Modern Hero finds its modern-rock/soul voice
Modern Hero. The name begs attention and analysis. It could even spark a rather lively debate among people who enjoy the art of wordplay; people who absolutely must unearth the meaning behind all things cryptic and recondite; people with a little too much time on their hands. For those familiar with Modern Hero, whose music is an eclectic yet tidy blend of rock, pop and a dash of soul, the name is not nearly as interesting as the music.
Chiseled from Atlanta's colorful music scene, Modern Hero is a band of self-styled renegades known for their well-oiled live performances and the highly-touted writing of frontman Jeffrey Butts. "I see us as the future of music that absolutely has no boundaries," Butts says of his ambitions for Modern Hero. Those boundaries, in fact, already have been extended, and Modern Hero's music fits more perfectly than perhaps the band realizes in this era of fused genres and rampant crossover — an era when it's OK to be black and listen to rock music or white and recite rap lyrics.
With Butts, drummer Karman Gossett and bass guitarist Tony Belser, Modern Hero paints a picture of diversity: a white female from Knoxville and two black guys (Butts from the Bronx and Belser from Salina, Kan.) all with different cultural experiences and musical preferences. Butts favors Jimi Hendrix, U2 and Radiohead; Belser likes Smashing Pumpkins; and Gossett is a Pantera fan. While listeners might be reminded of the group's common link, Led Zeppelin — especially on the song "All You Want to Know" — the three members seem to speak with one musical voice, adeptly meeting somewhere in the middle.
Modern Hero's self-released debut album, Threedom in Stereo, though written entirely by Butts (with the exception of the cover of the Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again") seems to gather up all the group's musical likings into a nice little package — no loose ends, no pointy edges, nothing sticking out like it doesn't belong. Everything tidy, every-one in perfect harmony. Utter and amazing bliss.
The album, the group says, is a testament to their chemistry, as well their ability to merge the trio's respective styles to create one sound, to paraphrase each member's respective stories to write one tale.
Modern Hero was formed in June 1999, one month after Butt's former band, Shock Lobo broke up. "I was about to go solo," Butts recalls. But his manager/wife, Kathy Gates (who's also conference manager for the Atlantis Music Conference), convinced him to hook up with another band and set Butts up with Gossett. When Belser, who had made a name on the local scene as a drummer in Salamander Tales and the Jessie Dupree Band, expressed interest in working with Butts, Gates informed him that Butts already had a drummer and was looking for a bass player. When Belser volunteered for bassist position, Butts says, "Kathy was like, 'Yeah, but you're a drummer.' And he said, 'I play bass, too.'"
The threesome set out to begin work on their debut CD, a process that would prove to be a test of fortitude and endurance. "We started out in the beginning of last year," Gossett says, "and we tracked 12 or 15 songs, but the guy we were working with — we weren't really artistically compatible with this guy and it just wasn't turning out right — so we kinda took our material and pondered on it for a month or two. We were scared it didn't turn out right and we were spending all this money."
Butts and his friend Blake Eiseman, an engineer and producer who worked with Butts on various solo projects as well as Shock Lobo's last album, listened to the songs and selected the best of the bunch, giving the group what Gossett calls the album's "rough draft," a foundation upon which to build and improve. "We were able to see where things needed to be worked on and where things really stood out," she says. "We all went back into the studio and re-recorded it and we were just thrilled with it. It turned out exactly the way our vision was."
Given the work that went into making Threedom in Stereo, Gossett says she's not nervous about how it will be received. "I know in my heart I'm proud of this band," she says, "and I'm proud of this music, and no matter what anybody says about it, it's not gonna change the way I feel about it. It's just been a beautiful experience for me personally. And I'm kind of immune to everybody else's opinions."
Though they've come to Atlanta from different cities — and they've come to Modern Hero from different musical backgrounds — Butts, Gossett and Belser feel at home in both places. "We're ready now to kinda jump on over the pole and we might need to get to some markets where people are not as familiar with us," says Gossett. "Maybe get re-discovered. If we get discovered [in New York], fine, but we're not gonna say we're from New York. We're always gonna be from Atlanta." And they'll always be Modern Hero, whatever the name means.
Modern Hero plays at Breakers, 7716 N. Main St. in Jonesboro, Sat., April 14. The band also performs at the PlanetJam Cotton Club Tues., April 17, during the "Next Level" competition, for a chance to win a slot at Music Midtown.??