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gogoPilot goes pop 

Jeff Williams returns to guitar rock roots on new album

"I always thought bombing the Grammys would be a good idea," laughs gogoPilot's Jeff Williams, "but the problem is, right behind those assholes is a new level of assholes that are probably even worse."

For the humor-impaired, the 41-year-old veteran of the Charlotte music scene makes music, not Grammy bombs, in his home studio. But on the eve of his band's CD release party this Saturday, July 21, at The Evening Muse, Williams' expectations for Mañana, Mon Frère, gogoPilot's first full-length, are tempered by years spent in the local music trenches.

Williams cut his teeth in the early 1990s playing with Cellophane and Iodine, and the latter morphed into Lodestar, his longest running gig, in the mid-90s. It was during that era when Williams got to experience the music business' ugly side up close and personal.

"There was a period from '94 to '98 where people were kind of brutal to each other," he says of the local scene. "Everybody was out on the road trying to kill it to try and get signed, and it just got kind of catty. There was a lot of shit-talking and backstabbing. The mentality of the bands was like gangs -- us against them. And that's one great thing about Charlotte now, everybody's playing with different people and the scene's more fertile because of it."

Williams' latest band was a product of that cross-pollination. After Lodestar imploded, Williams formed gogoPilot from the ashes in 2003. The band's 2005 six-song maxi-EP, Armageddon Lullabies, featured a seven-piece collective and eclectic instrumentation like violin, cello, accordion and lap steel. Fueled in part by the disappointing '04 elections and the tortuous reign of George Bush, Williams' songs were outlets for his political angst.

But these days, Williams is just as content grinding the coping at the local skate-park as he is grinding out guitar chords. After 20 years concentrating on music, he picked up his skateboard two years ago and now rides five days a week if time allows. It's all about balance, he says, and he's not just talking about staying on the board.

"It's great to have a physical outlet, just tearing it up for a couple hours every day," he says. "I've been in bands and listening to live music from the time I was 15 to the age of 36. And you get to the point, surely there's something else."

If skate-boarding's proven to be a fountain of youth for Williams, the new album's songs are a return to his guitar pop roots. His band's been trimmed down to a four-piece comprised of Williams, Chris Ravenscroft (guitar), Matt Mangum (bass) and Tom Stanfel (drums). The stripped-down arrangements suit Mañana's hook-happy songs, an infectious mix of guitar pop, twang and indie rock with touchstones running the gamut from Elvis Costello and the Jam to Wilco and the New Pornographers.

The narratives may be less overtly political, but there's still plenty of Williams' trademark biting satire in unflinching songs about divorce, familial alcoholism, evolution, salvation and, unsurprisingly, the stupid side of rock & roll. Song-of-the-year candidate "Young Dumb Narcissus" takes on wannabe rock stars trying to hoodwink their way into the spotlight: "I'm a half-ass poet running full-speed down a dead-end road/I'm just some nobody who plays a guitar/Writes down generalities and clichés/And hopes you're dumb enough to buy it."

"I don't worry any more about whether a record I make fits in with what anybody's listening to," says Williams, "I do it now because I enjoy it. If I make a record, and one person likes it, or likes even one song, then I win. It's just one thing that I like to do; it's an outlet that helps keep me sane."

ODDS 'N' SODS: The Charlotte Music Awards hosts an Americana Showcase at Puckett's Farm Equipment on Saturday, July 28, starting at 8 p.m. Admission is $10, and will feature performances by the Bill Noonan Band, Mama Said, Low Willie and South 85. Showcases are hosted at different venues across a variety of genres, all leading up to the CMA's annual Awards Ceremony, the first of which will be held on Sept. 6 of this year at Ovens Auditorium ... The CMA's also named Georgetown, S.C.'s Laurel Ladsen winner of its inaugural songwriting contest. Ladsen's song, "True to the Game," will be submitted for possible inclusion on the next record by soul legends The Spinners ... Chapter 11 in Deep Elm's on-going compilation series The Emo Diaries is due out this fall, and will feature unreleased songs from, among others: Above Them (Pontefract, England), This Drama (Tenerife, Spain), While You Were Gone (Houston, Texas), The Crash Engine (Portland, Ore.), Young Hearts (Brooklyn, N.Y.), The City Beautiful (Rochussenstraat, Switzerland) and Panel (Cardiff, Wales). Songs were selected from over 1,200 submissions.

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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