Overseas: “Down Below”

Matt Kadane has known Will Johnson for a long time–so long, in fact, he remembers buying beer for an underage Johnson when the two were young musicians in Dallas. As members of Bedhead and Funland, respectively, they couldn’t seem to get away from one another, despite taking somewhat divergent musical paths. Kadane (along with his brother Bubba) remained a cult-favorite with Bedhead and the follow-up group the New Year; meanwhile, Johnson plied his trade as one of most prolific and consistent songwriters around, fronting Centro-matic and South San Gabriel and collaborating with the likes of Jay Farrar, Jason Molina, and Monsters of Folk. And in the background of all this activity was David Bazan, a Seattle native (and formerly of Pedro the Lion) who admired the Kadanes and Johnson from afar before befriending them independently of one another.

But the event that brought all these intertwined lives together was Vic Chesnutt. The mercurial songwriter was a frequent collaborator with all four of these musicians, and his passing in 2009 prompted Johnson, Bazan, and the Kadanes to get together to pay homage. A recording session resulted, then another and another, and soon the one-off meeting blossomed into a full-length album. Touring commitments and geography meant the four could only work on the songs in fits and starts, but after nearly four years, Overseas is now ready to set sail.

The self-titled debut, out June 11, was a true collaborative process from the start. Each member contributed a wide variety of instruments and ideas to the project, and most of the songs evolved organically out of jam sessions. It’s hard to believe that something as fully-formed and immediate as album highlight “Down Below” could come from this technique. Oftentimes, supergroups like these tend to suffer from having too many cooks in the kitchen. But what the band demonstrates is their uniquely strong bond–one born from years of admiration, assistance, and tragedy–supersedes everything else. Bazan sings, Johnson drums, and the Kadane brothers fill in the melodic gaps–a group of seasoned professionals lighting creative fires and having fun.

–Art Levy

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