Since moving down to New Orleans recently from small-town Ruston in Northern Louisiana (same town that gave us Neutral Milk Hotel), the members of Giant Cloud have tried to embrace the collective energy of the far more metropolitan big city hub. Not necessarily the first bunch of much-bearded, mild-mannered, old souled musical gypsy types that you'd expect to cozy up to a city's utter fixation with its professional football team, but with complete ease and respect of regional and American traditions, the young quintet broke out a 12 pack of budget beer, embraced Louisiana peasant food with a communal pot of jambalaya, and talked through details of their first bio -- all while watching the local football team's quest to extend its perfect record to 9-0 on an otherwise lazy Sunday afternoon."
The band formed officially into Giant Cloud in their own Summer of Love, 2008 while on a vagabond voyage Westward in a packed Ford Windstar, affectionately deemed 'Windy', from Ruston and back again. Now making a name in their new home of New Orleans, teamed up with their newly forged local label alliance, Park The Van Records, the band preps to circle the country and beyond with aspirations of prolific music making. Living all together in a single shotgun house, the group is made up of Benjamin Jones (guitar, co-lead vocals), Julie Odell (Rhodes, co-lead vocals), Preston Whittenburg (guitar, vocals), Trey Stephens (bass) and Anton Overby (drums).
Giant Cloud's debut EP, entitled Old Books, sees the light of day in early 2010. Explaining the process of writing these songs and the subsequently selected title, Odell explains, "our environment we've created, our home, it's filled with things that are worn and historical and I think it kind of helps with writing, that whole environment created to be creative in." Jones adds, "Every time I hear someone refer to the '80s, I wish in my mind it was the 1880s." They wander into thoughts and stories of mason jars filled with Grandma's preserved figs, wrap-around porches, bourbon, fried chicken, cornbread, flowing oaks, Spanish moss. Of the five band members the oldest one is 22 years old. Yearning for the 1880's and penning songs like "Old Soul", there is depth of spirit not often found in a group of friends just off the back end of their teen years.
The song "Old Soul" starts out: Let go of your old thoughts / We've got some new thoughts / But hold on to the old souls / You've kept inside of your mind. Throughout the songs they ponder the universal concepts of Life, Death, God and Love. While on one hand, showing a natural connection to so many songwriters from every region of the world and an allegiance to the legends of storytelling, Giant Cloud embraces being steeped in southern tradition and preservation. Not all that clichéd negative connotation hooey southerners are painted with, but more of being mostly lost, lazily and lovingly, in time and tales. Though, not without an urge to break down the doors of the big city and rouse some ears in an unforeseen loud-quiet-loud musical workout.
Much like the adjoined fluidity of their set or the harmony of creaky sounds in the shotgun house they share, when the band tells stories, it's not easy to keep up with who's saying what, finishing each other's descriptions, collaborating on anecdotes of shared experiences. Not to mention, Summer of 2009 saw the wedding of co-leads Jones and Odell, further cementing the deeply woven connection, and one apparent in the richness of their songs.
In seemingly one voice, the entire collective eschews the virtues of their brand of southern pride. "It's kind of intense how dense it is in culture, especially in Louisiana. Still country roads, woods for miles and miles, still simple things in life and those simple things seem to be more appreciated. Our state seems to be 20 years behind the rest of the country. Once you realize how creative you have to be without as much access, it really creates a lot of opportunity to do very creative things. How easy it is to live in a really old house. It's the caboose of all the states. It's just behind and doesn't really care to catch up. Very laid back and slow paced. And people here aren't trying to do the next big thing. It's more of a preservation than moving forward.
"The band glows in claiming some heir to Ruston's other musical legacy, the Elephant 6 collective, including the fellow locally grown Neutral Milk Hotel, Robert Schneider (Apples in Stereo), and Bill Doss and Will Hart (Olivia Tremor Control). Giant Cloud takes pride in their hometown's musical claim to fame and hope to make their predecessors proud. "That's the one legacy of Ruston we really care about," they explain. "Other than some of our parents and maybe Terry Bradshaw and Karl Malone." Jones continues, "I had listened to Neutral Milk Hotel for about 2 years before I ever knew they were from Ruston. We ended up finding ourselves doing the same thing, playing in our houses for people and trying to somehow live up to part of their early Ruston legacy. We were taking it to the next level, actually trying to grow a music scene in Ruston and not just deserting it."
These thoughts lead them into a reflection of their current position, signed to Park The Van Records, about to release their first EP, and already a few shows under their belts with fellow PTV bands. "The communal nature of the bands on the label and the idea that it's more of a family than just a bunch of bands operating under the same title reminds us a lot of Elephant 6. We look forward to collaborating more with all the bands on the label." In fact, the band is preparing for their first full length record to be engineered by Bill Moriarty in Dr. Dog's Philadelphia studio and produced by Rick Flom of National Eye. Both Dr. Dog and National Eye are "first generation" PTV bands and Philly served as the label's home for a few years after being run out of town by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.