Pyramid
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Pyramid

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The best kept secret in music

Press



Pyramid has been on countless “Watch This Band” lists, but unlike many other recipients of such distinctions, Pyramid is actually deserving. The band plays a unique brand of angular, atmospheric indie rock with elements of post-punk, emo, jazz, and folk. In a time when a band need only discuss recent girlfriend troubles to be labeled emotional, it’s encouraging to hear such bombastically penetrating music that truly tugs at your heartstrings.
The First American is the band’s first official CD, although Pyramid have been playing in one form or another for over half a decade. Currently comprised of Ben Best, Ben Kennedy, Brent Bagwell, Chris Waldorf, Joey Stephens, Kris Baucom, Ryan Blaine, and Tyler Baum, Pyramid has certainly grown in more ways than just musical scope. “[Our band has] definitely become a lot bigger,” observes Waldorff. “When we first started, we did a lot of improvisation. And we probably did that for five years.”
Luckily, the band was able to avoid the jam band ghetto, in part due to its sophisticated sense of musical exploration. It was only a matter of time before the band found that writing and performing complete songs was becoming easier. Pyramid also managed to find its own sound in the process, one that is drastically different from anything else in the Triangle Area, or just about anywhere else, for that matter. Much of their music sounds familiar, as if fragments were borrowed from here and there and then put through a meat grinder. Of course, it sounds a lot more romantic than that description would suggest.
The band may have taken its time to release its debut, but The First American was well worth the wait. However, those who listen to the album are advised not to get too attached to the band’s peculiar musical stylings. Waldorf claims the band is always in the midst of re-invention, and Pyramid’s next recording will likely differ greatly from its debut. “It’s one thing to have a scene,” he says. “It’s another to play the same thing over and over. I think [our music] will definitely evolve.”

Words by David Gaines
- Performer Magazine


North Carolina's Pyramid Deals In Sublime Catharsis

However gloomy things already are, life can be relied upon to tender fresh humiliations, small and large. It's cold comfort that, in this great nation, one can easily lasso a fresh slice of fragile guitar pop to score each new insult, but it's comfort nonetheless.
PyramidPyramid, from Charlotte, NC, bears the hallmarks of Neil Young's latter-day forebears, from Idaho to the more reflective side of Kurt Cobain, but there's no sad, wounded unit of balladeers I feel better recommending. Pyramid distinguishes itself through its elegance. These songs are full of understated, Salingerian anguish, but also cut with uncommon sophistication. Tunes like "Streets Were Raining" and "Sidewalk Explosion" long but never wallow. As they exorcise, they disinfect.
"Our music is serious," admits Joey Stephens, one of Pyramid's two singer-guitarists. "We have some songs that are in a lighter mood, and we'll continue to write more. But overall, we want our music, and especially our live shows, to be intense. Not in a gothic way. More like the sky falling down on you."
Pyramid moved to Charlotte "a few years ago" and, taking advantage of reasonable prices, built a 1,200-foot studio, which it has seldom left since. Having grown up near Charlotte, this writer heard the city derided constantly; "Spartanburg with skyscrapers" was, if memory serves, the chosen epithet, which could as easily apply to Atlanta. But Stephens doesn't mourn his choice of locale. "I like the South," he says. "It's a hop to the Georgia scene and a great starting place for a trip up north. The music scene here is thriving much more than people realize. Please seek out and listen to Sea Of Cortez, The Houston Brothers, Bullship, Unalaska and Baleen, just to name a few. I'd like to see bigger names come to town. That's what hurts us. Big bands always seem to pass us by. I did, however, see Múm a few months ago here in Charlotte, which was amazing. I'd like to see more of that."
Pyramid promised a full-length in 2004, which has not yet appeared, perhaps owing to perfectionism. "We're big fans of documenting everything," is how Stephens puts it. "We're currently sifting through 30-or-so songs. That which isn't used on the album will be used in a different capacity, mainly the website (sidewalkexplosion.com) and as B-sides."
Stephens says Pyramid will continue to pour free shots of its intense elixir at the site, even when the disc drops. "People need to find your website, and that isn't easy, and a website certainly won't take the place of a label or do what a label can. But it's possible to get your music out there. It can only help bands that are in our position, unsigned and relatively unknown."
Recent events have politicized pop music, often to a forced, obnoxious degree, but Pyramid keeps it unfashionably personal. "The things we do and say," says Stephens, "don't have as much to do with the good of humanity as they do with humans, the world, and the way things sometimes are. Happiness, sadness and all the rage in between. Like a floating barracuda in the brain."
Pyramid might not yet have a fanbase to rival, say, Low's. The band appeared on the All The Real Girls soundtrack, but will that be enough to get the blabbering assholes shushed during its show? Take my word that Pyramid's worth shutting up for, and that Athens is particularly lucky to ingest its bracing, disciplined blend during the dour winter. And thank me later.

Words by Emerson Dameron

- Flagpole Magazine


"The First American"

While listening to The First American, the new release from Charlotte 8-piece Pyramid, you might find yourself wondering how so many folks can create such a hushed sound and even wishing they'd come out with all guns (and horn, keyboard, and string sections) blazing. But like large roster trailblazers such as Tindersticks and Lambchop, Pyramid knows that less is more until, that is, you're ready for more; it's all about dynamics and drama and picking your spots. Thus, when what sounds like a deranged ragtime band crashes the door down near the end of "Monster in the Canyon" or when the 2 and 1/2-minute strum and squiggle opening of "Adelaide" leads to a horn-driven payoff, those moments hit with the element of surprise and force of a Death Valley downpour. And for me, the band's at its best on the late-album pair of "Speakeasy" and "Streets Were Raining," both recalling the accessible eccentricities of Sparklehorse.

Words by Rick Cornell
- Music Moniter


Pyramid

Experimental, organic, epic and dreamy, Charlotte's Pyramid is an eight-piece multi-instrumental juggernaut whose power comes less from the pummel of guitar than the percolating textures that wash through the songs. It's as though musical impresario Jim O'Rourke arrived at Sonic Youth's practice one day and suggested they explore post-rock, then proceeded to pull out the twisted country of Kramer & Eugene Chadbourne's Shockabilly, as an example. Pyramid's music is just such a daylight hallucination caught in a haunted gust of kaleidoscopic, art-damaged beauty.

Words by Chris Parker - Independent Weekly


The Charlotte Observer album review

Much is made of Pyramid's improvised performances at area clubs, but it's the controlled chaos that makes this Charlotte group's debut album such a mind blower. This is no noodling jam-band. The eight-member ensemble embeds simple, acoustic folk songs into a complex sprawl of wind and stringed instruments, keyboards, squalling, dissonant feedback and shimmering silence. If this reads like some grand concept from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, that’s not far off base. But “the First American” is more ambitious than “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” or “A Ghost is Born.” Pyramid’s music toys with the vocabulary of composition the way groups from the ‘80s Downtown New York dark ambient/jazz/noise scene did. But whereas artists such as Sonic Youth or John Zorn replicated the feel of a subway tunnel or Times Square at rush hour, Pyramid evokes the anxiety (rather than the freedom) of wide-open space. “The First American” works best when the words and sounds suggest a sense of place; its weakest when the affected, clenched vocals and ultra-bleak lyrics undermine the music. Over the duration of the album, Pyramids dourness becomes a bit tedious. But the group is on to something big, and quality labels such as Nonesuch Records should be taking notes.

Words by Mark Kemp
- The Charlotte Observer


To truly appreciate them, you need to witness the experience in person. There are eight members,
and they switch instruments so often that it’ll leave you dizzy. I can’t even accurately describe their sound.
It’s this powerful, organic, cathartic, burning noise. It’s a captivating dirge.

Words by Jason Erb - Left Off The Dial


Pyramid Powers
Years of collaboration pay off

You don't have to be in a band to know that they are collaborative efforts, and you don't get any more collaborative than the local octet Pyramid. For almost a decade now the core group has been making experimental music together, pushing and pulling at the boundaries of traditional song structure, defying most of rock's sacred cows and the hallowed shibboleths of any other genre crossing their paths.

For most of that decade, they did it for fun, a side-project not for publication, a lark, something for old friends, bandmates and fellow students to do the two or three times a year they got together.

But then something odd happened. They got good at these improvisational get-togethers. People urged them to play out. On a whim, and when convenient, they'd book a gig or two. Friends were impressed. One of them was a filmmaker (David Gordon Green) with an upcoming feature film who wanted two of their songs for his soundtrack. Sure, why not, the band said, and lo and behold there was a major-label soundtrack — All The Real Girls — with their songs on it, right next to those of some of their own heroes, like Will Oldham and Mogwai.

Suddenly, roughly two years ago, Pyramid was no longer a lark. This Friday at the Neighborhood Theatre sees the CD release party for their debut, a remarkably mature and organic, genre-defying full-length entitled The First American.

"I was telling my parents, when I invited them to the release party, I said, 'This is it, this is the big night,'" said singer and guitarist Joey Stephens. "Certainly for the past two, three years everything has led up to this. But then way before that when we first started playing together nine years ago, it has basically led up to this."

"It's been just under two years, really, which isn't fast, but it's not as horrible as it sounds to record that many songs since we went in there and said, 'Let's track it right,'" said reeds man Brent Bagwell. "But what he's saying is right; a lot of it was built on when we would get together three times a year in the earlier years — and built on just knowing each other (for a long time)."

"A lot of that was that we were just going to release an album and that would be it," drummer Chris Waldorf added. "We weren't necessarily going to tour, we were just a recording project — 'Let's just throw it out there and see what happens.'"

But All the Real Girls and a song on the subsequent Green soundtrack for the movie Undertow (The First American album opener "Digging to China") created a momentum the band couldn't and wouldn't deny. Waldorf, a sound engineer, began building a custom-made studio. Band members formerly scattered from Athens to Seattle, High Point to New York City, began relocating to Charlotte and environs. The late-night improv sessions took on a more focused air. Hundreds of hours of tape were culled for interesting new recording techniques, inspiring melodies and new, challenging or uncharted instrumental combinations.

Some of the results make up the 14 unorthodox songs heard on The First American. They were the chosen songs from among the 30 that the band recorded over the last two years, some of the rest of which are slated for EPs, 7-inch singles and b-sides, and the odd compilation or soundtrack. Throughout, each of the eight members — all of whom are multi-instrumentalist — took part in the band's rare collaborative process, which extends from ideas to final song selection and track listing.

With the often elliptical and striking words and phrases of principal lyrics writers Stephens and Ben Best usually determining the mood, all eight members are free to contribute to songs — either via suggestions at practices or through recordings, no matter who the principal songwriter is. Ideas are hashed out, adopted or discarded in part by democratic means, and, of course, via powers of persuasion.

Not only has no one been killed; they seem to genuinely like and respect each other. Egos get checked at the studio door, for the most part.

"When you start learning a song it kind of sounds like a big cacophonous mess," Waldorf said. "But everybody self-edits: 'It sounds cool if I lay out here,' or, 'What if it's just the two of you here,' so it becomes like subtracting elements — a lot of pulling things out and trying to figure out what's the most interesting part going on.

"I've certainly asked people to lay out, and I've been asked to lay out, and it doesn't bother me; I don't think it's because they think I'm a bad person."

The band cites several key factors for their mostly laidback approach: having been friends pre-Pyramid in many cases; playing largely for their own edification for years without the pressures of record deals or lengthy tours; their own multi-instrumental talents; and a "song-first" commitment above all.

"Speakeasy," a catchy minor-key march with different instrumentation for each verse and chorus, is o - Creative Loafing Magazine


Discography

LP - The First American
We have two songs featured in two feature films. "Streets were Raining" can be heard in Sony Picture Classic's ALL THE REAL GIRLS and "Monster in the Canyon" can be heard in United Artists' UNDERTOW. Both songs are included on our full-length record The First American.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Formed in North Carolina in 1997, Pyramid was conceived as an outlet for musical experimentation. This approach led to many extended sessions holed up inside a small basement recording hours upon hours of sonic explorations - favoring improvisation over structure, intuition over formula.

Gradually, the band found themselves returning to certain aspects of musical form and classic songwriting - maintaining a grasp on their more experimental leanings. Subverting and embracing tradition, Pyramid began to compose music with an eye toward playing live.

In the summer of 2002, the band emerged from the basement with a slew of new material and took to the stage, garnering critical praise for their unique brand of music. Pyramid was voted Creative Loafing's Best Modern Rock/Indie Band in 2002, 2003, and 2004, as well as named one of '21 Bands to Watch in the Southeast'. Two of their songs are featured on the soundtrack to All the Real Girls from Sony Pictures Classic (affording them the opportunity to play at the Sundance Film Festival) and another song found a home in the United Artists' film, Undertow.