After a decade of touring, recording and releasing music, Athens’ Futurebirds continue to hone their unique blend of cosmic alt-country.
Futurebirds return to Savannah for a June 28 show at B&D Burgers on Congress Street, the first concert in the local burger chain’s summer concert series. They last played locally in 2016 at Savannah Stopover Music Festival.
The Hostess City is, ostensibly, a second home for the band. Bassist Brannen Miles is a Savannah native and guitarist/vocalist Daniel Womack lives in Savannah.
Born in Athens in 2008, Futurebirds began as a collection of singer/songwriters converging as their other bands were coming to an end.
Most of the original lineup, and the core group, had known or worked with each other prior to forming the band. Guitarist/vocalist Thomas Johnson, guitarist/vocalist Carter King and Miles all interned at the infamous Chase Park Transduction studio, where R.E.M., Drive-By Truckers, Bright Eyes, Deerhunter and many more put down classic albums. The band has since recorded there as well. King also played in other bands with both Womack and Johnson prior to Futurebirds.
As individual songwriters, the group has organically developed a chemistry aligned around both their individuality and collective instinct. They released their self-titled debut EP in 2009, followed by a full-length in 2010, “Hampton’s Lullaby." Those first two releases consisted mostly of songs that Johnson, King and Womack — who all play guitar and share both lead and backup vocals — had written on their own.
Futurebirds garnered critical acclaim around their second album, “Baba Yaga,” which was released in 2013 on Fat Possum Records (The Black Keys, Townes Van Zandt, R.L. Burnside, Al Green, Andrew Bird, Dinosaur Jr., Band of Horses). It was the first album in which the band wrote as a unit.
“We still write individually,” Johnson said. “We’ll finish a song, or get close to finishing it, and bring it to the band. It changes some. People are writing their own parts, for the most part. Sometimes, you have an idea of what you want someone else to play; sometimes you don’t.
“It’s kind of nice not having to carry the burden of having to write all of the songs in a band. Also it kind of works for the flow. You’ll teach somebody one of your songs, and then I’ll teach one of mine, and Carter will do one of his, and Daniel will do one of his and keeps everybody fresh, so you’re not sitting there doing the same thing all the time.
“For us, the cream rises to the top. If everyone is not feeling a song, we’ll slide it back. We don’t talk a lot about it. It’s just obvious. It’s just, OK, well maybe next time, or I need to finish this more.”
Despite originating from different writers in the band, the Futurebirds sound has remained consistent throughout their releases, if only tightening in on the arrangements, which stems from their comfort level with each other.
“It is kind of crazy,” Johnson said. “It’s the way we’ve always done it. We just know each other very well. We kind of all have our own tendencies. If we try to break free of that stuff, or try to expand, we end up going for the same thing, or at least understanding where someone wants to go with a song and what we need to do with it. And how we can put our mark on it.”
Currently, Futurebirds have almost finished their fourth studio album. For years, the band has broken the rigor of a heavy touring schedule with recording while on the road. If a new song is completed, and the band finds themselves with a few days off in a city, they’ll find a studio to get the track down in. The next album is nigh complete, with only mixing and mastering left to go.
They’re in a bit of transition with members as well, as drummer Johnny Lundock made an amicable split earlier this year. Lundock is returning to his Colorado home to be closer to his family. The band did a special farewell tour this year, and are looking to fill that spot permanently ahead of an extended tour out west this summer in support of two EPs they released in 2016 and 2017, “Portico I” and “Portico II.”
"It was bittersweet,” Johnson said of Lundock. “He’s a great guy.”
The multiple songwriting core naturally breeds a highly prolific group, which works in their favor.
“We end up with a lot of material,” Johnson said. “We continually release stuff. Which is ideally what we want to be doing, is constantly recording, releasing and touring. It all engages different parts of the drive of the brain. It’s important to have all of it. Touring is awesome, but you have to have the time to write and the time to sit down and record and get into that brain space, too.”