The Old Ceremony
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The Old Ceremony

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States | SELF

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States | SELF
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Chapel Hill band brings a sense of the theatrical to its concerts

by David Menconi, Staff Writer.

For musicians with day jobs, the natural order of things is you dress up to work and dress down to rock. But that's just one of many unusual things about Chapel Hill's The Old Ceremony.

By day, frontman Django Haskins dresses casually while teaching guitar and songwriting; and by night, Haskins and his bandmates dress sharp in coats and ties, and they play even sharper.

"Yeah, we're the opposite," Haskins says. "Part of the idea of The Old Ceremony is that it's fun, but there's also a level of seriousness to it. That's part of the suit thing, which isn't us trying to be retro. It's more showing respect for the audience and the music. People used to do that in Sinatra's day, and it fell by the wayside. So that's why we do it, rather than to mimic any particular era or style."

Appearances aside, The Old Ceremony's elaborately arranged "pop noir" brings Rufus Wainwright, Randy Newman and Ben Folds to mind (especially James "The Kid" Wallace's stellar piano-playing). While it doesn't sound anything like the late great Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Old Ceremony is that group's logical heir in one important respect: Like the Zippers, TOC puts on performances that feel like events, not mere shows.

"Theatrical" in the best possible sense of the word, TOC's "Our One Mistake" (Sonablast Records) sounds like a dozen mini-movies in which each song tells a story -- the doomy mood piece "Reservations," the lover's plea "Talk Straight," the jaunty declaration of independence "Papers in Order," even a song sung in Mandarin Chinese ("Bao Qian"). It's impossible to hear "Reservations" without thinking of video possibilities with Haskins dressed up like a bellhop or a maitre d' at a fancy establishment.

"I've always liked bands that create an atmosphere around the music," Haskins says. "When we were forming the ideas that came to define the band, we came back to people like Astor Piazzolla, who wasn't an actor. But he had a lot of drama in his music, some darker aspects."

The group's formula started coming together about two years ago, when Haskins formed The Old Ceremony (named after Leonard Cohen's 1974 album, "New Skin for the Old Ceremony") during the final stretch of his previous group International Orange. A self-titled 2004 debut was promising enough, but "Our One Mistake" hits at a much higher level with far better writing and playing.

"In terms of writing, I tried to focus on being more direct and open," Haskins says. "That's why opening with 'Talk Straight' made sense -- that song is partly to myself. Playing live, the most direct songs have been the most satisfying. The other thing is that the band has really come into its own. There's a lot more cohesion to the arrangements because they happened more organically. I'd bring in a song, and the band would really put it through the ringer, make it better."

As cinematic as "Our One Mistake" is, it's also fitting that the album has an indirect connection to the movies. It's been released on Sonablast Records, the label owned by movie producer Gill Holland (whose credits include "Loggerheads," "Dear Jesse" and other films).

"He came and saw us play on somebody's recommendation, and that night he said, 'All right, let's do it,' " Haskins recalls. "Which worked out great. We knew we were going to record and we'd even booked the studio time, but we didn't know how we were going to pay for it. So it really came together.

"There does seem to be some sort of strange, strong momentum to this. With this record, we do feel like The Old Ceremony has been getting the benefit of some forces beyond us, which we're grateful for. It's tough to tour on $3-a-gallon gas." - Raleigh News-Observer


The Old Ceremony's unorthodox pop erudition

BY BRIAN HOWE

When I told a friend I was going to interview Django Reinhardt, she was understandably confused, especially considering that the Belgian jazz guitar legend died half a century ago. "Shut up," she said, mouth agape. It took me a moment to recognize my error. It was an understandable one. I mean, how many Djangos do you know?

I meant to say Django Haskins, frontman of The Old Ceremony, whose sophomore album, Our One Mistake, is due Oct. 24 on New York-based label sonaBLAST! Haskins, who was indeed named after Reinhardt, has had almost 29 years to consider his namesake.

"If my parents had named me Tupac, I'd probably be a rapper," he quips. "I think [names] do have a lot of power, in terms of the way you see your destiny.

"I started on classical violin at about age 4, so I thought I'd slipped the trap, but then I started on guitar when I was about 12 and realized that's what I wanted to be playing. I love old jazz, but I don't play jazz, so I don't feel bad about it."

The scion of two folk musicians, Haskins grew up in Gainesville, Fla. Playing music was as common as dinnertime. He characterizes those family times as a Victorian parlor by way of '60s counterculture: "We would sit around the piano and my dad would play, and we'd sing folk songs, jazz standards, the Beatles, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan." Haskins began to perform publicly in the seventh grade, doing '60s Motown covers. By high school, he was writing his own songs.

So many children use those teenage years to reject the values and traditions of their parents. It would have been an ideal time for Haskins' punk-rock phase. That it never happened speaks to the dedication to craft manifest in The Old Ceremony's confident, polished pop.

"I got into the Stooges for a while," he recalls, "and I was really into the Replacements. But they were kind of half and half--they had a punk rock side but were definitely writing with a nod to the Beatles. I never got to that scorched earth point where I wanted to throw away all harmony and start from scratch."

After high school, Haskins studied English literature and Chinese at Yale. It was his studies in Chinese--and the subsequent year he spent living and playing in Hangzhou--that had the greater impact on his songwriting. One track on Our One Mistake, "Bao Qian," is even sung in Mandarin. "That's when I really started learning about melody," Haskins says of performing for an audience with whom he couldn't communicate with language, "and learned about selling a song when you perform it, really getting behind it."

Having been a musician in comfortably traditional and thoroughly alien settings, Haskins split the difference by spending seven years in New York City, from whence he toured Europe and the United States as a solo artist and recorded three albums. But he had trouble maintaining a touring band. "The thing with The Old Ceremony," he explains, "is that it's a band in the sense that we're all really in it together. That's what I couldn't find in New York. It's a financial thing. If someone's trying to make a living playing bass in New York, they've got to spread themselves really thin just to make ends meet."

But affordability and availability weren't the only reasons Haskins chose to make North Carolina his home in 2002. "I had toured down here and really liked it," he says. "I wanted to get further south again, and I liked all the colleges being around, which make it more liberal and international and culturally varied."

Never one to lay low ("Django," after all, means "I awake" in Romany), Haskins formed International Orange with Robert Sledge, Britt "Snüzz" Uzzell and Jason Fagg shortly after arriving. While the project is on indefinite hiatus after releasing a single EP, the soon-to-be Old Ceremony frontman achieved a valuable insight from the experience. "I've never had a band that was made up of three songwriters," he explains. "Since I was 12, I was always the primary songwriter in my projects, so I learned a lot about arrangements. The vocal arranging was a blast, these three-part harmonies the whole time."

Haskins brought the collaborative spirit he'd cultivated in International Orange to The Old Ceremony. "I had a bunch of songs that didn't have a home and wouldn't fit in a regular rock band setting," he says. "At first I just had a concept of the band I wanted to put together, and I knew a couple of the people I wanted to be in it. But it's evolved into this amazing, organic thing, where everyone brings a lot to the process."

Our One Mistake is more understated than the Old Ceremony's self-titled debut, with an emphasis on restraint and subtlety. "There's a lot of mixed emotion," Haskins says of the album. "The first record was a lot more theatrical, and there were more layers between me and what was being sung. There are some great aspects of doing it that way, but I tried, without being a 'singer/songwr - Independent Weekly


New Skin for the Old Ceremony is among the most revered entries in the distinguished catalogue of Leonard Cohen, whose darkly elegant approach to pop serves as clear (though by no means lone) inspiration for this noir-ish act that takes its name from his 1974 album. Clearly this isn't a band that shies away from its essential nature or refuses to admit its antecedents. Singer and principal songwriter Django Haskins has even acknowledged in interviews the seeming inevitability of his choosing to play guitar after having been named for the legendary Django Reinhardt. That attitude of acceptance and comfortableness in one's skin permeates the Old Ceremony's newest album, Walk on Thin Air, a mature, assured effort that finds the group confronting some of life's most grim and intractable realities with honest humility and patient deliberation. Such attributes aren't typical ingredients for high-octane rock'n'roll, and sure enough the Old Ceremony's music matches the confident care of the band's internal dynamic. An act that can swell to a dozen players in concert and has built a sartorial reputation by wearing suits onstage, the dapper Carolinians take a standard rock ensemble and dress it up with moody, stately things like violins and vibraphones. It's a tactic that adds dignity to the title track and the quietly devastating "Murmur", yet it can just as easily make the album feel like an overly buttoned-down affair, as when the group lets strings awkwardly riff on "Same Difference" or evokes the more grievous banalities of various 70s piano men on "Stubborn Man". For the most part, however, the orchestral elements in songs like "Plate Tectonics", "The Disappear", and "Ready to Go" simply serve as subtle yet distinguished reminders that these are grown-ass men playing these songs, working through life's problems with highball glasses in hand. The Old Ceremony's music can feel unsettled and even slightly disorienting (check the organs on "By Any Other Name"), but it's only because the band is pushing up so closely against some pretty frightening truths. Somewhat paradoxically, it takes real self-possession to even meet these uncertainties head-on, accounting for the steady grace of songs like "Plate Tectonics", which correlates the inevitable disasters of love with the shifting of the earth, and "By Any Other Name", which ponders the futility and uncontrollableness of language. Haskins does play up brooding noir a bit too broadly on "Ready to Go" and "Don't Parade Your Scars" and particularly goes overboard on "The Disappear", a plodding, punch-drunk song about escaping the workaday world that makes me start to worry I was wrong about the National all along (though I still think the Brooklynites are more clever than this). Then again, such overly stylized transgressions are rendered easily forgivable by the humbly affecting bewilderment of "Someone I Used to Know", which marvels at the inevitable but no less baffling changes that time effects on past lovers whom we once thought we understood completely. The fact that change is one of the most fundamental of all constants is just another of the ironies that the members of the Old Ceremony wisely perceive, and even more wisely refuse to pretend they've mastered.
by Joshua Love, Pitchfork Media, Mar 2009 - Pitchfork Media


North Carolina has become quite the fertile wellspring for indie rock in recent years, and if this new album by the Old Ceremony is any indication, that assessment will likely linger for some time. Produced by the band and mixed by venerable local legend Chris Stamey, Walk on Thin Air boasts a sumptuous sound, intertwining texture with nuance. Earnest and engaging one moment, pensive and reflective the next, it's the work of a band that's multi-dimensional in its outlook and approach. Luckily, those looking for immediate gratification will find it in the opening one-two punch of 'Til My Voice Is Gone' and 'Plate Tectonics,' each filled with rallying cries. Pulsating rhythms and plaintive desire dominate throughout, proof that even a slow burn can create an incendiary set. -LZ
Performing Songwriter, May 2009 - Performing Songwriter


After causing quite the stir around the indie scene with their first pair of albums, Chapel Hill, NC's The Old Ceremony are ready to break through the glass ceiling with their most stunningly progressive effort to date, Walk On Thin Air. By stripping away all the unnecessary frills and thrills from his music, songwriter/singer/guitarist/violinist/pianist Django Haskins treats the remaining elements of melody, structure, soul and sound like putty in his multi-tasking hands. What he winds up with at the end is nothing short of indie-pop brilliance.

While Walk On Thin Air does continue the Brit-pop vibe of Our One Mistake, in a Roger Waters vs. latter days Lennon & McCartney sense, the overall aura of the newer release is a much darker one. Even one the disc's most musically upbeat numbers, "Ready To Go," with its marching rhythm and quasi-western vibe, tells the tale of a fatal car crash, from the perspectives of each of the accident's victims. Opening track, "Til My Voice Is Gone" is a shoe-in for most glorious sing-a-long of the year, yet it remains one hundred percent fluff-free. Conceptually exploring escapism, while musically minimalistic, "To Disappear" is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's more introverted and depressive material; though it remains as captivating as brighter tunes like "Plate Tectonics" and "By Any Other Name."

Walk On Thin Air is an anomaly of sorts when compared to other albums of its ilk coming out right now. A sort of bridge between to very close, yet markedly different worlds, this record carries enough complexity, subtlety and thought-provoking subject matter to make huge waves in the indie scene, while at the same time bringing an obvious element of tuneful accessibility that will catch the ear of any music fan. I wouldn’t expect the trend-driven mainstream to maintain enough focus to latch onto this gem, but it could easily become a classic in many of music's sub-circles.
by Ryan Ogle, Artist Direct, 1.2009
- Artist Direct


Discography

The Old Ceremony - (Self-Titled) LP (alyosha records, 2005)
The Old Ceremony - Our One Mistake LP (sonaBLAST records, 2006)
The Old Ceremony - Walk on Thin Air LP (alyosha records, 2009)
The Old Ceremony - Tender Age LP (alyosha records, 2010)

Photos

Bio

TOC wins "BEST BAND" award in 2008 Independent Weekly's Reader's Poll.

TOC selected as one of the "Eight Great Acts of the Triangle" by the Raleigh News Observer in Jan 2007.

TOC's "Our One Mistake" was included in PASTE MAGAZINE's TOP 100 ALBUMS OF 2006!

Led by Django Haskins, the band draws on some of the brightest talents of the Chapel Hill, NC area, and through extensive touring, TOC has built up a strong and loyal following throughout the east coast and beyond. They regularly pack Joe's Pub in NYC, IOTA in DC, and the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill, among other high-profile venues. In the past year, they have toured or appeared with CAKE, Polyphonic Spree, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Chuck Berry, Fountains of Wayne, and the Avett Brothers.

"Our One Mistake", the most recent record from The Old Ceremony, released on NYC indie label Sonablast Records in Oct 2006, is not your standard indie rock fare. You will hear no aimless one-chord hammering or ironic, self-referential sloganeering. Our One Mistake is the type is the type of record your curmudgeonly grandfather would love. With shades of Sinatra, Tom Waits, Astor Piazzolla, Elvis Costello, Ben Folds, Nick Cave, and Serge Gainsbourg, this is music for the after-daylight hours; songs to accompany late- night reveling and weary scotch-soaked epiphanies.

Booking: Davidstrunk@theagencygroup.com
Management: Rob@rollcallentertainment.com