It's nearly midnight on a Wednesday, and the members of South Carolina psych-pop powerhouse Modern Man have just gotten to their Charleston practice space. The band, which formed in Greenville, has only been in the city since fall 2012, but will be leaving for the West Coast in August — with some members couch-surfing through July to make the move work. So, it's hard to say where they're based, exactly, though it's easy to tell where they're going: Bay Area California.
"We moved here in September," says bandleader David Allen Glenn of the short stay in Charleston. "A little bit less than a year," drummer Nikki Calvert adds.
"It really made us want to move more," Glenn says. "It was really a trial run to see if we could do it and establish ourselves in a different city and not kill ourselves." With the move, Calvert jumps in to say, the band has proven it can relocate and re-establish itself — though they admittedly stayed fairly close to home. There are familiar venues and bands in Charleston, and the Upstate, where several members grew up, is hours — rather than days — away.
"When I told my family, some of them were upset that I was making this big move," Calvert says of the next jump — the one to California. "And I just told them that they raised me to be a big fish and we just feel like big fish in a small pond."
Modern Man briefly entertained Austin and New York City, but settled on California after Glenn took a trip out there, caught some shows, and liked what he saw of their music scene. Plus, the move would open up the West Coast to touring — an exciting prospect, says guitarist Brian Draper.
"We're more of a live band anyway, it's more about our shows," he says. "It's just an opportunity to play places it would be harder to play living on the East Coast and we'd get more exposure on that side of the country."
Calvert says she's entertained the romantic notion of living nomadically and basing the band out of a different city every six months, and that the California move is a more realistic expression of that daydream. Glenn, too, is realistic: in many ways, Modern Man is starting over.
"I've been emailing all these venues and spaces and houses, and even that is tough because they don't know us," he says. "It's just hard to get an email back — no matter what you've got on paper."
Living in South Carolina and touring regionally, Modern Man built a network of buddy bands and supporters across several states. Moving to Charleston, they didn't leave their existing sphere of influence. Going west will be another story entirely — never mind three years of local history.
In early 2010, Glenn started Modern Man as his solo project. A friend had showed him some self-recording basics, and Glenn put out an EP. He played on his own in support of this debut and, eventually, the others joined. Glenn keeps compulsive control over the studio end of things, turning down offers from engineers who want to record the band for fear they'll lose their signature sound — a churning, shoegaze psych-rock that's as unsettling as it is enveloping and catchy. New single "She Wears Pants" — a higher-fi, full-band remake of a tape-twisted track from the first EP — is one of the few Modern Man cuts mastered by someone else.
"This band started as a recording project because I had no idea how to record, so each record is a new experiment for me," Glenn says. He likes the work — even if he is a little anal, as Calvert interjects — and is happy to have three bandmates who share his vision. Calvert, too, is proud of what Modern Man has done — one reason she's ready to take the band west.
While these four love South Carolina and appreciate their home state supporters, this audience is finite. Out west, this can grow, they feel.
Today, though, these four are free to uproot and move across the country together — so they're taking the opportunity while it exists. And the trial run, the Greenville-to-Charleston move, has gone well: the members were able to see shows, meet people and just party in general. And maybe it's appropriate that Charleston, rather than Greenville, is the band's jump-off point for the big move: after all, it was here that Calvert first really hung out with her future bandmates.
She was still drumming with her old band, Coma Cinema, and both acts were playing Charleston the same weekend. One late night resulted in a naked, hallucinogen-fueled beach bacchanal. Appropriately, in August, they're headed to the cradle of psychedelia.
"I knew from the first weekend that I met these guys that they were special and I wanted to be close to them and I wanted them to be my friends," Calvert says. "Shit, look at us now."