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Harmony & understanding

The New Familiars bonded by love of music

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Charlotte's The New Familiars have formed a brotherhood in the truest meaning of the word. Spend any amount of time with the quartet and you can sense the bond they've formed over the music they love playing. As much as the admiration for each other is spoken, it can also be seen when they perform live.

You can't possibly have such random on-stage fits of spontaneous, intense energy outbursts without knowing how your "brothers" are going to respond. Sure, there might be brief moments of bickering offstage, but those quickly pass and, in the end, it's the music that matters the most.

Three years ago, Justin Fedor and Eric-Scott Guthrie were performing together as an acoustic duo called, simply, Fedor and Guthrie. Though the lineup has since gone through a handful of changes since then, in addition to the name change, those two have been the constant, now flanked by guitarist Josh Daniel (in the group for one year) and bassist Pat Maholland, who joined in January.

"It's definitely a growing sound," Fedor says while surrounded by his bandmates in a Davidson cabin. "We started as acoustic, but we definitely have a lot of rock 'n' roll and electric sounds." Guthrie is quick to note, "This is the core. We're all on the same page and, musically, we mesh wonderfully together."

Their self-described "folk-core" music is made up of stand-up bass, dobro, banjo, mandolin and/or acoustic guitar. While the band is hoping to add a drummer, their infectious, rowdy style quickly distracts you from thinking anything is missing.

In fact, most people are surprised by the dichotomy they present on and off stage -- usually being calm and collected before a show and then exuding every ounce of energy and sweat they can during a performance. It's a style that has brought comparisons to another local band.

"We have absolute respect for what The Avett Brothers are doing, but we're doing our own thing," Guthrie says. "They've given us great tips and offered us advice along the way. Having us associated with each other and both being tied to Charlotte is not a bad thing at all." Fedor adds, "Those are great guys and awesome songwriters, so if people want to draw comparisons to us, then do it. It's a compliment in my eyes."

The New Familiars tour around the Southeast but focus most of their energy on the four to five Charlotte-area shows they play each year. They'll look at other shows as warm-ups for whatever they do in the Queen City.

"We're always working on something -- a new cover or new tune," Daniel says. "We'll look ahead to the next [Charlotte] show and work on stuff for that. We won't play the same covers we played last time and we'll have new material to play."

The band practices at least twice a week and has recently started to plan time for songwriting in hopes of recording a full-length album this year. Up until now, they've released three EPs. For the April 19 show at The Visulite Theatre, they'll be releasing a special vinyl record with two songs, one of which is a cover of The Temptations' "My Girl."

"It's an old-style release," Guthrie says. "It's one of our songs on the A side with a cover on the B side. You get a download card so you can put it on your computer or iPod immediately. The medium is more of a souvenir nowadays than it is the vehicle for the music to be delivered."

The band's version of "My Girl" is something different that came to them spontaneously. It's a slowed-down take of the classic song that most people might not recognize unless they pay close attention to the words.

"We tried to do it a totally different way," Daniel says. "It barely resembles the original song. We played it 10 times in a row thinking, 'This is bad ass.'"

As the band continues to pick up steam and play more shows, they also make money doing odd jobs when they can find them around the city and cutting back on expenses where they can. They've become crafty enough to fit five people and all of their equipment into a Honda Odyssey. While the vehicle has been spray-painted and has a few dents, dings and cracks, it still gets good mileage (24 miles per gallon, they point out) and does the job.

They find the time between shows, before shows and whenever they have the spare moments to play as much as they can. "All you can do is just give it everything you've got with every little detail playing music, whether it's a live show or in the studio, songwriting or practicing or whatever you need to do to make yourselves a better band," Maholland says.

For all the success that is slowly coming their way, the band knows the workload will only increase. "We're getting to the point where it seems like we should be able to sit back and relax with the music more, but every door that opens leaves more stuff to do," Guthrie says. "I think for the time being, for the foreseeable future -- if we want to maintain control of our own creative destinies, that's a fate we have to accept."

The band is set to appear on Fox News Rising this week, at the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, the Beaufort Music Festival and the Asheville Music Jamboree, among numerous other gigs. It's hard work, but the love of the music keeps them going.

"I think we've all found something that we can love working on," Fedor says. "There are definitely days we want to beat the hell out of each other, but when everyone's on stage and everyone's in the pocket and everyone's having a good time playing the music regardless of who's at the show, regardless of where we have to be the next day ... when the music is good, there's nothing that replaces that feeling."

The New Familiars will play at The Visulite Theatre with Secondhand Stories on April 19. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 on the day of the show.

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