Initially lauded as standouts amongst a pool of grimly labeled "blog bands," Raleigh, North Carolina's Annuals are now relative veterans amongst a continually shifting indie rock landscape. Following a string of EPs, the band released its full-length sophomore album late last year, entitled Such Fun. The album signaled a shift in direction for the Annuals, showing more restraint and concentration compared to the overpowering sound of the band's debut, Be He Me.
Bassist Mike Robinson recently heeded some in preparation for the group's upcoming Minneapolis date. Discussing the band's growth over the past few years, Robinson also expanded on the group's decision to return to a venue they last played in October. The band will kick off a 34-date tour this Tuesday at the Varsity Theater--important then that Robinson also detailed how the group is taking the nation's bleak economic conditions into consideration as the tour rolls out.
This will be the band's second show at the Varsity Theater in the past three months, having played back in October with Minus the Bear. Do you typically make it a habit to return to familiar venues?
Mike Robinson: We do typically try to revisit the places we play, and the Varsity Theater in particular has been very good to us the last year and a half or so as they've let us come back and play more than a couple of times. Easily one of my favorite venues in the US, it's just a very unique and cool place.
What's the first thing that comes to mind from the time spent touring with MTB?
Mike Robinson: MTB left a lasting impression on us for sure—no first thing really comes to mind but that's just because it doesn't feel that long ago and its still a bit blurry. Definitely the most show-packed tour we've done with the amount of dates we played (and show attendance for that matter!)
This time around you'll be joined by Phoenix's What Laura Says and Jessica Lea Mayfield from Kent, Ohio. Have you played with either before?
Mike Robinson: We've played with What Laura Says a handful of times before, and they remain one of our favorite live bands. We've never played with Jessica Lea before but we all think she's great and can't wait to meet her and her band. I definitely think we've achieved a really great balance across the bill for this tour. Both of these acts are sure to bring their own unique energy to the shows and it's hard for me to see things not going extremely well.
What Laura Says released Thinks and Feels through Terpsikhore Records last year, a label that members from the Annuals were influential in launching on a national scale. Has Terpsikhore's focus been primarily on North Carolina bands since first opening as a recording studio back in 2002?
Mike Robinson: We started doing Terpsikhore in high school and never thought moving beyond NC was ever going to be very realistic. But what we've managed to accomplish with Annuals has helped get a lot of people in our circle at home very inspired and working on the label more. We jumped at the chance to work with What Laura Says because we love their music so much and as it would turn out our manager did too! So we've continued to work them and we feel this next tour will be a significant statement as far as Terpsikhore's musical agenda is concerned.
Do you foresee a push for the inclusion of more bands from across the nation (as with WLS) in the future?
Mike Robinson: As far as Terpsikhore reaching beyond the Carolina's again--I'm certain something will come along at some point that will make us seriously consider a move like that. But right now we're very focused on our own scene here in NC.
How much does the current economic uncertainty affect how much you guys have been able to tour and promote last year's Such Fun?
Mike Robinson: We've counted ourselves very lucky to have the support of Canvasback. We have certainly felt the effects of the national and global economic crisis, but there's been uncertainty across the music industry for years now. Everything else seems to finally be catching up in some ways. But it is a bit discomforting sometimes to see how incredibly fast the landscape of the entire music business can change in the 21st century. It gives new meaning to "here today gone tomorrow." We're thankful to be on a label that can still provide support for us and we're sticking to our guns with Terpsikhore in the face of it all as well. Maybe we're naive but we still believe that the music alone can be the path to success.
Everyone will be touring together through March, but have you thought ahead as to what might come after for the Annuals?
Mike Robinson: We're really excited to be holding/playing a Terpsikhore showcase at SXSW this year! That is what we're heading for right now as far as an endcap to our schedule. Beyond that it could be anything at this point--more touring, more recording, more news from the Terpsikhore roster, maybe all of the above? We're going to do whatever we have to do and everything that we want to do as well!
The band has had a few repeat visits to some notable performance spots in the past couple months including Late Night on Conan O'Brien and most recently Spinner's The Interface. Having originally visited each back in 2006 & early 2007—do you find yourself reminiscing on how things have changed? What's your fondest memory stemming from your appearances on Late Night?
Mike Robinson: I'm personally fond of getting to tell Charles Barkley where the men's room was at our last Conan stop. I didn't get a picture or anything but it was a very interesting experience. We always love being thwarted into situations where we meet and see different, completely random celebrities. I think what we notice has changed the most is ourselves, but in the best way. We feel that even though we've been playing together for so many years now, musically we're still growing into something that I can't put my finger on. I personally am still just as inspired and constantly pushed forward by my band as I ever have been, if not much more so.
Though it's most likely far too early start thinking about this, has there been any thought on what sort of songs the band would like to record next? Could another EP be in the works?
It could be another EP or we may just dive headlong into our third album. We took our time between Be He Me and Such Fun, and while we don't know what opportunities may still present themselves, we do know that the next record will be another significant step forward for us as a band. We have completed a new Sunfold EP over our holiday break however, and we plan to have that available digitally via Terpsikhore going into spring 2009.
[This article was first published by City Pages.]