DFW Music News

The Lord Baltimores Need No Words

The Lord Baltimores, Jason Vandygriff (left) and David Pierce worked 300 miles apart on their "cinematic" album.
The Lord Baltimores, Jason Vandygriff (left) and David Pierce worked 300 miles apart on their "cinematic" album. Charlie Memphis
While many artists have used the pandemic and political unrest to come up with thought-provoking lyrics, a Texas duo is letting the music speak for itself and forgoing lyrics altogether. Beginning work on their debut self-titled project in 2019 (which was released in June), Denton-based David Pierce and Houston-based Jason Vandygriff formed The Lord Baltimores after Vandygriff brought Pierce into a studio session one day to play horns on a track he was helping produce for folk musician Josh Seymour.

“The guy I had usually used to work with was unavailable,” Vandygriff says, “and David was recommended to me by [producer] Matt Pence. He came in, and we hit it off.”

Pierce was a band director for 10 years and later became a composer and trombonist for various artists' projects. Vandygriff worked as the director of operations for an independent record label called Lucky Buck Productions and was also a member of country punk trio The Von Ehrics.

Vandygriff, however, hated being away from home and said touring was “killing” him. By launching Lucky Buck and shifting his focus to production, Vandygriff was able to create music without the obligation of touring.

The Lord Baltimores used their extra time during the pandemic to perfect their album, a nine-track collection of jazzy, cinema noir-inspired instrumental sounds.

“I had been wanting to do a soul and R&B record,” says Vandygriff, who spent years producing country and rock-oriented tracks. “But I wanted it to have horn features. I didn't want to fall in line with popular music and just throw vocals on top of everything. I really wanted the music to stand on its own, and really, that allowed us to truly feature the horns, and the strings, and the synths and all the things we built into the sounds.”

Pierce says that when it comes to lyrics, he tends to “overwrite." When Vandygriff first presented Pierce with the concept of an instrumental project, Pierce felt a sense of relief.

“Jason comes to me and says those magic words, and it was like rainbows and unicorns started dancing around my head,” Pierce says. “It was amazing that I was gonna get this opportunity to just kind of go for it.”

Described by Vandygriff as an “open canvas,” the album’s nine tracks contain only two with vocal samples, but from beginning to end, the album creates the feel of a vintage film. The jazzy horns and the seductive strings form a Gatsby-esque image in the listener’s mind.

Vandygriff and Pierce worked as co-producers on the album, with Vandygriff laying down the rhythm and Pierce handling horns, strings and synths. To give the songs a special touch, the duo enlisted help from several musicians within their peer group, including Polyphonic Spree’s Evan Jacobs.

“It's not like it was in the ‘60s or something where you could say you had a house residency gig in the studio and you got work every single day,” Pierce says of his days working in Denton’s Echo Lab studio, “but it feels kind of like that in Echo Lab sometimes, so I was able to do quite a bit of work and meet a bunch of great people.”

Over the course of five months in 2021, Vandygriff and Pierce worked remotely to piece the sounds together.

“If you call yourself a purist for whatever reason, I think it's easy to label some music as inferior to other music.” – David Pierce

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“We just worked bouncing back Dropbox files and listening to stuff,” Vandygriff says, “and then he's doing charts and then we discussed everything, from the studio to who we were going to have on each track. We had the backing, and we had what we thought was an album that deserved getting the right people on it, so we negotiated all that stuff and from 300 miles apart, did all the guitars from my studio here in Houston, and just sent them back to David and he would say ‘Swing the 16th note’ and I'd be like ‘I thought I was.’”

David Willingham, a Grammy award-winning engineer and longtime friend of the duo, mixed the album and helped them create the cinematic sounds they were going for. The two cite influence from Ennio Morricone and Bill Conti for helping them create a body of work for “music nerds” to enjoy.

Although the two were seeking to create a specific sound for their album, The Lord Baltimores say they find inspiration in “anything and everything.” Pierce went down a ‘70s rabbit hole when trying to come up with sounds and Vandygriff soaked in jazz and Afrocuban music.

With nearly two decades of musical experience between them, Pierce and Vandygriff have drawn from their experiences to create a cohesive work with a specific sound. Their debut as The Lord Baltimores allows them to tell a story with little to no words; one that will take a mind as open to understanding, as it did to discover the sources of inspiration.

“If you call yourself a purist for whatever reason, I think it's easy to label some music as inferior to other music,” Pierce says. “Let's say, if you were a classical, symphonic or jazz purist, you might turn your nose up at the Rolling Stones or something like that. Or maybe you think indie rock is silly. But I’ve worked with so many artists over the years and have an arsenal of sounds in my library. I try to always be open to listening to any music as long as it's performed and done well.”
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Alex Gonzalez has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2018. He is a Dallas native whose work has appeared in Local Profile, MTV News and the Austin American-Statesman. He has eclectic taste in music and enjoys writing about art, food and culture.
Contact: Alex Gonzalez