In a loft space in an unassuming Kennedale neighborhood, guitarist/singer Jake Murphy and drummer Daniel Slatton tune up for a rehearsal. As Slatton bangs out a few patterns on his six-piece kit, Murphy wires a pedal between his amp and his handsome Gretsch guitar while explaining — in great detail — the sound he’s looking for. “When we play live, I’ll use the mixer as the fuzz pedal,” he said, pointing to a heavy piece of equipment in the corner. “If you put the gain all the way up on that and even the EQs all the way up, it’s super-crazy sounding. … And I’m really attracted to that.”
“Super-crazy” could also describe the path that has led the two musicians to their current project. Murphy and Slatton are probably best known as co-founders of and chief songwriters for The Will Callers. One of the most popular bands in North Texas, the Old 97s-esque quartet logged more than 200 shows in 2009 alone. In 2010, the Callers won the statewide Shiner Rising Star contest and, as part of the victory, recorded their debut album What Else Is Left? with Texas Music icons Ray Wylie Hubbard and George Reiff.
And then The Will Callers disappeared.
“We’re sunsetting it,” Slatton said. “It’s not like it’s a big thing. … We’re just not doing it anymore.”
Murphy is a little more reluctant to admit defeat but just as realistic: “I hate to say that it’s over, but, at the same time, I’m really excited about what we’re playing now.”
What Murphy and Slattton are playing now is Natural Anthem, whose rocking 1960s-influenced sound reflects the two songwriters’ various influences.
“It’s 100 percent us,” Slatton said. “It’s 100 percent what we want to do.”
Though Murphy and Slatton haven’t played a show as Natural Anthem yet (they’re assembling the rest of the band now), they’ve recorded an EP. Released in September, Thread is simultaneously bursting with unpredictable energy and hazily relaxed, ranging from catchy pop to meandering, often loud ruminations. The six tracks are vast enough in scope to resist description as “pure psychedelia,” but they definitely sound like they’ve spent a summer on a beach dropping acid.
Thread also doesn’t sound like it was recorded in someone’s home (which it was: Slatton’s). Every note is crisp and clean but not overworked.
Doing it themselves allowed Murphy and Slatton to take their time, something they haven’t done in a while and that they’ve relished.
“When we were working on [Thread], we probably went through 11 or 12 songs that we started recording but didn’t finish because the magic wasn’t there,” Slatton said.
Murphy added that if a bass part in a particular song didn’t become immediately apparent, the tune “didn’t have legs.”
Murphy and Slatton hope to hit the stage by early 2015 and say it’ll probably be as a five-piece, to fully capture Natural Anthem’s creamy, densely layered sonics.
“We never thought we’d be a band that’d take up a whole stage,” Murphy said, “but it seems we’re going in that direction, and that’s cool.”
Murphy and Slatton don’t want to get ahead of themselves. They enjoy the relaxed pacing of Natural Anthem and doing everything semi-privately.
“We’d like to keep it in the bedrooms,” Murphy said.