AGAINST the advice in their new album’s title, City Hotel’s Cory Chambers and Anthony Teixeira are sitting comfortably on the porch at Foxy Loxy Print Gallery & Cafe.
- Photo by Kelly Roetto
The mandolinist and bass player have been performing with bandmates Aaron Zimmer and Jay Rudd for six years, transforming the Americana and roots music scene in Savannah with their old-time-inspired bluegrass stylings.
City Hotel debuted with an EP, “Savannahgrass,” which Teixeira remembers “was really just supposed to be a demo.” Quickly recorded and mastered, the band handed out copies of their debut and soon fans were asking for them. For the album Dogged Days, the band entered the studio with the songs close-to-fully realized and worked them out in Elevated Basement Studios.
With their latest, Don’t Go to the Porch, the four-piece has fully realized its sound and its members’ capabilities as songwriters. The album highlights individual strengths and shows off the musical bond the band has forged after clocking countless hours on the hard-gigging circuit.
These days, you won’t necessarily find City Hotel slugging gear between River Street bars five days a week, but those bread-and-butter gigs made them the band they are today.
“It brought us together as a unit quickly,” says Teixeira. “It got us to understand what’s going to happen, whether it’s relying on Cory to bring in a certain flavor, or Aaron coming in with something else, mixing those together in our arrangements.”
“It’s hard to see when you’re around each other all the time—it doesn’t feel like we’ve gotten better, but I know we have,” says Chambers. “We definitely are more confident on stage and more loose about taking wild turns and extending jams.”
From the beginning, one of City Hotel’s signatures was the use of a vintage-style condenser microphone onstage. The band, armed with acoustic instruments, would gather ‘round, leaning in to take a solo or sing lead.
It contributed to the old-timey feel and true front porch pickin’ vibe, but the boys have recently decided to set aside their in-the-round style and plug in their instruments. Acoustic instruments are tough to mic, and by going direct, the band can hear themselves better—and so can the crowd.
“We’re committed to plugging in,” Chambers announces. “As much as we love the mics, we’re full-time plugging in now. We’re excited to share the bigger sound at the CD release party. It makes sense for where we want to go to get that bigger sound.”
“We feel like normal people now, finally!” he laughs.
As a band that’s three songwriters strong, City Hotel shows are always hallmarked by the fun of seeing Chambers, Zimmer, and Rudd trade off on lead vocals. As they alternate, each’s individual songwriting shines through as the others sing backup and create a sonic bed for each songwriter’s arrangements.
Don’t Go to the Porch marks banjoist Rudd’s songwriting debut. While he sang the Dogged Days’ cut “Gainesville Mill,” written by Zimmer’s father-in-law Ernie Palmer, Rudd fully shows his talents as a lyricist and arranger on the band’s new album.
“I love Jay’s lyric writing,” admires Chambers. “A couple of my favorites are the ones he brought. ‘The Garden’ makes me tear up, for sure. And Zimmer’s just an incredible storyteller, singer-songwriter type.”
The ominous title track comes from an old Chambers family story.
“It’s pretty silly,” Chambers shares. “My grandma’s neighbor was fixing his porch and it collapsed. He said to his wife, ‘Don’t go to the porch.’ She said, ‘Why not?’ and he said, ‘Because there ain’t one.’ That’s become a mantra in my head for a while now, for when maybe your brain is going somewhere you don’t want it to. ‘Don’t do that.’ The song ‘Montreal’ might be the opposite of that place. But that’s one thing I like lyrically about the songs I contributed—singing them over and over again, they’re kind of like mantras to me and mean something to me. That’s kind of nice to sing them over and over and hopefully remind myself to do better.”
Family history and storytelling are recurring themes throughout City Hotel’s work. As the band has toured together, they’ve enjoyed getting to know one another’s relatives and learn the stories of their roots. The cover art, a sepia-toned photo of a family in front of a porch, is an old family portrait of Rudd’s.
“When we decided on [the title] Don’t Go to the Porch, we tried to find old family photos with porches,” Chambers says. “Jay was at his granddad’s house and saw that picture on the wall...it just felt right.”
The band returned to Elevated Basement Studios to record, working with Kevin Rose to capture their sound. They’d fine-tuned the songs, having tried them out onstage for two years, but before the recording process began, City Hotel played the album in its entirety to an audience of one.
“We had Kevin come over and listen to all the songs before we went into the studio,” says Chambers. “By the time we went to the studio, everything was ready to go. We recorded 14 songs in a really short time span.”
“We went in ready to record,” Teixeira nods. “We were in and out of the studio in two days. It was awesome.”
Currently, City Hotel is applying to 2018 festivals—they love the hippie/jam band outdoor setting—and they’ll perform a few shows throughout Georgia over the coming months. Savannah gets to hear the album first at Service Brewing.
“We had a great time opening up for The Accomplices there,” Chambers says of the brewery. “It’s got a great stage, and we love the owners there.”
Saturday night is not only a record release celebration—attendees can offer a toast to Service as they celebrate new state beer laws. Previously, if one wanted to enjoy a beer in the very place it was made, a tour and 36-ounce tasting was the only way. Now, beer fans can mosey up to the bar and simply enjoy brews by the pint.
“That allowed us to bring the ticket price down, too, and make it accessible to people,” Teixeira says.
After so much time as a band, a big “cheers” is certainly in order for Savannah’s bluegrass pickers.
“It’s really cool that we’ve been able to do this for six years now,” Chambers says. “It’s unique.”