Worn Joy, Frostburg’s Favorite Indie Band

Lately, at the forefront of Frostburg’s local music scene, which is comprised mostly of bluegrass and rock with twangy country roots, is Worn Joy, the town’s own live-in indie rock sextet. The band is a mainstay at Dante’s, the local watering hole and music venue where each member has worked in some capacity. Bona fide Frostburgians, its members – Laura Sullivan (cello, vocals and percussion), Josh “Pappy” Miller (acoustic guitar and vocals), brothers Matt and Andrew Combs (on drums and bass, respectively), Todd Gowans (guitar) and Corey Oglesby (guitar and vocals) – all even live in two buildings that face each other on Main Street, and their music may very well be the beating heart of this college town.

The band’s self-titled debut album, which they released at a packed show at Dante’s early in September, seems to be the anthem of the aimless twenty-something demographic. The lyrics are at times poetic and at other times straightforward, but they’re always honest, and they capture the essence of the small yet poignant moments in the everyday lives of young people: in “Riding Off into the Toxic Sunset,” Oglesby sings, “You said let’s leave this place with a look on your face like you were counting the leaves on a tree or like you saw yourself in a knife that was hangin’ on the wall directly behind me. I could never press your elevator buttons for you when you asked me to, never knew which floor you lived on but I guess now I do. I’m the creep in the hall near the garbage fall getting off on the small talk.” Several songs tell a vignette; “Wind,” sung by Miller, matches the energy of picking up and leaving: first, your heart flutters with the restless anticipation of finding something new. Then you’re on the road, running, going anywhere the wind blows you. After the excitement wears off, you’re ambling, aimless, and it’s bittersweet again. “Under My Skin” is a fresh take on the classic love song. And then there’s “Clean,” which Oglesby says is about “people who put on an altruistic front but who are, at their core, lying through their teeth about it.”

The music effortlessly combines all of its many audial components: electric and acoustic guitars; thumping, clashing drums; beautiful, groaning cello; angelic, siren-like wailing; three distinct singing styles – Miller’s are a tad gritty and colloquial, Laura’s are soft, pretty and, at times, crooning, like an upbeat Mazzy Star, and Oglesby’s are quintessentially indie – and more, including some soulful saxophone solos by Tanika Henry. All sounds culminate in an album that is fun, lonely, sweet, inspiring. And there’s no doubt the music is good. The guitar riffs and the choruses are uncomplicated and catchy, and many of the songs, particularly “Some People,” “Under My Skin” and “Moving the Furniture Around,” will be stuck in your head. But you won’t mind.

Given its full, resonant sound, it might come as a shock that the entire album was composed in the living room of the third-floor apartment over Main Street Books, the one Sullivan, Oglesby and an orange cat named Moses share. Fortunately for their neighbors, the process was virtually silent (save for the vocals and some wailing, “which must have sounded strange,” says Sullivan); almost all of it was digital. Some music snobs may look down on recording an album digitally, but the finished product sounds natural and not over-processed. Oglesby says he is “pretty proud of the fact it was recorded in this apartment.” He would have liked to record an analog album, meaning the traditional method of recording by which the sound is recorded directly onto the media, such as a tape, rather than digitally processed. But, given the band’s situation, they had to go with digital.

Regardless, the album turned out great, especially considering they recorded, mixed and mastered it all in the three months from June to late August, 2014. Determined to finish the project and put it out into the world, the band set the album release show for Sept. 6 and advertised it for two months via flyers and Facebook posts, essentially locking themselves into the release date. “We worked ourselves every night on it,” says Matt. “The pressure was definitely on,” adds Oglesby. Matt, who went to Pinnacle College in California for sound engineering, and Oglesby, a mastering novice, put in many 4 a.m. nights tweaking the audio, trying to get it just right, on time. “If it weren’t for Corey and Matt, the CD wouldn’t have been finished on time,” says Andrew.

Worn Joy is the type of band that could really take off if they garnered the fan base and the funds to tour. Touring is their main goal at this point – and “trying to figure out how to book” one, says Sullivan. Her musician friend, Kenny Tompkins, who is from Frostburg and who has achieved a good deal of success in the area, told her that for every venue they reach out to, one might respond and give them a show. Imagine the struggle involved in trying to set up a string of show dates. Then there’s the cost of transportation, food, living arrangements…

So, for now, the band is doing what they can: getting together for practice when they have time between work and other aspects of their pre-settled adult lives, doing shows, and possibly working on an EP.

If you haven’t checked out their music, do so. If you need an idea of what they sound like, think a more refined Modest Mouse mixed with some My Morning Jacket, add some Deer Tick and miscellaneous Appalachian vibes, and you’ll be somewhat close. But Worn Joy has a sound all their own. Search them on YouTube; the first three videos are from their live performances at Dante’s.

Some of their upcoming shows (and you’ll want to see them live, because they’re awesome and will have you dancing even if you don’t dance) are at The Crown in Baltimore on Nov. 3, Moonshadow Cafe in Accident on Feb. 22 and Dante’s in Frostburg on New Year’s Eve.

The album can be purchased from iTunes or Main Street Books for $10.

Visit the band’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wornjoy.

Featured image is from Worn Joy’s Facebook page.

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