Accordions
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Accordions

Indianapolis, Indiana, United States | SELF

Indianapolis, Indiana, United States | SELF
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"Accordions"

"We sat in the restaurant waiting to be served, and the conversation began so naturally that I completely forgot about the recorder. We talked about music, roots, inspiration, hoarding, the future, the past, and everything in between. I was immediately amongst friends, and we had only met that afternoon.
Their innate passions for music, their subtle implications of greatness and their simple kindness was something that I had never encountered from such a talented group. Each of them described how they first became interested in music. And their stories made me wish I felt that way about anything.
Their influence is truly evident in their songs. All one must do is listen to "Magellan," previously mentioned by Bernthal. The beautiful lyrics, accompanied by the perfect variety of instruments can easily transport any listener to a place in Bernthal's past, filled with a sense of desperation an pride, all at once. The loss of a loved one, the joy of knowing that their memory will live on forever through those left behind. Although this song is directly related to Bernthal, the intensity in the music reflects much more than his feelings, but also those of the entire band. "The first thing I ever heard that was Accordions was Ben playing the song 'Magellan,' which is pretty close to what it is now," said Leslie about the song, "I don't think I've ever run into someone who wasn't blown away by that song..."
When we find musicians that we admire for their dedication and loyalty to fans, we forget about those that seem to care only about fame and fortune, those who play any show, as long as they get a fat check.
If a band exists in a city like Indianapolis, with such talent and humility, what else exists in the rest of the world? Who's left to be discovered in the art world? And in film? In Photography? After meeting Accordions, I'm certain there is so much to discover, that one life isn't enough to see, hear, and feel everything. Thanks for everything, guys."


For the full, bilingual version of this article in this Madrid-based arts and culture magazine, visit the URL below. - Humanize Magazine


"Band of the Month - Accordions"

Ben Bernthal of the band Accordions always greets me with a firm handshake and a smile, either at a show or at the Broad Ripple Bagel Deli where I run into him with some frequency. Usually Paul Cobb (who sometimes moonlights with the band) is there, too. Bernthal, who looks a bit like a younger Ben Folds or Ryan Adams, handed me a copy of the Accordions new album, Hope for the Best and a bit sheepishly said, “Hope you like it.”


Bernthal is currently a recording major at Butler University (BU), and this album was his first big undertaking. In December of 2008, the group, which includes Joseph Kilbourn, Ben Leslie, Kipp Normand, Adam Gross and Steve Trowbridge (of Amo Joy), began recording tracks utilizing borrowed BU equipment. Everyone made personal sacrifices during the process. It was not unusual for Kilbourn and Bernthal to be in the studio or in session for 12 hour stretches at a time, often from 8pm to 8am, with classes starting at 9am. Leslie would come record his trumpet tracks in between jazz band rehearsals and other shows he was playing with various groups around town. Alisha Garrison would enter the studio to record her angelic vocal harmonies to Bernthal’s melody lines, often times “Enduring the sometimes sordid interactions that college-age males have in the studio,” Bernthal said. This included random impromptu jams that are often derived from and driven by sleepless nights and too much caffeine. (Un)fortunately, these jams, such as “Ass Massage” and “Eat that Shit for Breakfast” never made it to the album to complement songs that did like “History Books” and “We Took to the Skies.”


Throughout the duration of the recording process, Accordions became more of a family than a band. At a rehearsal session, the group was the first to see the engagement ring Kilbourn had picked out, and it was at another rehearsal that they wrote a song that he used to propose to his wife. Each member helped mix the album, and they worked in shifts. They had papers to write, tests to cram for, and naps to take. The group rose and fell with each other, and fought through many difficult setbacks, including the loss of several recorded mixed files that got lost on the recording software.


Accordions also recently finished their fourth tour, their third alongside “brother band” Amo Joy. The group has played in basements, art galleries, venues both small and large, to acoustic shows on rooftops and sidewalks. The one thing Bernthal loves the most is being on the road, meeting and spending time with fellow musicians, absorbing the experiences and conversations that come and go with each mile marker and every stage. “There’s something very humbling about having strangers take you in and feed you. It makes the whole world seem smaller and the art community seem like one, big intertwined family.”


The band is riding on the shoulders of the album name, as they used its recording process as a learning experience. Accordions agreed that Hope for the Best would not incorporate aides such as metronomes, click tracks, and they also decided to avoid pitch correction and digital equalizers. The result was a very genuine sound, with a simple, ethereal sound that makes the listener feel as though they are warming up by a fire in the snow-covered mountains in Vermont, or walking along a wharf late at night, with a soft rain and an epiphany.


The lyrics on Hope for the Best are both haunting and enchanting. It’s difficult to place musical influences, although I joked with Ben that at times with the keyboard, I could hear some Ben Folds stylizations. The thing that impresses me the most on the album was Bernthal’s breath control and the vocal phrasing, and that’s one of the biggest reasons as to why the lyrics work so well with the music. The repetition in the music is countered with undulations in volume, ebbing and flowing, which helps give it a mellow, earthy, aural sensation. It is one of the few albums that I’ve heard that makes me utilize other senses because I imagine the smell of pine cones and the salty ocean air. - Musical Family Tree


Discography

Hope for the Best (2009), released by Timber County Records;
Good Evening, Major (2010), self-released download-only single;

"Junkyard" has been played on Indianapolis' WITT, Bethlehem, PA's NPR member station, WDIY, and Bethlehem's college radio station, WRMC. It has also appeared streaming on My Old Kentucky Blog and Musical Family Tree.

Photos

Bio

Benjamin Bernthal is a poet and an obsessive song writer. As the front man for the band Accordions, Bernthal indulges his love for verbal imagery and combines it with melodies that get into your head and make themselves at home. You will whistle and hum Accordions music for days after hearing it. This band works a strange sort of magic that is both beautiful and haunting.

The band Accordions emerged in 2008 as Bernthal began to acquire intriguing musical instruments: his great grandmother's ukulele, an autoharp that belonged to an uncle long dead. These musical relics started to direct his songwriting. Melodies and chord progressions evolved in a manner inherent to those undeservingly neglected instruments and formed new music that is oddly familiar, yet entirely new. Bernthal began to collaborate with other musicians as the new songs developed. All of the musicians who make up Accordions layer their own thoughts over Bernthal's ideas and build music that is multifaceted, detailed and strong.

The first to join Bernthal in Accordions was guitarist, Joseph Kilbourn. Through his work with Accordions, Kilbourn has used his training as a classical guitarist to explore new styles and instruments. His playing is inventive and playful, yet he knows how to subtly fit into the framework, listening as much as playing. The addition of trumpet player Ben Leslie brought a peaceful stability to the band. Leslie has the heart of a stoic philosopher and plays with deliberation and luster. His trumpet and piano playing bring flourishes of triumph and mellow tranquility. In 2009, after some changes in band membership Bernthal found Kipp Normand among the dusty and broken musical instruments at a junk sale. Normand adds a crusty lyricism that is both human and transcendent with his musical saw and fiddle. In addition he brings a visual element to the band with his unending collection of discarded antiques and odd items, each with its own rare beauty. This group comprises the core of the band. All of them are multi-instrumentalists who pass around the accordion from song to song, always singing along when appropriate.

Collaboration is at the heart of Accordions method. Friends from other bands often join in, making no two performances the same and making each recording into a celebration with a completely original sound. Frequently joining Accordions for shows and recording projects are Steve Trowbridge and Adam Gross, who lend their skills on several instruments, ranging from drums and guitar to banjo and clarinet.

Accordions believe their music comes from many places: discovering a way of playing an old forgotten instrument, passionately expressing age-old truths through these newly discovered means, and most of all a sort of gritty sincerity that permeates the songs. And so the resulting music is like a seductive ghost that disappears as soon as you realize it exists, but always returns in an altered form. Accordions can be charmingly dark with their songs of loss and confusion but they do have a bright side. Just remember, once they get in your head they may stick around for awhile.