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ENERGIZING THE INDIE WORLD WITH ‘FOLK ROCK  YOU CAN DANCE TO,’ NYC CLUB FAVORITE TACOMA NARROWS KICKSTARTS THEIR CAREER WITH A DYNAMIC ACOUSTIC AND ELECTRIC ‘GOOD MOURNING’

 

Former English Teacher and His High-Energy Six-Piece Ensemble is Set to Release its Fan-Picked Debut Singles “This Is How It Starts” and “Life & Love” at their September 11 Show at Rockwood Music Hall (Proceeds will go the Tuesday’s Children Charity)

 

NYC – While Cheney Munson, chief songwriter, frontman and guitarist for fast emerging NYC-based indie band Tacoma Narrows (www.tacoma-narrows.com), cites traditional folk and bluegrass legends like John Prine, Paul Simon, Flatt and Scruggs and Bill Monroe as major influences, the six-piece ensemble’s explosive mix of acoustic and electric energy is an inspiring DIY offshoot of the folk-rock resurgence going on in mainstream pop in the 2010s.

But grooving beyond renowned counterparts like Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Decemberists, Railroad Earth, Hozier, Philip Phillips and The Lumineers, Tacoma Narrows offers their lively Good Mourning – the name of their upcoming debut album – with an intense kick. Munson, band co-founder Will Roble (drums), Jason Theobald (fiddle), Jim Bisbee (bass), Joe Harris (electric guitar) and Jonah Chilton (mandolin and backup vocals) have been electrifying their growing fan base with a fun, freewheeling vibe they call “folk rock you can dance to.”

Evolving out of an acoustic duo formed by fellow Newark, N.J.-based middle school teachers Munson and Roble, Tacoma Narrows cut their teeth and then held court at folk and bluegrass jam nights at Paddy Reilly’s Music Bar and Sunny’s Bar in Brooklyn.

The loyal following they have since cultivated via performances at hotspots like Rockwood Music Hall, The Bowery Electric and Arlene’s Grocery gave rise to their successful 2014 Kickstarter campaign, which raised $21,000 (far surpassing their initial goal of $15,000) to record their ambitious 12-track project at two studios owned by renowned engineer Mark Dann, one in the city and the other up in Woodstock, N.Y.

Tacoma Narrows also trusted their fans to choose the album’s two lead singles, set for release on September 11th at their performance on Rocked Music Hall’s Stage 2, with all proceeds going to the charity Tuesday’s Children. The band put five SoundCloud [2] tracks on their homepage. The winners perfectly reflect the unique dichotomy of the band’s sound.

Written not long after Hurricane Sandy, “This is How It Starts” is a spirited, traditional acoustic guitar-driven tune using storm imagery (including swimming in the streets) as a powerful metaphor. They used a video of a live performance of the song at Paddy’s to promote the Kickstarter campaign.

Reflecting Tacoma Narrows’  harder edged aesthetic, the second track is the high-octane, hard-hitting electric rocker “Life & Love,” which features an array of offbeat characters (a street beggar, a prostitute selling lilacs, a wandering shepherd selling Bibles, a young widow selling a sailboat) united in “life and love” as they sell their souls.

Tacoma Narrows will be playing upcoming gigs at Arlene’s Grocery (Aug. 15) and Carolina Jubilee [3], a food and music festival dedicated to sustainable farming at Vanhoy Farms in Harmony, N.C. (Oct. 16-17). They have also scheduled a fall residency at Pianos in the East Village (Sept. 30, Oct. 6, Oct. 20, and Oct. 27).

A big part of the band’s identity and sound revolve around each member’s personality, role and contributions. Munson’s journey will inspire those indie musicians who know they’ve got the goods but are afraid to cut loose and go for it. He’s a former middle school English teacher who resigned in 2014 after eight years to pursue music full-time. After teaching in Brooklyn and Newark, N.J., he currently consults for The Reading and Writing Project at Teacher’s College at Columbia University, traveling around the U.S. (on a schedule that leaves him free time for his musical pursuits) training administrators and teachers on how to help kids read and write more effectively.

“I’ve been playing music and writing songs since I was in middle school myself,” he says. “Ever since high school, I’ve had two passions: music and education. Until now, music had taken a back seat as a side gig, a hobby, something I squeezed in when I had the time and energy. In mid-2013, my close friend, Rowan, encouraged me to take a year off to focus on music. That hadn’t really occurred to me, because I had to make money and only did music when I had time for it. Not only that, but teaching was a huge part of my identity. But once he planted the idea of a Kickstarter campaign in my head, I couldn’t shake it. He was right. This was the time of my life when I could do this, start taking risks and pursuing what I love. I gave my resignation to the school in December of 2013 and started researching and planning the campaign.”

While teaching in Newark, after a similar stint in Brooklyn, Munson met Roble, who taught 6th grade math on the floor above him. When the two realized their mutual passion for music, they started jamming casually on their school’s stage/gym/cafeteria after work. At first, it was just a way to unwind, but they soon started playing for friends and co-workers at a dive bar in Jersey City called Lucky 7s. Then they discovered Paddy Reilly’s and started meeting the musicians who would eventually form Tacoma Narrows.

While the band has grown from two people to six, Roble and Munson have kept a similar structure and process since the beginning for crafting and refining their songs. Once Munson has written a song, he’ll bring it to Roble and the two of them will work on the rhythm, structure, arrangement and overall feel. Once that’s happened, they’ll bring the song to the whole band for re-working. On stage, Roble holds down and drives the pulse of the songs and works relentlessly off-stage to keep the culture of the band positive and collaborative. Roble now heads up a math program for a network of Charter schools at the forefront of the ed. reform movement.

Munson met their fiddle player Jason Theobald at the Sunday night bluegrass jam. Theobald thinks a lot about musicality and thematic consistency, paying close attention to the subtle interplay between the instrumental elements and trying to craft a signature sound, occasionally adding southern influence from his college days in Nashville. He’s also always listening for opportunities to enrich a song with a third vocal part. Theobald is a future Emergency Medicine physician who is finishing an MD/MBA dual degree at NYU.

Roble then brought in his old college friend Jim Bisbee to play bass. Bisbee holds down the groove while bringing a contagious joy to the band. With infectious bass lines, he makes sure everyone else is having fun while he does it. Jim is just wrapping up his PhD in Politics at NYU and hopes to one day field an army of his own research assistants.

Roble also brought on Joe Harris, another friend from college, as the band’s electric guitarist.  An insanely hard worker and passionate connoisseur of all types of music, Harris never stops improving or seeking new inspiration – which shines through in his solos and Tacoma Narrows’ choice of covers as he helps widen the band’s musical influences. He is also very positive and enthusiastic and keeps practices and shows lighthearted and upbeat. Joe is a high school history teacher at a school in the Bronx and has worked in NYC for the past 8 years.

Recently recruited at the Paddy Reilly’s Sunday night bluegrass jam, Jonah Chilton joined just before the band began recording Good Mourning. As a former Kansas mandolin state champion, he brings an unrivaled musical expertise to the band that has lifted Tacoma Narrows’ overall sound and skill level. He shares Harris’ insatiable appetite for an inexhaustible list of bands and styles of music. In the studio, he comes up with catchy and inspired licks and hooks that give songs a clearer and more substantial identity. On the stage, he lives for high energy improvisation. Chilton is an analytics guru who does high level problem-solving for an NYC tech start up.

Anyone who sees the raucous excitement and toe-tapping energy that Tacoma Narrows stirs up when they hit the stage can feel the impact of their high octane folk-rock sound. But a full understanding of the deeper philosophical concepts that drive the band takes a little more probing. The somewhat oxymoronic album title Good Mourning is a good entry point to Munson’s style of storytelling, which generally launches from a dark or chaotic place of grief, loss, death or destruction but also has a hopeful or joyful bent. To him, “morning” is something that starts out new, fresh and bright, but “mourning” implies grieving for its ultimate loss and destruction.

This is borne of personal experience. “When I was 9,” Munson says, “my mom was killed in a car crash. When I was 19, my younger sister also died in an accident. It tore apart my world, twice.  Music has been one of the main ways that I process and channel all that grief and sadness. ‘Good Mourning’ is just what is sounds like — all the ways that dark can be turned into light, and death into a gift.  My hope is that comes across in many if not all of our songs.”

Tacoma Narrows’ fans know just where to look (www.tacoma-narrows.com/blog) for the deeper story, which also explains their unusual band name. Why, some may ask, is a band that originated and works largely in a huge east coast city surrounded by famous bridges named after a suspension bridge that’s all the way in Washington State? Munson has been obsessed with the Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge (and its original ill-fated 1940 incarnation as “Galloping Gertie”) since hearing about its history in a college physics class.

The story and its metaphorical implications perfectly reflect the beautifully paradoxical musical and lyrical soul at the heart of his songs and the band’s music. As Munson explains on the blog (that includes a fascinating vintage video): “It’s a bridge that stood for four months and collapsed because of a structural flaw that caused it to twist and turn and ‘flutter’ in the wind…But for me, it’s become much more than a bridge. It’s a way of life; a way of being.”

The page also includes an ink print called “Resonance” — which will be used as the album’s artwork — by an artist named Gary Peterson of what looks like a man dancing on the bridge right before its collapse. For Munson, that triggers a more specific and profound meaning. “The man dancing on a bridge while knowing it’s about to collapse reminds me of a life well lived,” he says. “On one hand, he acknowledges that at some point all of this — buildings, bridges, trees, people, guitars, cars — all this stuff that seems so permanent — will give way to nature and entropy. But in the face of his demise, he reacts with celebration and joy rather than nihilism and despondence. And that idea, to exalt the certainty of death, is a worthy pursuit…The man dancing on the bridge reminds us that life is short, that we need to take risks, and that there is an urgency that comes with life’s brevity that should inspire rather than defeat.”

“And that,” he adds, “is kind of beautiful. With Tacoma Narrows, my bandmates and I have enjoyed taking something that started out small and building something that’s much bigger than we could have ever imagined. Those moments where we’re up there, performing live, getting everyone dancing and yelling for more when we finish a song, that’s been insanely fun – and worth celebrating in every moment we have.”

 


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[1] info@luckmedia.com: mailto:info@luckmedia.com

[2] SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/tacoma_narrows

[3] Carolina Jubilee: http://www.thecarolinajubilee.org/index.php

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