By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
The Arcade Fire aren't the only quasi-religious utopians who can record in a church. Here in Carroll Gardens, Kyle Fischer recorded much of former bandmate Caithlin De Marrais's nostalgic, charming solo debut, My Magic City, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Since Fischer, who will start a master's program at Union Theological Seminary this fall, is a member of this grand, fire-scarred house of worship, they gave him the keys and let De Marrais use the piano. "This place is the opposite of a recording studio—it's echoey, and there's not really any power," Fischer says, pointing to a small switchplate on the floor currently powering the lectern light. "Those are the only two outlets we could use."
Fischer, De Marrais, and William Kuehn—now the drummer for French indie-poppers the Teenagers—are alums of the beloved, atmospheric indie trio Rainer Maria, who disbanded in late 2006 after five albums. Fischer and De Marrais have gone on to help found a record label called End Up, which put out Fischer's earnest, crushing debut, Black Milk, is scheduled to release My Magic City in October, and boasts the oversized, theatrical band they're both affiliated with: Balthrop, Alabama.
"We're trying not to call it a 'label,' " corrects De Marrais, who was recently certified as a yoga instructor. She prefers "an artistic enterprise as interested in community organizing and nonprofit work as selling records."
Most of the End Up and Balthrop folks live in the South Brooklyn neighborhood of BoCoCa (that would be "Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens"—and yes, you are required to spit on the ground after saying it). HQ is Fall Café, the Smith Street coffee shop: "They're all here all the time," says owner Henry Byron, a former Las Vegas session drummer with an affinity for breathless lefty diatribes. Over coffee and breakfast sandwiches called "The Dave," the End Uppers plot their bar-trivia nights, as well as concerts to benefit Indian hospitals and albums to support families with AIDS in Connecticut.
They also plan their elaborate Balthrop, Alabama shows, which feature the 10 or so members dressed as the aw-shucks residents of a fictional Southern town. Started by siblings Pascal and Lauren Balthrop (natives of Mobile, Alabama), the group's elaborate stage show features the tenor-sax player dressed as the milkman, the lead singer as a rabbit farmer, and the bass player as the town drunk. Fischer, who plays lap-steel guitar dressed as the stereo salesman, helped produce the band's 2007 double LP, Your Big Plans & Our Little Town, which combines breezy, melody-driven pop with (a bit too much) Neutral Milk Hotel–style existential wailing. He has also produced "nautical-themed ukulele love songs" for singer/songwriter Michael Leviton, as well as Scary Mansion's debut, Every Joke Is Half the Truth, and, of course, Black Milk, which at one point he shopped to the labels, though "the world wasn't exactly waiting for another Kyle Fischer album," he says. Nor does he plan to promote it through many solo shows: "That would be sending the wrong message out into the universe about my future plans." The correct message would be that Fischer is focused on community building, bridging the gap between religions, and "bringing music into social-service situations."
So much caffeinated collectivist energy, so little time.
"My dream is that whenever something comes up in our lives that we want to interact with—political, artistic, personal—we can engage it through this business we've set up," says De Marrais. "Maybe I can incorporate yoga somehow?"
Balthrop, Alabama play with Caithlin De Marrais, Benji Cossa, and Rocketship Park August 27 at the Mercury Lounge