Local music: Old Hundred

  • Photo by Tessa Berg
From the August 30, 2012 edition

Paying off bills and college debt. Settling down. Staying fit. Struggling to live a meaningful life. These might be #firstworldproblems, but they loom large around the time adulthood morphs from a freedom to a responsibility. And they almost squeezed Old Hundred out of existence.

“We thought we were going to break up,” said singer-guitarist Blake Skidmore, who co-founded the folk-tinged indie rock band three years ago. “There were just commitments in our lives that were making it feel like we had to make a decision. And then we kind of realized, no, this is working. This is something that we want. And it sort of epitomizes in some ways those other choices you have to make.”

Instead of breaking the band, those pressures yielded a fascinating document of Old Hundred in flux. As Skidmore puts it, sophomore album “Time In the Wild” explores the ups and downs of “being anxiously committed.” When they sing together, “The gun to your head is a gun to my head/ Why can’t you get right?” it’s easy to imagine the members addressing lovers, co-workers, even each other.

The internal and external tug of war is amplified by the presence of four singer-songwriters vying for space, batting around ideas and grappling with what makes them tick. Though the band began with Nate Gelinas and Jon Helm backing up Skidmore, they’ve been talking about developing into a democracy since their last album two years ago. This one brings that concept to fruition.

“It feels like more and more the concept of a band gets pushed aside, even with bands,” Gelinas said. “The concept of The Band or The Beatles where you have clearly four or five different personalities, and you can hear them. Or even like Pearl Jam, you can hear the push and pull between people’s talents and stuff. I feel like that’s pretty hard to find. It’s become more rare, even in the past five years. I’m really proud of the fact that you can hear on every song that there’s five people, and there’s not session musicians and there’s not one person calling all the shots.”

The combined powers of Skidmore, Gelinas, Helm, Hal Hixson and Gordy Smith plus producer Josh Antonuccio made recording sessions at Athens’ 3 Elliott Studio into a creative cauldron. The band’s weekend recording jaunts down Route 33 had the feel of marathon sessions with George Martin at Abbey Road. Antonuccio, who has recorded the likes of Vetiver and Southeast Engine, played a big part in cultivating that environment.

“He’s very pastoral,” Skidmore said. “He wants to try new things, but there’s no pressure. He meets you where you’re at.”

The resulting record, to be debuted with shows Friday and Saturday at Kobo, bears those marks of contemplation, experimentation and coming to grips with commitment. Many flavors coexist and complement each other, yielding artful folk-rock with the wistful grace of Wilco, the snappy forward motion of Spoon and the lilting harmonies of Fleet Foxes. It’s a record worth pressing on for.

“The album kind of like brought us together, gave us a common ground,” Gelinas said. “We got really excited about it while we were making it. And some of those other issues kind of got worked out on their own.”