|Chris North Alspach says it was an ill-fated Australian tour that led him to try something new. (Lindsay Metivier)|
Singer-songwriter takes new direction on ‘The Story of My Light’
When the Chris North Dream Quartet plugs into the room at the Haven on a recent balmy Thursday evening in Jamaica Plain, the sound of reverb-drenched guitars — their foot pedals and controls seemingly set to the heart of the sun — envelops a space that seems a tad too tiny to contain such a joyful outburst.
North, whose solo debut, “The Story of My Light,’’ is out next week on the JP-based Whitehaus Family Record, has even named a song after the bolder, freer approach he’s been exploring since putting his acoustic folk outfit, the Points North, on hiatus: “Liberation Sound.’’
Everything about the music seems louder and larger in fact, including the quartet itself, which on this night has been expanded to a five-piece, with Greg Beson of Manners, another Whitehaus artist, sitting in on guitar.
“It feels really fantastic,’’ says the JP-based singer-songwriter, whose full name is Chris North Alspach (with a grin, he reveals plans to legally shorten his surname to “North’’ upon getting married later this year). At some point, he says, “I just fell in love with the electric guitar. My housemate Max [Holbrook] is a fantastic lead guitarist, so he’s playing with me. It’s a whole bunch of different sounds we’re doing.’’
Although “The Story of My Light’’ (an EP-release show is on tap for next Thursday at the Aviary Gallery in JP, and the band is at Zuzu on June 13) still carries some of the spectral folk elements of his previous band, there’s a more robust, echo-chamber pop vibe to Alspach’s new project — think early My Morning Jacket or, closer to home, Tulsa. And in a live set ting, the chords, voices, and volume get turned way up. Meanwhile, Alspach’s questing quaver of a vocal, which on record forges ahead with a vulnerable, campfire charm, is — like just about everything else — doused in pools of echo.
It all adds up to a dramatically different direction from where the Points North appeared to be headed with their startlingly spare and beguiling 2009 debut, “I Saw Across the Sound.’’ To hear Alspach tell it, the souring series of circumstances of an ill-fated Australian tour is what precipitated his desire to pull the plug on one experience and plug into another.
“It didn’t have a shattering effect on our relationship or anything, but it was a weird time where we learned a lot about ourselves,’’ says Alspach of what turned into a two-month trip that included recording with Australian musician Adam Casey, who performs under the moniker The Boy Who Spoke Clouds. “We slept in the same bedroom most of the time, and we were playing situations where we didn’t feel very positive. I was losing interest in what we were doing, so we kind of clashed over that. The door is still open, and we may do something again. But right now, I’m playing with some different folks and it feels really great.’’
Still, the Chris North Dream Quartet does include a few familiar faces: one-time Points North bassist Chris McCarthy, who’s also a member of cracked country artisans the Woodrow Wilsons (another Whitehaus act that once shared a split-EP tape with the Points North); and Alspach’s brother, Kyle, on drums. The two siblings have played together on and off over the years. “He’s kind of been my ace in the hole a little bit,’’ says Chris. “He’s a great drummer and I know what I’m going to get from him.’’
What he doesn’t know, necessarily, is where the Chris North Dream Quartet will eventually end up. But so far, Alspach likes the new path he’s been pursuing — and he claims there’s much more to investigate. He grins, almost with incredulity. It almost seems too simple.
“I just got turned on to really good sounds and that’s what I’m hungry for,’’ he says finally. “I’m excited to present something different.’’
Jonathan Perry can be reached at email@example.com.