Athens, Greece, might be the birthplace of civilization, but Athens, Ga., might be the location of the longest running underground music scene in America.
Since the mid-’70s days of Pylon and the B-52s, college radio-based music has been thriving in Athens – and Ben Hackett couldn’t help but notice. So the New Madrid bassist left Chattanooga to join bandmate vocalist Phil McGill in Athens two years ago.
“We formed this band in 2010, and we were all living far from each other,” Hackett said while calling from Athens. “The smartest thing was to move to one city, and Athens was the place for us. It has had a huge impact on our music. It’s a city that has a real sense of community and musical pride. The live music scene is incredible. You can see a great show every week just by checking out local bands. The music scene has rubbed off on us.”
Indeed. New Madrid’s second album, “Sunswimmer,” which will be showcased Thursday at the opening day of Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh, is one of those unique projects. New Madrid mixes noise rock with rich harmonies, and the album melds the anthemic with the avant-garde.
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“We don’t follow any template,” Hackett said. “We do what we want.”
New Madrid worked with crazy-busy producer David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers), who helped the band come up with “Sunswimmer.”
“David has the right touch,” Hackett said. “He knows how to get the best out of you. He offers suggestions, but the best thing about him is that he lets us be. We ultimately make the call, but it’s good to have him there to ask questions and bounce ideas off.”
New Madrid, which also includes guitarist Graham Powers and drummer Alex Woolley, plans on taking more sonic chances in the future.
“That’s the only way to be,” Hackett said. “You need to be adventurous. That’s the way we are. It’s also the way those are in the Athens community. It’s a place in which you do it yourself. It’s an incredible community of creative risk-takers. If you’re going to be in a band, why chase trends? That’s not what they do in Athens – or in New Madrid.”
So it’s not surprising that Hackett listens to Athens bands in his spare time.
“I love the Athens sound,” Hackett said. “I love bands like the Glands, R.E.M. and so many other acts that have played Athens and are still here. I just saw a great local band here the other night called Muy Bien. They’re a great punk band living in the tradition of Athens bands. We’re trying to do the same thing. We hope to add to the great musical tradition of Athens.”