Article by Tim McLaughlin, Photography by Hapless Guitar Photography
Among the Compromised
On a dreary December Saturday afternoon in the Fountain Square neighborhood in Indianapolis, I meet up with the three founding members of Among The Compromised — E Kemp, AJ Noblitt, and Jared Wooten for a photoshoot.
It was cold, rainy, windy and our access to the Murphy Art Building was tenuous. E was the first one there and was the polar opposite of how the day was coming along. So while we were waiting for access, E and I were chatting about all manner of things, but it eventually turned to music. I had been following the band since I saw them at Birdy’s Live and was blown away by their performance of “Hint’s Barn.” E could hardly contain her excitement about the upcoming album and I was lucky enough to be invited to a listening event at Electric Roy Studios of the new album. This sophomore release will not be considered a “slump,” as the band, with new bassist Jay Patton, has put together a group of songs that demonstrates a new Among the Compromised. These new songs show a maturity and patience that many bands rarely display after three or four albums.
Among the Compromised
Electric Roy Studios is owned and operated by the band’s guitarist/vocalist AJ, which I believe was a blessing for the band. Too often, a recording can be taken over by a band member that thinks he or she knows how it “should go.” AJ is a very no-nonsense guy and when I’ve been in the studio with him on other recordings, you see it. He asks, what’s the vision, sound and goal of your recording, and when the band is satisfied with the playback, it moves on without further intervention from AJ. When I spoke to him at the band’s listening event, he talked about that approach with ATC. He talked about the over production of music and how his approach is making sure what is on the record can be replicated or improved upon in a live setting. Although with any studio owner, the acquisition of new gear can sometime cause him or her to rethink how a current track could be improved by it.
Fast forward to April. E was kind enough to find time to talk about the band, the album and about herself, so after a little banter we got to it with some hard hitting questions…..
“Who is your favorite member of NSYNC?” Trick question, every one knows it is Joey Fatone!
The first question was, a true softball, “how excited are you for this show?” If I was sitting next to her I can only imagine an ear-to-ear grin to match the laugh she let out. She said, “I am soooooo excited about this record. I’m even more excited about this record than I was for the first one.” In true Indy music fashion, she took time to talk about the entire bill. The release show for “Down,” is set for Friday May 3 at Radio Radio, along with Dell Zell, Juice Dad, Allison Victoria, and a special guest or two.
She has such a connection with the audience, communication with the band, and seems so at ease on stage, I wondered if this was this her first band? She said, “This is my first band in Indianapolis, but I was in an original (funk/soul) band in my home state (Connecticut ) named Our New Edification – ONE.” With a followup comment that I already knew the answer to, “guess who named it?” E said “the band practiced almost every other night” but it appeared nothing came of it. She describes “Milford and West Haven as having almost no music, and certainly nothing like Indianapolis.” E talked about not growing up in a musical family, “I grew up in music when it came to my dad playing piano, but no one around me played instruments.” She went on to say that, “my father inspired me to play music, creating music, and to see how music makes people feel.” I followed by asking if she still played piano or if she uses the piano to write her songs, sadly she does neither.
With Connecticut being so close to New York City I asked if she spent any time there, and of course the answer was YES! When you grow up in the ‘burbs you find ways to get to the big city, and according to E. it goes like this– “30 minutes by car and 40 minutes by train.” Those are the kind of details you get when someone goes there a lot. E. talked affectionately about New York City.
“It was my playground and I hung out in neighborhoods like the The Village (where she first performed) and clubs like The Tunnel and Spirit,” she said. “These were the places where I would go when I started to get into the Rave, House Music, and DJ scene. You can’t really go wrong when you can play hooky from school and hang out in Central Park.”
OK, let’s talk about some of the tracks on “Down.”
E. provided me with four of the 12 tracks on the upcoming album “Down,” and in a word they are great. When I first listened to them I was struck at how different each one sounded from the other — the lyrics, the music, the tempo. I told E. that it felt like each song has its own distinct and unique personality.
The first thing that hit me is the “sultry” tone of the guitar riff. It kind of reminds me of “Hint’s Bar,” but on this track E. is the main vocalist. Like the riff in “Hint’s Barn,” the lyrics are a little risque and very suggestive, “this ain’t your little cookie cutter PG-13 kind of scene.” I am fascinated by how this is so different from anything I’ve ever heard them play, or anything that I’ve heard from anyone in the last few years for that matter. When I listen to this song, I see it as E. whispering the lyrics in someone’s ear causing their eyebrows go up or give them goose bumps. E. describes the lyrics as “my other personality, and is a nod to the sexual arts.” Yup, you heard it “SEXUAL ARTS.”
Like “Skin” this song is unique in the band’s catalogue. The song has quite an emotional range, almost tortured lyrics and the instrumentation is very muted. Although I don’t think I have seen an acoustic guitar at Electric Roy Studio, this song has been performed as a duo with just E and AJ and with the band.
“The song was originally supposed to be really fast,” E said. “But AJ said I just can get it, I want to slow it down. That is what made the song click and it gave me more of a connection to the song.”
E describes “Run” as the most autobiographical song on the record. She sets the felling like this: “I don’t know if I’m right for anyone, you want this person to stay, but at the same time you don’t want to hurt that person, and you feel like in the end you are going to hurt this person.”
By far the longest track on the record, and of the four songs I have is the one that features Jay Payton the most. Jay is the band’s third bass player and E says “hopefully our last.” I was told that Jay had actually come up with the bass hook for the song at practice while he was “noodle scooting.” Jared Wooten gets quite a workout on this track as well. This almost “Pixies” like track goes from quite talking/singing with the bass line to AJ and Jared’s physically exhausting attack on a soaring chorus. The song fades out the same way it started, with Jay Payton’s noodle scooting.
“Dirty Little You”
Dirty is certainly the way it starts. Jay’s “Running With The Devil-esque” bass, Jared’s thumping, and AJ scale-like riff compliment E’s not quite singing/not quite rapping delivery. The lyrics are somewhat dirty, but what makes the song for me is the anthem like chorus “Dirty Little,” with a devilish giggle at the end.
SHOWTIME!!! May’s First Friday at Radio Radio
It was as close to a festival type atmosphere with five different performers, five different genres and a a who’s who of folks on stage and in the crowd.
Allison Victoria smooth Soul and R&B that got the crowd swaying to her voice along with her very talented guitarist. This night also saw a Patrick Collins fronted Dell Zell, and I think with no keys, it was a nice change to an already cool set the band always brings. It was also interesting to see Patrick meander on the stage, which made for an interesting visual.
Juice Dad is yet another project Matthew Corken has put together. TEO was a project with him on either guitar or bass (not at the same time) vocals and is accompanied by Colin Oakley on drums. This time Corken is on guitar (his father’s Fender Stratocaster to be exact), Andrew Roti on bass and Alphonso Gibson Jr. on the mic. This to me, as I say ALL THE TIME, is the reason you see the entire slate of bands. I wish I could accurately describe Juice Dad, but it would ruin your experience. I will say that Corken’s latest projects has put his guitar playing front and center and he is impressive in this setting more than others. The defining moment of that set was the band providing juice boxes. You know…to stay hydrated.
The last performance before Among The Compromised (ATC) took the stage was Manon Voice. Her spoken word set was powerful and was set to music performed by one of the hardest working musicians in Indianapolis, Mr. Brian Barbour on the keys. Then with Manon Voice calling on the members of ATC along with Okara Imani they kicked off one the most anticipated album releases of 2019.
The set consisted of 12 songs, if my memory is correct and featured not only the folks who took the stage to start the show, but included others like Mark Ortwein whose playing on “American Dream” is outstanding. Others joined the band onstage like Person Dan, Brian Barbour and Matthew Corken. I think if the band had it’s way everyone would have been on stage at some point during the set.
If you’ve seen ATC shows in the past, you would still be blown away by their almost reinvention on stage. If you haven’t seen them yet, do yourself a favor and remedy that. I don’t want to say they are a party band, but their shows might be the best time you’ll have with your clothes on. From songs that get you jumping moving and shaking like “Cali Vibes,” to needing to go outside and have a cigarette after AJ and E play the duet version on “Skin.”
I called E after the show and we talked about that night. She was very happy with the bands, and the flow of the show. I was surprised by the answer to the follow up question; “how would you rate your performance?” E felt it was a 9 out of 10, as she felt there is always room for improvement. I felt that was incredibly humble of her after the band’s set, but she was rating herself. I think in times when you put your heart and soul into a project and it is so well received, you can take the victory lap. That’s not E and I really dig that about her.
Among the Compromised newest record “Down” 12 song release, I suspect, will be in your car’s CD player for a very long time, and on loop in your playlists as well. This new record is fearless and that’s what you expect, but rarely get on a second release. EVERY member has reached deep and taken risks that have really paid off. You want to see a band be bold in how they play, how they write, and who they become.