The Water Callers
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The Water Callers

Band Folk Acoustic


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"Jason Fagg probably has band practice tonight"

When Jason Fagg first played a church with his acoustic duo The Water Callers, he says he feared he would "burst into flames." The Water Callers—Fagg and Bart Matthews—are walking contradictions. Their performances revel in mixing the sacred and the profane. Who are these hard-to-peg Durham potty mouths who like to sing about Jesus, anyway?

"How we comport ourselves does not necessarily jive with the music that we play," says Matthews. "If we were good boys that stood up there and did our Jesus thing, that's not really interesting. Maybe the music would be pretty, but it wouldn't be interesting."

At this point, it's normative to expect something interesting from Fagg. The Water Callers, whose 10-song EP The Finest of Wheat will be released in December, is one of Fagg's five active bands, and none of them remotely resemble each other. He is the crazed yet competent percussionist behind the femme-fatale-fronted The Cassandra Project ("The Distant City," which Jason wrote, was aired on a recent episode of CSI: New York). He is a raging political warrior and vocalist in The Ugglians, a fiery, funny-but-poignant punk band. And he collaborates with his girlfriend, Elizabeth Foley (also in The Cassandra Project), in Snuggle Factor 10, their fun, over-the-top, pop and hip-hop project that aims "not to take itself too seriously." He's also an occasional drummer in The Physics of Meaning.

Fagg is a budding actor and soundtrack man, too: He'll play Matthews' brother in I and I, a docudrama directed by Josh Gibson, and the Callers' song "Durhamite" will be featured in Durham: A Self-Portrait. Fagg is also the photographer for Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, and he does freelance design projects for local bands.

"He's everywhere," says friend and Ugglian bandmate Robert Stromberg.

Foley tries to explain such ubiquity: "I think he can't help himself. He sees the potential for how great a project can be. That's probably why he's always in a million different bands at once."

As far as anyone knows, Fagg is just one person. But we can't be sure.

"As a kid, I would ask adults, 'What brought you from when you were a kid to where you are now?'" remembers Fagg. "Those adults would tell their stories with a hint of regret, as if they weren't doing what they imagined or hoped they would be doing. You got the sense there were opportunities and chances they didn't take. I knew I didn't want to have those sorts of regrets."

In 2004, Fagg was juggling multiple band practices and sometimes playing two or three gigs each night—all after a day of filing paperwork in UNC's Financial Aid department. He was working too much to enjoy it. Fagg had dreamed of going on tour his entire life, and in 2004, one of his acts, International Orange—a bustling pop band with former Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge and The Old Ceremony frontman Django Haskins—had that chance. He quit his day job, which he had held for six years. He hit the road with International Orange, but then they broke up unexpectedly. He was in a lurch.

"Here I was, I had sort of thrown all my chips in on this band, and for about a year or more, I was pretty destitute," says Fagg, adding that his friends were even concerned with how skinny he had become. He managed to stay afloat by taking occasional odd jobs in construction. Now, he's working two jobs, one at a frame shop and the other as an arts event organizer. But, more than ever, he's committed himself to patching together some sort of creative life, no matter how many sides he has to add to his proverbial coin, no matter how many hats he has to wear.

The Water Callers is yet another piece of that happenstance plan: Fagg, already bogged down with so many other projects, was reluctant to add another band to his list, but when they finally got together, the music instantly took on momentum and he knew it was something he had to do. It brought something else out of him.

"Bart's been a big inspiration to me because he's a really talented songwriter," says Fagg.

Matthews, who tends to play the straight man to Fagg's foul-mouthed clown, continues: "When I thought about doing music with Jason, I knew we'd probably get along because he played so many different styles of music. I also thought he had an amazing voice."

While Matthews was in college at Duke, he knew Fagg as the drummer in The Cody Cods and International Orange. They moved in similar social circles, but they never knew of their musical simpatico until some spontaneous jamming at a small dinner party with friends in the spring of 2005. A portion of their chemistry was a result of similar pasts: They grew with traditional roots and gospel music, both of their parents heavily involved in church music ("I would fall asleep to the sound of both of my parents practicing," says Matthews). They were middle school and high school orchestra or chorus geeks (Matthews directed the high school chorus and played violin; Fagg went All-Sta - Independent Weekly, 11-15-06

"I'll Fly Away"

The Water Callers are about as old-fashioned in their approach as you can get. The duet uses a simple blend of guitars and vocals that harkens back to the early days of 20th Century pop and country gospel music.

Even though it's a contemporary recording on CD, you can easily picture hearing the songs on a scratchy and tinny sounding 78. Yet, at the same time, there is a modern sensibility about their music, which probably comes from the hindsight of knowing what works and what doesn't. In other words, they've done their homework, and it shows in the songwriting. - Mish Mash CD reviews

"CD Reviews Album Review"

The Water Callers "The Finest of the Wheat"
Dirty and authentic, this is a collection of fantastic 'round the campfire tunes. Sounding like true backcountry cowboys, Bart Matthews and Jason Fagg channel the spirit of the inimitable Woody Guthrie. Labeled as "Songs old and new for sing-alongs, hoedowns, and hootenannies," The Finest of the Wheat is an album filled with the grit of tobacco and cowboy coffee. -

"Blues Bunny Album Review"

from, April 8 2007

Old timey music. Not so much as a drum kit in. In the MTV world, this would be country music unplugged. Or perhaps something else entirely. There is something odd about these songs. They are not quite what they seem on first listen.

Curiously dramatic in delivery, these songs invoke Noel Coward - try "In the Moonlight" or "Lorraine" for example - as much as their country/folk heritage. Lyrically adept with a more than a touch of music hall about them, the Water Callers impressed us with their own quirky compositions. "Oh Kitchen" is supposedly based on a childhood poem. "So Far" had us thinking of Hoagy Carmichael rewriting a Beach Boys song. Ending on the sing a long at the county fair "Durhamite", this album certainly falls into the eclectic category.
We were not entirely sure what to make of this album. It sounds like traditional fayre with the vocals having, at times, a back to shellac feel. A throwback to times past, perhaps. Anachronistic certainly. Worthy of your attention? We think so.


"The Finest of the Wheat" album, released December 2006.

Flim/Theater Projects include tracks for "I & I" and "Durham: A Self-Portrait." Currently the WC's are scoring "A Streetcar Named Desire", a Little Green Pig production scheduled for June 2007 at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC

Also 2 tracks appear on compilations:
"Durhamite" is on "Rockin' the Blocks," a Durham compilation released by Downtown Durham, Inc.

"In the Moonlight" is on the "307 Knox Records Certified Diskette."


Feeling a bit camera shy


The Water Callers write and perform original and traditional songs rooted in Americana, tied together with close vocal harmonies.

At a party in the Spring of 2005, Bart & Jason passed a guitar back and forth, recounting old favorite songs from their collective Southern heritage. They both knew many of the same songs, and both instinctively knew how to harmonize and blend with each other's voice. From this affinity The Water Callers were born.

Both members of The Water Callers have similar musical backgrounds. Bart, originally from Atlanta, GA, is a product of a household of professional musicians: his mother played violin in the Atlanta Symphony, and his father is a music minister at a church in Virginia. Bart learned how to sing and play many instruments early on. Jason grew up in a small town near the mountains of NC called Walnut Cove, where from age 5 he studied classical piano and percussion while singing at church.

Bart & Jason met at college in the 1990's, but didn't play music together until a decade later. In the meantime, Jason played and toured with bands such as International Orange, Cody Cods, The Ugglians, The Sleepies, and The Physics of Meaning. Bart focused on theater, performing in many productions including the recent critically acclaimed "Back of the Throat" at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC.

Their first album, "The Finest of the Wheat," was released in December 2006.

In addition, they are part of two movie projects set to come out in early 2007. A live performance of the WC song "Durhamite" is featured in Steven Channing's film "Durham: A Self-Portrait." Bart & Jason also act and sing in Josh Gibson's docu-drama "I & I," set in antebellum North Carolina.