Filthybird
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Filthybird

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"Inde Concert Guide"

Led by one of the most alluring voices in indie rock, Greensboro's Filthybird landed a winner with their Southern Skies debut earlier this year. At Filthybird's core is the staid, neat songcraft of Renee Mendoza, but the band bends it into fiery, rangy textures.
-Grayson Currin - Independent Weekly, Chapel Hill


"Filthybird returns to its Greensboro nest"

An air of expectancy hangs about the parlor room at the Green Burro on a recent Thursday night as members of the Greensboro band Filthybird check their levels. An Olympic-brand paint can props open one of the windows, cooling the room and filtering in the soft din of restaurant conversation from Elm Street three stories below.

Renee Mendoza, the band’s singer and keyboardist, sits behind her Nord Electro 2, running through an elaborate vocal sound check. That there are three photographers, two videographers and a couple guys fussing about the sound system on this, the one-year anniversary show of the multi-media DotMatrix series, only ratchets up the excitement level.

Mendoza smiles. The air buzzes. The music is pregnant, stray beauty in a solitary bass run, a light tap on the tom, a phrase of reverb-drenched guitar.

It’s a triumphant moment for Filthybird. Not only is it the one-year anniversary of the DotMatrix, but it’s been a year since Filthybird has played in Greensboro. A hometown crowd is waiting eagerly, and the band is poised for greater artistic heights.

Since leaving Ashrae Fax in 2004, Mendoza joined forces with guitarist Brian Haran, a sound engineer from New York, and the two began recording in the attic of a house they shared on Aycock Street. The duo eventually filled out to become a full-fledged band by enlisting bass player Mike Duehring, a regular presence at the somewhat seedy College Hill Sundries bar, and drummer Shawn Smith, an alum of Citified and Palaver.

Reports of early live shows by Filthybird found the band’s chemistry to be somewhat uneven, but they eventually evolved into a dynamic unit, and released the gorgeous full-length Southern Skies in 2007. Since then, they’ve recorded a new set of songs for a follow-up album to be titled Songs For Other People that Mendoza says the band will be shopping for a label or possibly releasing on its own. Also, Mendoza and Haran got married last year. The first half of the set is comprised of songs from the forthcoming album, beginning with one called “Gravity.”

“We got married about six months ago, so we kind of took a break,” Mendoza tells the audience. The other three glance at each other.

“All of us,” Haran quips, “got married.” Mendoza ignores the teasing. “We’re really happy to be playing,” she says. Then they play a song called “Portrait” that sounds like domestic contentment to me. Mendoza’s voice soars and cuts to the quick. It’s a mournful, affirming and also joyous instrument, floating above the Brill Building rhythm section and Mendoza’s expressive piano playing.

Haran, standing to Duehring’s side, bends the strings of his guitar in a textural wash of vibrato, then sits out — a subtle player, whose touch is nonetheless all over this music.

The response from the crowd is rapturous. Filthybird’s performance is a revelation, replete with abrupt changes, soulful touches and earnest delivery. The music surges and twists in unexpected patterns, describing a place somewhere between catharsis and paralysis that is ache and frailty of life. Some couples are dancing, including one pair of newlyweds. Kemp Stroble, a scene fixture, who will be picking up his life and moving to Athens, Ga. within 36 hours, is gleefully snapping pictures of the band with a digital camera. Alcohol is flowing liberally, and the crowd responds with appropriate obstreperousness.

Haran announces that Mendoza will play the next-to-last song, “Feather Down,” solo. It’s an introspective number, and Mendoza waits for quiet.

“Woohoo,” she cries to get their attention. “A good friend of ours passed away about a month ago, and I wrote this song.” Some members of the crowd continue with their revelry.

Haran leans down, and picks up the set list. He tears a corner off and slowly wads it up. Then, after a decent interval, he lobs it into the huddled mass of inebriates carrying on in front of his wife. -Jordan Green, Yes Weekly - Yes Weekly!


"Music Worth Leaving The House For"

There's a rich swirl of New South mystique hidden in Greensboro's Filthybird, especially through frontwoman Renee Mendoza. Her songwriting—a collagist's reflection on the toils of love and life—proclaims a naiveté rung through resilience and tenacity. "I was born a bird/ A bird I will die," she sings on the perfect, "The Gospel as Judas Told it to Me," her rangy, romantic voice carrying that charge above a band capable of the same lull and lift. Filthybird moans in textural splendor until they climb into big, clanging rock crescendos, free and emphatic and strong. The band's debut, Southern Skies, is one of the best 10 records you'll hear from this state all year, guaranteed. 8 p.m.
—Grayson Currin - Independent Weekly, Chapel Hill


"Totally Digging Filthybird"

Never heard of Filthybird? Neither had I until a few days ago, even though both Grayson and Grady have given them props. That shows I need to start checking out something on the Web besides TMZ. Filthybird is a Greensboro woman-led quartet, with a new CD out on Durham's Red String Records, which has also released a CD by The Nein, among others.

I put on their latest CD, "Southern Skies" early this morning, and literally can't stop listening to it. Singer/keyboard player Renee Mendoza has a smoky-sweet voice and a passel of emotionally rich lyrics. Check out "The Gospel as Judas Told it to Me":
I was born to sing. It's all I know to do. It takws all I've got to do the things I know I should do. My mother was born to sing, and her mother too, but they lost their voices singing in a world that was cruel.

Mendoza's mother, it turns out, was a member of a Texas garage-rock band called Southern Skies, and the CD includes a song written by her -- "Sing." I didn't even have to look in the CD booklet to recognize former Geezer Lake trumpeter Chris Clodfelter on this song.

Filthybird has been compared to Cat Power, and that's not really a wrong comparison, but personally they remind me of two of my favorite female-led bands, lyrically, vocally and musically: Midnight Movies, because of the husky, breathy vocals and dark psychedelica; and Geraldine Fibbers for the lyrical trippiness and vocal androgyny. Seriously, I wasn't sure until looking at the credits if it was a man or woman singing.

Musically, it's a little jangly, a little swampy, a little psychedelic. Effects-laden and a little trippy. Good stuff, but the vocals are what makes it shine. "Fightsong" is the best song, though "Warm Womb", "Sing" and "Sunshine" give it a run for its money.
-Karen Mann - Mann's World


"Filthybird, "Second Wind" From Southern Skies"

"Second Wind" is the kind of song that you dream about writing when you are a song writer.

It is beautiful and stunning. It is haunting. And it's classic yet modern at the same time.

Greensboro, North Carolina based Filthybird have built the foundations for what hopes to be a wonderful career with their newly released Red Strings Records (http://www.redstringsrecords.com/) album Southern Skies. The album itself ranges from guitar heavy indie rock tracks to textually lush numbers. But for me, the true winners on this album are the vocally driven songs penned by lead singer Renee Mendoza.

Her voice is a true instrument and an absolute joy to listen to and behold. Embedded with stark passion; it stylistically reminds me of the Daniel Lanois era Emmy-Lou Harris work (see the track: "Where will I Be") and that can not be more true as heard on Filthybird's luscious track "Second Wind."

A soft repetitive organ bed with feedback driven guitars perfectly build the bed for Medoza's powerful voice. It's a passionate ballad, one that I feel mixes well with the elements sea, as it hypnotically resonates in soft undulating waves of bliss. True mastery.

It is a wonderful thing when a local band creates a masterpiece, and "Second Wind" is just that. A full fledged masterpiece.

Please take a listen to this track at Filthybird's MySpace page (www.myspace.com/filthybird) or better yet, buy the bands full length at the previously mentioned Red Strings Records web site. I highly encourage you to do so.

-Mark Dougherty - Reactor Media


"A Filthybird Takes Flight"

In the first song on Filthybird's debut album, vocalist Renee Mendoza sings, "this record box is a nice warm womb," while an organ pumps in the background. Mendoza's voice is dense and commanding; it complements the wash of sound behind it in a way that is, in fact, kind of womblike. Southern Skies is torrid and layered, and, unlike their live show, is more encompassing than expansive. And like a womb, the album is nurturing and cozy.

Filthybird released their album to the record-buying (or CD-buying) public on April 28 with a show at the Flatiron. It's a 10-song, 35-minute compilation that feels longer than it is. And I mean that in a good way. Southern Skies is the aural equivalent of an organizational savant's studio apartment: Nothing intrudes where it shouldn't, and nifty details manifest themselves in the nooks.

Founding members Mendoza and Brian Haran, a guitarist, started making music together as Filthybird right after they met, which happened, serendipitously enough, on the evening that Mendoza's old band, Ashrae Fax, played their last show. For a while the duo played alone or with a rotating cast of supporting players, but they never gelled live until they added bassist Mike Duehring and drummer Shawn Smith to the permanent lineup in February 2006.

Renee had known Duehring for years, Haran said, and Smith joined the band after he e-mailed them offering his services. Since their induction, Filthybird has become devastatingly good.

Southern Skies was recorded at home by Haran, using an old Macintosh and four microphones. The guitarist can't recall how long the recording process lasted.

"Recording it went really quickly but mixing took a while," he said.

In fact, Haran had mixed the album by the end of last summer, but he was unhappy with the results and remixed it. Filthybird shopped the album out to a number of smaller indie labels before finally settling on upstart Red Strings Records out of Durham. Haran said the band went with Red Strings because of the owners' willingness to let the band chart their own creative course.

"[Red Strings Records'] Kelly [Davis] is a really straightforward, down-to-earth guy," Haran said. "Everyone else wanted to squish us into another type of sound. Everyone wanted us to sound more freak folk."

Four days after the finished CDs arrived in Greensboro, Southern Skies jumped to the top of the chart at WQFS, the Guilford College student radio station.

Haran's lush production has a certain earthy uniformity, but the band itself jiggers the arrangement to suit each song, removing guitars, keys and drums to carve out necessary space.

The opener, "Warm Womb," is a lilting number, despite an abrupt beginning, and eases the listener into the album. Lyrically it's one of the most uplifiting tracks; it promotes music as shelter and heritage, a theme that permeates the album.

The third track "Fightsong" is the most recognizable from their live show and the best example of their chemistry as a quartet. Smith's galloping drums, Duehring's nimble bass playing and Haran's guitar work supplement Mendoza's voice without overwhelming it.

Chris Clodfelter contributes a trumpet part to the haunting "Sing," a song Mendoza credits to her mother. "Sing" is a lullaby, ostensibly, but a dark one that acknowledges the pain of adulthood.

In "The Gospel of Truth (as Judas Told it to Me)" the lyrics flirt with autobiography when the singer reveals: "I was born to sing/ it's all I know to do/ it takes all I've got/ to do the things that I know I should do." Her mother and grandmother were also born to sing, it seems, but the cruel world robbed them of their voices.

Filthybird sounds like Cat Power playing Neil Young tunes through My Morning Jacket's castoff effects units. It's an amalgam of progressive Southern sounds sweetened with the local honey of Mendoza's voice. The quiet songs work alongside the rockers, and even bleed into them, as in the last two tracks on the album.

Southern Skies is not freak folk - that genre of music confected by neo-hippies on the West Coast. It sounds as homey and mournful as Greensboro itself. Between the notes, you can almost hear the tones contributed by the house itself, credited by Haran as Pinebox Studio.

It's the house on the front cover of the CD insert you hear in those notes: a Southern two-story with a wide porch. On that porch is a piano, framed by the encroaching limbs of a flowering tree.

Southern Skies will be available for purchase at BB's Compact Discs in the Quaker Village Shopping Center, and maybe at Old Town Draught House sometime in the near future.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com. - YES! Weekly


"A Filthybird Makes a Nest in the Attic"

The music of Reneé Mendoza and Brian Haran seems to float between stations, a lonely ship in vast sonic space. Their band Filthybird is a rare musical vehicle that is inextricably linked to a relationship between two people and the creative refuge of their home studio where they record their art, catching fleeting moments between the demands of work and school.

The act of recording is central to the life of Filthybird — an endeavor that pairs Mendoza’s songwriting talent with Haran’s engineering expertise.

The band has a new single out.

The single medium seems to have gone out of style about the time INXS and the Bangles broke. It was the currency of the record industry in the time of Sam Cooke and pre-decrepitude Elvis. At the dawn of the album-oriented era, as with the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women,” the single worked as a jewel flung to the masses between full-lengths.

The new Filthybird single — “Kites Without Tails” backed with “Houses” — is not a small vinyl disc with a song on each side. Rather, it’s a homemade CD package that contains two songs. Such are the conditions of technology in 2005.

The songs may or may not be in rotation on Greensboro college radio as of this publication. As of Oct. 17, Haran says, WUAG is still reviewing the songs in advance of adding them to its play list. A large handmade poster in the window of Gate City Noise on Tate Street next to a notice about the store’s move to a new building is the most significant announcement of its existence.

“I like singles,” Haran says. “I like hearing from a band between singles — something about having an evolution, building up anticipation. It’s nice to just get stuff out. We have a dozen songs that we’d like to put out.”

The first song begins with a startling couplet of bass notes, a sudden surge of thick air, a percussive clatter and Mendoza’s keening, sublime voice pressing forward against a traditional pop guitar riff. Mendoza calls her songs “documents.” They seem to be snapshots of momentary interior conditions and they are studded with surreal imagery. “Kites without tails” and its partner “ships without sails” suggest sadness and incompletion.

The second song, “Houses,” begins with a promise and a query — “Beautiful dreams, who knows what they mean?” — and ends with a strange corporeal reference to a hospital bed with the report: “Have to perform emergency amputee surgery, and see what they can do for you.”

Mendoza has a way of taking a phrase and turning it on its head or sharpening it with fresh meaning. On the lead track of Filthybird’s 2004 In Good Time, a five-song CD and its first outing, she repeats the phrase “nice warm womb” over a melodic piano progression, and only at the end drops in the phrase “nice warm tomb,” hitting a dissonant note on the last word as the song drops away.

There are more songs to record. One, “Life As a Ghost,” is only a four-track demo sketched out with Mendoza’s voice and piano playing as of evening of Oct. 18. Mendoza’s plaintive voice remarks on voices and faces “underwater,” and then elongates the image to “it looks like your face is under a watery grave.”

Just now, at a quarter after 10 p.m., Mendoza and Haran sit on their front steps smoking cigarettes. Mendoza is drinking a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor. It’s been a long day. She’s been making hundreds of truffles all week at her job at Spring Garden Bakery to accommodate the demand of buyers in town for High Point’s fall Furniture Market.

The two take classes at UNCG and Haran holds down as job as a cook at Old Town Draught House and Grill on Spring Garden Street.

After the break it’s time to get back to work. The two tramp upstairs and pass through a sliding flip-door into an attic that contains a drum set and keyboards and, behind a partition, some recording equipment. An open window allows the agreeable night air to wash through.

“Our landlord built this attic to grow marijuana in, so it has all these crazy trapdoors and tunnels,” Mendoza says.

The attic is a magical refuge, now an incubator for other kinds of intoxicants.

When they first got to know each other Haran had just moved down from New York. Mendoza was winding up her commitments with a band called Ashrae Fax. She would visit Haran, who lived in the attic while other tenants occupied the downstairs rooms.

“We were falling in love listening to music,” Mendoza says. “One of the songs we listened to was Robyn Hitchcock’s ‘Happy Bird Is A Filthy Bird.’ That’s basically us. We have a very melodic, organic feel, which is what I bring to it. Brian dirties it up.”

They had met at Ashrae Fax’s final show at Ace’s Basement. Shortly after that, Haran recorded a song Mendoza wrote as a teenager called “Circa’s Song to Herself” about a bird hearing a playback of her own singing.

“We recorded acoustic guitar and vocals,” Haran recalls. “You went home and I hung out with it and wrote new guitar parts and it came out different. I kind of did my thing with it.”

Mendoza explains the Filthybird creative process: “I write the songs. Brian will write the guitar parts, drums and bass. He’s a great soundscapist. He’s responsible for the Filthybird sound.”

In two hours time Haran has recorded Mendoza’s piano and vocal tracks — splashes of paint over the sketch — repetition, repetition and eventually satisfaction.

“That was great,” Haran says finally, and remarks that Mendoza sounds like a female version of the legendary Dayton, Ohio rock songwriter Robert Pollard, and the song structure like his band Guided By Voices.

“You want another vocal?” he asks.

She nods and inhales.

“Okay buddy.” he says.

“Okay buddy.”

And they do another take.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.
- YES! Weekly


Discography

EP: In Good Time 2004, Self Released
Single: Scientifikites 2005, Self Released
Album: Southern Skies 2007, Redstrings Records

Photos

Bio

Renée Mendoza is the songwriter and frontwoman of Filthybird. She plays the piano and guitar and also sings. She loves strange harmonies and using voice as an instrument for layered textures in song. She likes to sing in both typically male and female registers, creating characters for the people in her songs. Originally from Texas, she was raised on country music, church songs, and tejano. She has been a part of the North Carolina music scene since the mid 90's. After meeting NYC recording engineer, Brian Haran in 2004, she was encouraged to pursue her songwriting. The two of them formed Filthybird as a 2 piece recording project and later added musicians for more frequent live performances.

Brian Haran (former participant in Glenn Branca Orchestra, LaMonte Young projects and guitarist for Viridian) is from New York originally. He is a recording engineer and guitar/amp builder and repair man. He loves building sound sculptures with pitch and noise and can harmonize in and out of call and response with Renée's voice seemlessly. He has a very particular live and recording sound that is unique and has dedicated himself to making it possible for Renée to document her music. He puts the filthy in filthybird. He is the pocket. He dreams in wires.

Mike D is from around Greensboro. He holds the fort and the beat down. He is a soulful bass player and contributes regularly to Renee's songwriting and inspiration. He is an aspiring soul singer and a closet songwriter and philanthropist. He loves to listen to records in his kitchen. He'll start an arguement just to argue from the point of view of the opposition. He is a wizard scrabble player and will get you every time. Brian claims it's because he cheats. He has contributed to the Greensboro music scene in some form or another for 10+ years now. He was the Co-founder of the Burning Downs (with Dark Meat's Jim McHugh) and helped run Greensboro's DIY music collective, The Onion Cellar, for 5 years.