their course of action. While everyone else shoots for the moon, they aimed at the sun.
Visit Flat Land’s website: http://www.flatlandsound.com/
WATCH Flat Land perform “Black Rain.”
Listen to Arrow To The Sun on Spotify:
Purchase Arrow To The Sun through iTunes:
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