Opening acts, especially the locally-brewed variety, seldom get begged for encores. But a few days into the new decade, on-the-rise Bay area group Alexander and The Grapes earned lengthy applause and hearty shouts for more after their support set for Gainesville art-rockers Clock Hands Strangle came to an end.
What makes it even more intriguing is that no one in Alexander and The Grapes was older than 21 at the time.
I spoke with the foursome a little while back in the cramped rehearsal space/bedroom of lead singer/guitarist Alexander Charos at his parents' home in suburban Dunedin.
The Grapes produce melodic alt-country in the vein of artists like Micah P. Hinson, Lambchop and Wilco, the sort that calls to mind scuffed cowboy boots and dusty Southern barrooms. For interested new listeners, Grapes members tend to use Wilco as reference. And sometimes, even Wilco draws a blank. "The conversation for me will go, 'Hey, how does your band sound?'" bassist Tom Dicks explained. "And I'll say, 'Have you heard of Wilco?' And they'll say, 'No.' and I'll say, 'Nevermind.'"
However, for those who have heard of Wilco, there's no denying the similarities between the alt-country megastars and the emerging Dunedin four-piece. They both make innovative yet accessible downhome-flavored rock music that fits in with people who enjoy a bit of Southern Comfort in their indie latte. Yet, it'd be hard to find a person who hasn't heard of another, more popular group the band appreciates and is influenced by: The Beatles. The band's 17-year-old drummer, Philip Charos, sees a resemblance in terms of their song structure.
"A lot of the Beatles songs have memorable melodies and I think Alexander tries to write — or doesn't try to write, but it ends up that way — a memorable melody," said Philip, younger brother to Alexander. The siblings live under the same roof, which makes sharing creative ideas easier, and though the two generally get along, they diverge in their musical tastes. The younger Charos leans more toward jazz and classical while Alexander is drawn to straighforward rock 'n' roll. They both like the Beatles, however, and so does the rest of the group.
Though two of the four members claim George Harrison as their favorite, Pete Best (the guy who came before Ringo) is likely pretty high on their list as well. Early in the history of the Grapes, they opened for the former Fab Four musician. The support gig was arranged by Charos' dad while he was working at Clearwater's Royalty Theatre (now the Capitol Theatre).
Alexander and the Grapes have also been likened to Coldplay (you can hear the Grapes' respect for melody, but they don't have that Chris Martin wussiness), Vampire Weekend (I suppose, technically, the Grapes purvey college rock, since two members are in college, but I don't hear the Afrobeat), and even introspective indie singer-songwriter David Bazan, former frontman for Pedro The Lion. "I think people just say that because I have a beard," said a smiling Alexander.
The band has two shows on the horizon: one at New World this Saturday, the other opening for Lovedrug at Crowbar on June 13. Both should generate a nice healthy buzz in anticipation of the Grapes' studio debut, which the band plans to release sometime this summer. Check them out. Who knows — you just might find yourself demanding an encore.