AS WE share pimento cheese and pita points on Starland Café’s sunny patio, The Accomplices’ Matt Eckstine offers one of the most poignant observations I’ve heard in a while.
“Savannah’s a horrible place to come find a job,” he states, brushing away a friendly caterpillar. “It’s a beautiful place to come create a job, though.”
If anyone’s taken that mentality to heart, it’s The Accomplices. Just a few years into their time as a band, guitarist/vocalist Eckstine, fiddle player/vocalist Colleen Heine, bassist/vocalist Zach Smith and drummer/vocalist Stan Ray have developed a rabid following, creating fresh ways to accommodate their audience through innovative DIY means.
When Savannah music venues became too small for their album release shows, The Accomplices began thinking beyond the bars and set out to create their own encompassing experience. They’ll do the same this weekend for the release of their new EP, Mountain Buzz.
For their self-produced bashes (which typically include dinner, a CD, swag, and a concert ticket in their reasonable entry fee), “being unexpected is a huge key,” Heine divulges. “It’s gotta be something that people are going to go, ‘Oh, they’re doing a show there?’ And that becomes a part of the draw.”
The band’s selected The Georgia State Railroad Museum to unveil Mountain Buzz. After the wild success of their May 2014 party for A Truck, A Train, An Old Dump Pile at Southbound Brewing (so successful that 150 people had to be turned away at the door due to capacity), the gang began seeking a large space that was homey and unusual. With a giant stage, rustic surroundings, and plenty of history, the museum is a perfect fit.
“Everyone’s always saying, ‘500 people, all-ages venue, when’s it going to happen?’” says Eckstine. “Well, here it is! Come on out if you’ve been complaining about it. It’s just about taking the initiative and hard work. I hope it’s a tipping point.”
So how does a local band afford such a spectacle? It’s all about the sponsors. From Cory Scoville Construction to Moon River Brewing to The Garage Savannah to Satchel, the folks making the event happen represent a vast array of local businesses and interests.
Maybe banner sponsorship and local music sounds like an unexpected pairing, but The Accomplices have created a pretty genius formula that benefits the band, the business, and the community at large.
“This gets local businesses invested in us,” explains Heine, “and this event makes it a community thing, not just an Accomplices thing.”
Think of it as a local, live Kickstarter.
“It benefits [businesses] to be a part of something.” says Eckstine. “It makes people feel good, and the people who are doing this, they truly believe in Savannah and the arts, and they believe Savannah is the thriving music scene in Georgia.”
Mountain Buzz is a delightful EP worthy of such a splendid affair. Recorded locally at Elevated Basement Studios, the five-song CD is a fine example of The Accomplices’ blend of ease and technique. Fusing cheerful whimsy, fresh tempos, rich four-part harmonies, and beautifully skilled playing, Eckstine and Heine believe it to be the first “real” Accomplices release.
“It’s not like, Matt Eckstine writing songs with a band or something,” Eckstine elaborates. “We really came together.”
The songwriting was a very natural process that happened during the band’s time touring in Western North Carolina.
“We’ve been touring pretty extensively in the Appalachian, Asheville, Knoxville area,” Eckstine says. “There’s just such good times up there, and it seems like that’s the place we’re doing the best.”
“I’d say the five songs on this EP all kind of came to life or developed during that time,” Heine agrees. “For example, the first track on the record, we actually wrote in Hot Springs, North Carolina right before our gig. And we played it that night!”
“I was riding in the car—and I’ve never done this before—I just wrote the song,” Eckstine remembers. “I heard it in my head and just wrote down most of the lyrics right there. The music came to fruition and was really inspired and created up in the mountains, and the waters run down the mountain and come right out the Ogeechee into our waterways; we put our Lowcountry flair on it.”
Though they’ve been gigging in the saturated acoustic music mecca, The Accomplices stand out in Asheville for their unique twists on traditional music. Eckstine runs his acoustic guitar through an elaborate pedalboard; songs fizzle into transcendental, almost Pink Floydian wanderings.
In fact, Heine, who’s schooled in old time and folk music, created a lovely moment on Mountain Buzz’s title track: as harmonies intertwine and rhythms gallop, everything spirals out into the coo of Heine’s fiddle, turning atmospheric. Effected guitars bubble up among fiddle strains before the song comes back up for air, reaching full speed for a big finish.
Eckstine grins with mischevious pride, talking about that cut.
“I’m a jammer guy,” he says, throwing his hands up in surrender. “I love The Dead and stuff. But that was Collen’s idea—she came up with the idea of a long jam section. Of all people!”
“It’s totally spacey and jam-y,” Heine agrees. “A few years ago, I would never have suggested that.”
Heine takes lead vocals on the breezy “Lean on the Wind.” There’s a sweetness and clarity to that track that’ll make you want to cast off into the autumn sunset.
“Matt called me in the middle of the day one day while driving out to Tybee and said, ‘I think I got a chorus, and you’re going to sing it, and here’s how it goes,’” Heine laughs. “It was just kind of like, this little nugget popped up in Matt’s head, and we took it from there!”
The Accomplices are big fans of the EP format; while they’ll certainly release full-lengths in the future, they enjoyed pouring a lot of love into just a few songs.
“The things we let go on other records we got right on this one,” Eckstine says. “We wouldn’t settle for anything less.”
Eckstine’s hat quite literally goes off to Shane Baldwin over at Elevated Basement for Mountain Buzz’s luminous production.
“That guy went above and beyond for us,” attests Eckstine. “He took this on, produced, engineered, and mixed this thing. He completely co-produced it with us. Of all the recordings I’ve done, I’ve never recorded with someone I felt like just got it and was like, ‘I’m going to work overtime on this thing, because I believe in it.’ That kind of confidence coming at you while you’re in there, it makes you feel great, and he’s just good at that.”
The band’s looking forward to sharing the results of their hard work at the Georgia State Railroad Museum. Get ready to dig into seafood gumbo, veggie tacos, and sausage dogs, score a goodie bag with a CD and prizes from sponsors, and catch a mountain buzz of your own at the bar.
Eckstine is particularly excited for one of his longtime favorite bands, Folly Beach’s Dangermuffin, to kick off the show.
Though everyone will be getting down with those mountain vibes, don’t worry: The Accomplices aren’t leaving our swamps for the hills anytime soon.
“Someday I feel like the band is going to have a cabin up there, and we’ll go have retreats,” Eckstine says with a wry smile. “Let’s have a Kickstarter for that!”