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Rockin’ In Reykjavik��

Local band prepares for Icelandic odyssey

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They've played just a handful of shows, and yet they're about to go to Reykjavik, Iceland, to record at Sigur Ros' studio, Sundlaugin. While there, the quartet will receive help not just from Samuli Kosminen, a world-renowned percussionist, but musician/producer Jimmy LaValle (Tristeza, The Album Leaf, Black Heart Procession) and Sigur Ros producer Biggi Steinarsson. Then when they return from recording, LaValle's invited them along to open for The Album Leaf on a string of dates.It sounds like the grand prize for Indie Idol, which, like its mainstream pop counterpart, would be built around making its winner's musical dream come true. Only the scenario isn't reality television; it's simply reality for — here's the kicker — a local band. No, don't guess. Really. You've probably never heard of them. We hadn't. Their name is Mar, and they've only been together a little more than a year. Prior to that, frontman Kyle Reidy had done a few solo shows, but he soon longed for a bigger sound.

"I started getting in this mode of wanting a full band to play these songs, because they're supposed to be a lot more powerful than this," explains Reidy. "I didn't really think of myself as much of a singer/songwriter sort of person, but overall more of a producer and lead singer of a band."

Reidy grew up in Arkansas' Ozark Mountains, and the rock band he formed there with his friends was the only one for hundreds of miles. ("I guess that helped in that when we had a show, people came…" he chuckles.) Recognizing the need to move to a city to progress his musical career, Reidy came to Charlotte in 2002. But after a year here, he was thinking about moving back.

"I was working under a different manger and producer. It just wasn't working out. They tended to bring me more toward radio-friendly stuff and that totally took away from what I was trying to do," Reidy confesses.

"I'd been working on music for eight years, and after that last go around with that producer I was using, I was ready to give up because I didn't have anything going on for six to eight months. Then I found this new manager, Eric St. Clair, who is one of the part owners of the Neighborhood Theatre, and he booked me a show opening for [Christian singer] Michael Knott. [Knott] owns a record label called Blonde Vinyl, and right after that show, I went backstage and he offered me a record deal right there. So that gave me more ambition to keep going after that."

Around that time, Reidy went about assembling a band to back him. He had to reload several times, but he finally came up with keyboardist Claire Long and guitarists Nate Reid and Patrick Atkinson. Together, they set about exploring a kind of heavily atmospheric rock minimalism.

"I guess it's minimal in that there are three guitars in it, but there's very little of each guitar, and there's a lot of layers while still leaving room in the song," Reidy explains. "This has always been my interest, but it's just never been what I've done because of conflicts of interest with other band members.

"It's really experimental in a way because we really haven't been doing this for long and we're kind of learning as we go. None of us in the band can do anything on our instrument that will amaze anybody. It's their creativity that's amazing. Anyone can play what they play, but no one else would come up with it, which is the cool part."

Between November 2003 and August of last year, the band went through several bassists and drummers before two of Reidy's friends from Arkansas joined up. The reprieve proved short-lived. They both decided to move back home. Their last night in town, Mar opened for the ambient electronic artists, Múm.

"After the show, I went to talk to Samuli [Kosminen], Múm's drummer and hands down my favorite drummer for quite some time," Reidy recalls. "I asked him what it would take to get someone like him to play on an album, and he was kind of hesitant. A really friendly guy, but he told me flat out, 'I usually don't.' Then I saw him 20 minutes later, and he told me he would do it. Out of nowhere he was like, 'Now that I think about it, even watching you guys I had a whole bunch of ideas for how I could work in that style of music.'"

Reidy and Reid followed Múm up to NYC, where they hung out with the band, saw their show at the Bowery, attended the after party, and made friends with several other members, who also offered to help out with Mar's record.

A week later, post-rock experimentalists The Album Leaf were in town. LaValle, the musician behind the band's music, is the only other American to have recorded at Sundlaugin, largely because of his friendship with Sigur Ros, whom he toured with in 2001. Reidy met LaValle backstage after the show to compliment him on the performance, and the two musicians started talking.

"We ended up talking about an hour and a half, about how he works on electronic music, and he told me some of his tricks and secrets and doing loops and all that," says Reidy. "Something clicked there musically, and there is really no explanation why or how it happened, but it turns out that not only Samuli and Gunnar [Tynes] from Múm but also Jimmy LaValle is going to be in Iceland with us all in February. A little later that week is when they invited us — I guess not invited, but suggested we go to Sundlaugin to record."

For their part, Mar's collaborators sound genuinely enthused about the project.

"The first thing that attracted me especially was that voice," writes Kosminen in an e-mail. "Kyle has a gorgeous voice. And their songs had that type of melancholy beauty that I like a lot. I'm looking for an interesting collaboration with some open-minded and talented kids. It's going to be great to play together with Mar and Jimmy LaValle, who I know a bit too, though we've never worked together."

LaValle suggests the opportunity to work with Múm wasn't even a driving consideration.

"In all honesty, Múm was just a kicker for me. Meeting Kyle and Eric, they were very genuine people and that's what first attracted me. I think they'll have success with this new record."

Reidy isn't about to waste this opportunity either.

"I'm a musician; I sleep in until 12, then stay out until whenever. But after this, it became a lot more serious. I know if I pass this up and don't take responsibly and discipline myself, I'm going to hate it. Now I'm getting up at 7 and going straight into the rehearsal space and working on new stuff, fine tuning everything and detailing all the parts of the songs. I just know that come January 31, I have to be ready to got Iceland. So I'm going to be."

The Houston Brothers, Mar, Harmony Spars, and The Mark Mathis Band will play a benefit to raise the $20,000 needed for Mar's trip to Iceland at 9pm (doors open at 8) Saturday, January 22, at the Neighborhood Theatre. Call 704-358-9298 for more info.

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