Athens, Georgia is a small University town with a population of around 120,000. But despite its modest size, it has produced a host of musical acts that, despite mostly being labelled alternative or new wave, have reached global audiences. That list includes REM and The B52’s. Amongst the new bands creating a following in Athens is Movers. The band is made up of alumni from Athens’ University of Georgia. The group have just released their second album, Futurist At The End Of Time (reviewed previously on this site), which tips the hat to the rock of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and in particular Rush, but with their own modern twist. Velvet Thunder thought it was time to head-off virtually to the deep south of the USA to learn more about the band and their work.
VT: Can you introduce yourself and talk about your own musical influences?
Collin: Hi, I’m Collin Ferguson. I play guitar and do the vocals. My main influences are Rush and Pink Floyd. I was into a lot of AC/DC growing up. Plus I listen to a lot of the old blues and classic rock.
Drew: I’m Drew Serrero and I play drums and percussion. I love Rush, the Police and Pink Floyd. And I also really like history – I have a degree in history which kind of helps a lot with writing the kind of stories we tell on our albums.
Brian: I’m Brian Wilson – not a relation to the Brian Wilson [of The Byrds fame] – and I’m the bassist. My main influences are not limited to Rush. There’s The Police, Yes, The Beatles. I like a lot of psychedelic stuff.
Jack: I’m Jackson Johnston and I’m the keyboardist. I’m influenced by Rush, The Police, Yes, Genesis, and Rick Wakeman. I like a lot of jazz too, such as John Coltrane.
VT: That’s a great list of influences but you’ve not mentioned one American group which seems bizarre as you are Americans!
(After a pause) Brian: well, I guess one American group that came into our tastes later on was Steely Dan.
Collin: I also like Kansas!
VT: So how did you guys actually get together?
Collin: well Drew and Brian sort of played together first. And I joined in when us three were about 15. I was just singing at the time and then I picked up the guitar and it went downhill from there! And Jack joined us in time for last year’s album.
Drew: When we were really little, me and Brian actually knew each other because we grew up down the street. We’ve been playing together since we were about six or seven. I actually played guitar at first but I was really bad at it and then I picked up drums and figured out that was what I actually liked to do – hit things with sticks! That would have been circa 2007-8. We would listen to The Best Of The Police CD for hours on end.
VT: From this side of the Atlantic, there’s perhaps a naïve view that Georgia is the home of The Allman Brothers and if you’re not playing Southern Rock then you’re nobody. How vibrant and varied is the actual music scene in Athens?
Brian: There’s a lot that goes on. One of the biggest genres in Georgia is rap.
Collin: And trap
Brian: yes, and trap. And Atlanta has got all those big studios.
Drew: But we all live and work in Athens which is where The B52s, REM, Pylon, Wide Spread Panic and Drive-By Truckers came from. They’ve all played at The 40 Watt, which is the iconic music venue in Athens.
Brian: Today there’s a lot of new wave and psychedelic bands around.
Drew: It’s a college town with 30,000 students and that makes it a bit of a cultural hub. Collin, Brian and I all went to the University of Georgia and I actually work there currently. It’s small enough that you know a lot of people but it’s big enough that there’s a vibrant music scene. You see a lot of new people coming out to our shows and it’s always great to meet new people.
VT: Who would you say is the leader of the band?
Collin: I usually say Drew. And Brian is also right up there. When it comes to creative influence, it’s mostly Brian. Brian gets the ball rolling on a lot of stuff and guides us through exactly how we want to do stuff when we’re writing but in terms of managing and lyrics, definitely it’s Drew.
Drew: I’d say Brian is the brains behind it, I’m just the loudest!
Brian (reflectively): I just can’t talk so good!
VT: Just coming to your material, the first album already seems quite mature. What help did you get in the engineering and production side?
Brian: Well, we know a guy who owns a studio called Standard Electric Studios. His name is Damon Moon. This guy, he uses vintage audio equipment. We were in the studio for this last album for just six days. We were really hard-pressed for time…
Collin: …but we made it work. There were some stuff that we wanted to do but we simply ran out of time.
Brian: Yeah, like some things could have been done better.
Drew: We went in there pretty strict, like from 10 till 12 we’d be doing this track, and then mix and overdub from 12:30 to 3. We had to stay pretty strictly to that schedule. Dave was a really good guy. He was willing to work with us. He was cool about us staying late. And he bought us some beers!
Collin: And he helped us with additional idea. He also keeps our ideas for our music realistic. It’s me and Drew who usually have the (too) big ideas!
Drew: Yes, talking about ideas, for that first album we wanted this metal clanging type sound on the first Marcus (that’s Marcus’ Desolation, Chapter 1: Earth’s Demise, the concluding opus on the debut album). I said ‘alright guys, I’ll be right back’, so I walk out the studio while they were doing overdubs or something
Collin (interrupting): we were doing the vocals
Drew: Yes, that’s right. Anyway, I was thinking where could I get something to bang on and I spotted this car shop next to the studio. So, I walked over to the car shop and I came out with a piece of the chassis from a Toyoto Camry. I hung it up on a string and whacked it with a chime bell and it sounded just right, like this old church bell!
VT: In good prog rock tradition, both those first two albums have excellent artwork. Who came up with the ideas and who did the actual artwork?
Brian: the first album cover was actually done by my sister. She’s an artist and does painting. And I came up with the concept of the garage and the boxes and whatever, just to go with our band name. I think she did a great job.
Drew: There’s actually a bit of an easter egg in the first album cover. There’s a little spider web in the top right corner ‘cos we had the idea for the spider song (Spiders In The Woodwork) that didn’t get released until the second album. We didn’t know what we wanted to do with it but it did make the cover on the first album.
Jackson: For the second album cover, we all came together with the idea of some giant monstrosity kind of spaceship thing in the back and the fancy looking futurist guy in the front. I know a few people in the art department at the Univeristy of Georgia, and I commissioned one of my friends there to do it. She did a wonderful job.
Brian: Yes, her name’s Neha Vennapusa. She’s a phenomenal artist.
VT: Can you tell me about the gestation of Futurist At The End Of Time?
Collin. We already had a lot of the ideas for the songs when we recorded the first album. We didn’t quite have the whole concept for the album but we had a couple of ideas for songs. We definitely already had Spiders In The Woodwork, or the lyrics written for it. We had already started working on The Race and we had almost all the lyrics for Part II of Marcus’ Desolation. I think we were missing the last part….I can’t remember exactly.
Drew: I think we had something and then we cut it out completely and replaced it with something else.
Collin: yes, we had most of everything. I think the only one we didn’t have when we finished that first album was Leviathan. That was the only one that we didn’t have any lyrics for.
Drew: yes, but we had the music for that. We’d tried to play it with that 12 string and do a dual-guitar thing but that didn’t work out.
Brian: That was before Jack joined. I was going to play my moog bass pedals and rhythm guitar and I ended up not liking that. But then when Jack joined, it allowed me to stick to the bass.
Drew: That’s right, With Jack joining and composing his parts it helped fill up a lot of the space in the sound. That was missing from the first album. It allowed us to focus more: instead of the three of us trying to play as many notes as possible to fill up the space, it allowed us to sit back and focus on the concept of the album and the themes we wanted to communicate.
VT: In the VT review, I hinted that The Race was influenced or inspired by Rush’s Grace Under Pressure period. Was that a fair comparison?
Drew: Yes, that sees right through what we were doing with that first song because Grace Under Pressure is my favourite Rush album.
Collin: mine too!
Drew: It’s that early type of ‘80s faster synth-driven sound. I guess Marcus would be a little more ‘70s and Floydian. We had that synth motif for The Race for a while and didn’t know what to do with it, but as you said in the review, the song could sit on Grace Under Pressure, and I hope it wouldn’t be disinvited from the party there.
VT: Can you explain what the lyrics of the title track are about, and the overall theme/concept of the album (if there is one)?
Drew: So the overall theme of it is don’t put your faith in others who don’t have your best interests at heart. The Race is not really part of it, and the continuation of the Marcus story is like a B side, so in the middle there are the four songs that make up the Futurist section. It tells the story of the Futurist who is this guy who is charismatic and has a lot of resources and money and power and seemingly knows more than everybody else does. But it’s revealed at the end that in order to get on the ship and save humanity you must sacrifice what it means to be a human in order to be saved. So, ‘did you really get saved at all?’ is the theme. So, it’s about deception and lies, and unfulfilled promises essentially. There’s a lot of Jules Verne inspired philosophy there – it was definitely going for that late 1800s early 1900s disillusionment that was present both here in the States and in Europe.
VT: Spiders In The Woods is musically an interesting one, much more progressive/Floydian than others. How did that one come together?
Jack: That’s a fun one. We had a very like skin and bones structure of what we thought we wanted it to be and then…
Drew: We threw it out of the window
Jack: Yeah, we recorded it, and threw it out. Started from scratch. We knew we wanted it to be kind of melancholy and it just kind of built from there. We didn’t know exactly which direction it was going to go but I think being under the pressure of hey we have to get this recorded in two weeks was kind of really helpful.
Drew: I think we also got really high that day!
Collin: Well, we were also listening to an album by our friends Dinner Time just before that and we were listening to it a lot, so that little breakdown section in the middle of Spiders In The Woods was a little inspired by them.
Jack: I think it was a little bit more than just inspired….
Drew: OK, we took their 7/8 section and we kind of rocked it up, and did it in our style changing the chords a bit!
VT: So, who is Marcus, the central character across the two epic pieces on each album, and does his story end with Part II?
Drew: I think it’s probably over with Part 2, mostly because that song just about killed us having to record it in two and a half days! So anyway, the name derives from Mars the Roman god or war and his purpose was to be created by the gods as a warrior for the sole purpose of fighting the battle against the forces of Hades. And that’s really it and it’s just an over the top story about all that and it brings in gods from all sorts of different pantheons including Egyptian and Norse mythology, It’s supposed to be a bit ridiculous – we took the first Marcus so seriously, knowing that it’s not the greatest thing we’ve ever written – and so we are making fun if ourselves, but a hard core prog fan could look at that and take it as an epic story too.
VT: Any thoughts on a third album?
Brian: we’re just about to start on that. I mean we’ve started getting some ideas together, and some of the lyrics written down so it’s like in baby steps. I think we are going to stray away a little bit from the typical prog, maybe to a more new wave type but we are still exploring with the sounds and we’ll see.
Drew: We are thinking to make it a bit in the style of like Signals but also mixing in some Steely Dan. We also expect lyrically to base it on stories about ours or other people’s experiences to try and make it a little more grounded – rather than being Marcus’ Desolation Chapter 3.
VT: Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
Drew. Hopefully not in my day job!
Collins. The idea is to still be making music we love, regardless. We’d like to come to Europe one day too. Based on our streaming numbers, we’re a hell of a lot more popular in Europe and South America than we are here which is kind of crazy.
VT: But you must be quite proud of that global interest?
Collin: Yes, it’s really cool hearing Dutch radio play it and we’ve had airplay too in Mexico and in Argentina. That’s great but we did that without touching anything in the States outside our home State. But it’s really cool. One day we’ll go out there and tour the world!
Well good luck to them with that ambition. It may be a far off dream to think of doing a world tour but Movers have the enthusiasm of youth and creative talent in spades. They might be coming to a venue near you sooner than you think!