By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
Some weeks ago, Modified owner and The Half Visconte front man Scott Tennent fired off a fax to Bash & Pop. Along with an announcement of upcoming concert dates for his downtown club, the mild-mannered singer/songwriter also jotted down his group's summer itinerary. There was none of the usual, "Hey, we'll be playing in March, then recording in April, and we hope to be signed by May!" promotional hype in which so many bands engage. This schedule was refreshing, and more than a tad surprising:
Tour in June.
Record in July.
Tour in August.
Break up in September.
Release album in October.
Few bands, even those who number themselves among local esoterics, would consider such a strange career arc. But there's always been something rather out-of-the-ordinary about this indie quartet. Whether it's their unconventional "pop" songs, the ones that frequently run 20-plus minutes, or the band's mercurial, almost jazzlike sense of improvisation, The Half Visconte has never been conventional.
Emerging from the ashes of the disturbingly monikered Manchowder, The Half Visconte -- front man Tennent, guitarist Rich Minardi, bassist Ben Taylor and drummer Dan Sylvester -- formed just over two years ago. Since then, the group has become a staple within the local indie rock community, just as Tennent and his Modified performance space have blossomed into a haven for local and national artists of all kinds.
This week, the band is expanding its modest discography (one that also includes a 1999 self-titled EP) through the release of a split seven-inch with Death of Marat. The single will be pressed on Tennent's own label, This Argonaut. In August, the imprint will also issue a compilation of Modified bands titled Not One Light Red and featuring tracks from Go Big Casino, Reuben's Accomplice and 5 Speed, among others.
The band's impending breakup is due to the planned departures of the group's rhythm players, Sylvester and Taylor, both of whom will relocate to the Chicago area in the fall. Tennent never considered continuing the band or replacing members. "No, no, nothing like that," he says emphatically. "It's really not that kind of band. Instead of dragging it out or keep it going, we're just going to end it."
But before calling it quits, the band will take on a whirlwind schedule, starting with a pair of national tours. The first, slated to begin in late June, will take the band through Texas and to the Midwest, ending with a series of Windy City performances. The group will then head back out on the road in August for a West Coast jaunt that will culminate with its local swan song.
Between road efforts, The Half Visconte will go into Living Head Studios to record its second and final disc, a proposed full-length affair. Producer Mike Hissong (who along with Clay Holley produced The Half Visconte's debut, as well as efforts from Chula and Suicide Nation) will once again man the board.
Although the group has only five songs ready to record, Tennent is confident that the album will not be lacking. "Regardless of the number of songs, it will still be a pretty good length, I'm sure," says Tennent with a chuckle, obviously alluding to the band's four-song EP, which clocked in at a very un-EP-like 40 minutes.
"The big thing with us is that we like to keep things loose, so we have several songs where there's a lot of open-endedness. I hate to use the term "jam band' because it makes us sound like we're the Grateful Dead or something. But definitely, there's a lot of improv happening. Since we play off each other, a lot of our songs tend to become pretty long because we don't know how to end them.
"We have some shorter songs, though," he adds. "The one that's on the new seven-inch ["Racked and Martyred"] is only two and half minutes long, which is kind of shocking for us."
As he noted in his fax, the disc won't be in stores until October, more than a month after the band plans to call it quits. "It's obviously kind of a weird scenario. But the guys are leaving and it will take a while to get everything together, so we just decided to . . . uh, put it out posthumously, I guess."
In the meantime, Tennent plans to continue performing his solo acoustic sets as well as playing with Sylvester in a loose-knit side project called All The Queen's Men. "I'm really into bands and projects that don't require too much time," says Tennent, laughing. "Basically [All The Queen's Men] is just me and Dan. The rest of the band is a revolving membership of whoever we can get to play."
Sylvester, a talented jazz drummer, recruits players similarly steeped in the genre, creating an amorphous and totally improvisational free-form quartet. "We just go out there and blow everything out for like a half-hour," notes Tennent. "I mean, I don't play jazz. I just get a shitload of feedback and make weird walls of sound. Since we don't rehearse, or even have a set lineup, it's all completely made up on the spot."