Featured Music: Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Go tell it on the mountain: Mount Righteous.
Mount Righteous
Sat at the Plano Balloon Festival in Oak Point Park, 2801 E Spring Creek Pkwy, Plano. $5. 972-867-7566.
High Times

The sky’s the limit for the all-acoustic neo-marching band Mount Righteous.


It takes a close listen to When the Music Starts, Mount Righteous’ debut CD, to realize that the 10 members aren’t yanking your chain. In vain, you may search for some satirical angle, hidden agenda, or ironic take to explain the feverish handclaps, helium-happy choir vocals, and dizzying bursts of trombone, snare drum, and accordion. With its smattering of world rhythms, free-associative lyrics, and layered boy-girl chants, the band sounds like nothing less than a precocious acoustic version of the Tom Tom Club. The listener can relax when he or she realizes that ear candy is all that’s being peddled here.
Co-songwriter Justin Spike, who also contributes guitar, accordion, and vocals, confirms a similar response at live shows. “If people haven’t heard us before, they sort of stop in their tracks,” the 23-year-old said. “They get this perplexed smile on their face. Then they finally realize that it’s OK to enjoy themselves.”
The band’s 10 core members, who range in age from 19 to 25, may be unabashed merrymakers, but they’re adamant that their combined musicianship is no mere novelty act. It was forged via multiple associations that began in Grapevine High School and Colleyville Heritage High School, where the members met and formed an extended friendship circle. Most of them were already practicing musicians in some capacity, playing in school marching bands or in raggedy punk outfits inspired by the likes of Black Flag and Fugazi. You have to drag the names of Mount Righteous’ musical influences reluctantly out of Spike.
“We don’t talk a lot about the music we listen to, because people say we usually don’t sound like that music,” he said. “But we’ve always been influenced by a combination of extremes, of really raucous stuff and really poppy stuff. Just like some people say Fugazi is punk, but they’re not, exactly, because they have melodies and song structures.”
Early last year, singer-bell-ringer-melodica player Joey Kendall came up with a way to combine circle members’ individual tastes. The ground rules were simple: The sound would be all acoustic, everyone would contribute a vocal part, and everyone would play whatever instruments he or she loved the most. Thus Mount Righteous — “a grandiose-sounding name for a grandiose band,” said Spike — was born in all of its millennial, neo-marching-band glory.
Though there are 10 pairs of hands stirring the proverbial pot, the songwriting process is not as chaotic as it might seem. There are six chief songwriters who pen their tunes with all 10 members in mind. The bandmates gather for rehearsals twice a week in the living room of a Grapevine home, where all of the furniture is moved out to utilize the acoustics of the hardwood floors. Through practice, rough arrangements are polished into gems. It helps that all of the members have been friends since they were kids — a lot of formal explanation isn’t necessary.
The material for When the Music Starts, which was released earlier this year, was so thoroughly finalized that the band needed only two days in a Dallas studio with producer John Congleton (the pAper chAse, Polyphonic Spree): the first day to record instrumental parts, the second to lay down vocal tracks and ambient flourishes. As soon as the album was mastered and the CD printed, the band rented a 15-seat touring bus and rolled through 15 shows in 13 days, including dates at clubs, house parties, and festivals across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Kansas. A few times before shows, the group set up unscheduled practice sessions in parks and parking lots, at a street parade, and in the desert outside Tucson. Love it or hate it, the Mount Righteous sound can be recreated anywhere.
“However light-hearted the music may be, we’re all completely serious about the band,” Spike said. “We aren’t dedicated to a formula of ‘shiny, happy’ music forever. It depends on where our growth as artists takes us. One of the reasons we don’t play clubs every weekend [in North Texas] is that we don’t want to get inside people’s heads and make them sick of us. If we go national, we don’t want to be the Grapevine band that made a blip on the radar and then came back down.”
To that end, Mount Righteous is planning a two-week winter tour across several more states in another rented 15-seater. Spike and Kendall are writing new songs for those live shows and for an upcoming sophomore CD. Before they hit the road again, they’ll play some local gigs custom-designed for the band’s sprawling, impromptu happy-making machine. This weekend, for instance, they’ll unpack their instruments for a show at the Plano Balloon Festival, an event that features enormous hot-air conveyances as weird and colorful as the band’s sound. Spike indulges in a fantasy of just how far he can push the band’s “anytime, anywhere” ethos.
“We’re a band that thrives in a festival setting,” he said, and if it were up to him, “We’d be playing a floating Mount Righteous show in a hot-air balloon.”

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