By Jim Schutze
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By Alice Laussade
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When Denton's Novaak announced their break-up up shortly after the 35 Conferette in March, the band's lead singer, Jessi James, already had a few tracks in her solo repertoire. Just a month before, James had flown to New York City to work on a handful of songs with the help of producer Roger Greenawalt, the man known for "discovering" Greenville's Ben Kweller. These songs now make up the core of her new solo project, Bethan.
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"I was there for a week in February, and we wrote five songs," James explains. "In June, I went back and we wrote some more."
Greenawalt, whom James had met at the South by Southwest Music Festival the year before, offered up both his talent and his Brooklyn studio to help James' cause. The pair left the two studio sessions with an album's worth of content, meaning their recent signing to local label Spune will likely result in a full-length release in the near future.
As far as the sound goes, their collaboration of relatively minimal studio tracks gives James the opportunity to not only participate more in the composition of the music, but also to better showcase her voice.
"The idea is to stay away from hiding behind a wall of sound on Ableton," James says. "Before, I was used to singing with so much else going on. So, it's actually pretty exposing."
The more vocal-driven tracks are indeed a clear departure for James from the fuller, synth-laden sounds she was previously used to working with. But she says she enjoys the challenge and prefers the new direction.
"I want to use some electronic elements when needed," she says. "But, for the most part, I want to rely on live instrumentation."
The live aspect of the band is still currently in the works; so far Bethan's stage lineup includes Calvin Chynoweth and Joe Overman on guitar, Aaron Haynes on drums and Daniel Hall on the musical saw. With no drums on the recorded tracks, James says adding a drummer to the live show has made the material sound bigger and altogether more appropriate for audiences.
"The drums have been taking place of the electronic elements that are going on in the recording," James says, "but with the band it becomes a very bass-heavy interpretation of the music."
All the work on the live show really has come in handy lately, though, as the Spune signing has already netted James' new band a few notable gigs, including one in which they shared the bill with area powerhouses Seryn and Telegraph Canyon. Bethan's next show will be at the Kessler Theater on Saturday, October 8, with The Orbans and Analog Rebellion.
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