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Locals Only: : Johnnytwentythree

With mood-induced music and motion pictures, Johnnytwentythree tours riveting new album

By C.A. MacConnell · September 19th, 2007 · Locals Only
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Johnnytwentythree

Johnnytwentythree



Ghostly. Think of handmade shadow pictures on the wall of a lowly lit, hazy, yellowish room. Around town, a similar elusive air, a secretive, slightly strange rumor surrounds Johnnytwentythree. Buzz is that they're exceedingly artistic and somewhat mysterious in a lovely, odd, peaceful way. Blurry, yes.

But I recently had a chance to uncover some J23 clues through Stephen Imwalle, who handles film and video for the band. Presently, J23 is on the road promoting JXXIII, their 2007 CD that delivers visual, multi-layered, emotional Rock with an "epic movie" feel. Perhaps an apparition helped in the mix. The sixth psuedo-bandmate might be a white-sheeted being without feet.

Here's the real group: Brianne Maier (violin), Imwalle (film and video), Joe Maier (bass guitar), Brian Tyree (drums, keys) and Michael Maier (electric guitar). Together, they rock out mood-driven tunes using effects, visual projections and more.

In the late '90s, Imwalle, Joe and Michael Maier played as the trio, Halo, with Imwalle on drums. When Brianne Maier and Tyree joined in 2002, the five became Johnnytwentythree; the name is a reference to a William Burroughs' short story that "focuses on the creative and destructive potential of humanity," Imwalle says. "This dichotomy is reflected in much of our work."

In 2004, J23 recorded Thirty Pieces of Silver, a soundtrack for one of Imwalle's short films.

"We were just starting to explore the use of music and film in terms of the five-piece band we were becoming," he says. "Over the past three years, we've had an opportunity to build on our audio and visual assault."

Joining forces with sound engineer and musician Paul Oldham (works with Indie star/brother Will Oldham), the band recorded JXXII this year, driving listeners on a soothing and intense journey, sometimes furious, sometimes coated with melancholy, other times soaked with joy. Engaging, repetitive riffs lead to startling climaxes, a style reminiscent of The Beta Band or Sigur Ros.

Using visuals, J23 creates a dualistic live performance style and accompanying video is included inside the CD package as well. Imwalle says, "Over time, the images have taken on the role of our 'front person,' something that worked itself out naturally since most of our songs, up to this point, have been instrumental. We do have songs with vocals and if the moment presents itself, we'll write songs with vocals. At this point in time, with this album, there hasn't been any urgency on our part to add them into the mix."

"Red Bird" begins with a militant drum roll, moving into alluring spoken word, guitar and drums, then bursting into orgasmic violin, creating a vast, landscape feel, a pensive adventure that turns stormy. The decision to use Oldham's Rove Studio affected the overall "wide open" feel.

"Paul's studio was a natural choice," Imwalle says. "It's located outside of Louisville in a rural setting. We stayed at an old farmhouse that Paul and his brother grew up in. We'd all heard Palace Music before and certainly Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, so the chance to work with someone like Paul was something we couldn't pass up. It's completely 'us,' and I think that's where we derive the most satisfaction."

Gorgeous and meditative, JXXIII is an intimate journey, maintaining a feel of closeness mixed with a broader emotional pull.

"I don't think we could generate the kind of feeling we do without that bond we all have (with) each other and (with) the subject matter we're delving into," Imwalle explains. "I think the key to our band is how we inspire each other."

Thickly layered with a cinematic sound, the songs have been labeled "epic Post Rock." But Imwalle says, "The films and music co-evolved ... we make triumphant Rock & Roll music. We're epic. Paul Oldham calls it 'breaking the tape' music. It's that moment when a runner first crosses the finish line to break the tape. I think that encapsulates the exhilarating feeling we get from performing and it's certainly what we want to elicit in our audience. Of course there's darkness in our work as well -- but you can't appreciate the light without experiencing the darkness."

Although an artistic, curious aura surrounds this band, in the end, one thing is in-focus and clear -- the music is pleasantly mystifying.



JOHNNYTWENTYTHREE (
  Johnnytwentythree
Johnnytwentythree

Johnnytwentythree



Ghostly. Think of handmade shadow pictures on the wall of a lowly lit, hazy, yellowish room. Around town, a similar elusive air, a secretive, slightly strange rumor surrounds Johnnytwentythree. Buzz is that they're exceedingly artistic and somewhat mysterious in a lovely, odd, peaceful way. Blurry, yes.

But I recently had a chance to uncover some J23 clues through Stephen Imwalle, who handles film and video for the band. Presently, J23 is on the road promoting JXXIII, their 2007 CD that delivers visual, multi-layered, emotional Rock with an "epic movie" feel. Perhaps an apparition helped in the mix. The sixth psuedo-bandmate might be a white-sheeted being without feet.

Here's the real group: Brianne Maier (violin), Imwalle (film and video), Joe Maier (bass guitar), Brian Tyree (drums, keys) and Michael Maier (electric guitar). Together, they rock out mood-driven tunes using effects, visual projections and more.

In the late '90s, Imwalle, Joe and Michael Maier played as the trio, Halo, with Imwalle on drums. When Brianne Maier and Tyree joined in 2002, the five became Johnnytwentythree; the name is a reference to a William Burroughs' short story that "focuses on the creative and destructive potential of humanity," Imwalle says. "This dichotomy is reflected in much of our work."

In 2004, J23 recorded Thirty Pieces of Silver, a soundtrack for one of Imwalle's short films.

"We were just starting to explore the use of music and film in terms of the five-piece band we were becoming," he says. "Over the past three years, we've had an opportunity to build on our audio and visual assault."

Joining forces with sound engineer and musician Paul Oldham (works with Indie star/brother Will Oldham), the band recorded JXXII this year, driving listeners on a soothing and intense journey, sometimes furious, sometimes coated with melancholy, other times soaked with joy. Engaging, repetitive riffs lead to startling climaxes, a style reminiscent of The Beta Band or Sigur Ros.

Using visuals, J23 creates a dualistic live performance style and accompanying video is included inside the CD package as well. Imwalle says, "Over time, the images have taken on the role of our 'front person,' something that worked itself out naturally since most of our songs, up to this point, have been instrumental. We do have songs with vocals and if the moment presents itself, we'll write songs with vocals. At this point in time, with this album, there hasn't been any urgency on our part to add them into the mix."

"Red Bird" begins with a militant drum roll, moving into alluring spoken word, guitar and drums, then bursting into orgasmic violin, creating a vast, landscape feel, a pensive adventure that turns stormy. The decision to use Oldham's Rove Studio affected the overall "wide open" feel.

"Paul's studio was a natural choice," Imwalle says. "It's located outside of Louisville in a rural setting. We stayed at an old farmhouse that Paul and his brother grew up in. We'd all heard Palace Music before and certainly Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, so the chance to work with someone like Paul was something we couldn't pass up. It's completely 'us,' and I think that's where we derive the most satisfaction."

Gorgeous and meditative, JXXIII is an intimate journey, maintaining a feel of closeness mixed with a broader emotional pull.

"I don't think we could generate the kind of feeling we do without that bond we all have (with) each other and (with) the subject matter we're delving into," Imwalle explains. "I think the key to our band is how we inspire each other."

Thickly layered with a cinematic sound, the songs have been labeled "epic Post Rock." But Imwalle says, "The films and music co-evolved ... we make triumphant Rock & Roll music. We're epic. Paul Oldham calls it 'breaking the tape' music. It's that moment when a runner first crosses the finish line to break the tape. I think that encapsulates the exhilarating feeling we get from performing and it's certainly what we want to elicit in our audience. Of course there's darkness in our work as well -- but you can't appreciate the light without experiencing the darkness."

Although an artistic, curious aura surrounds this band, in the end, one thing is in-focus and clear -- the music is pleasantly mystifying.



JOHNNYTWENTYTHREE (johnnytwentythree.com) plays The Pour Haus in Louisville Friday and the MidPoint Music Festival (at Ink Tank) on Sept. 28.
 
 
 
 

 

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