Art Notes: Western Terrestrials came home to record new album

Nick Charyk, left, and Chris Billiau are members of the Western Terrestrials, who have a new album out and will be playing this Sunday at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt. They were at the museum on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Nick Charyk, left, and Chris Billiau are members of the Western Terrestrials, who have a new album out and will be playing this Sunday at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt. They were at the museum on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 09-13-2023 6:24 PM

The Western Terrestrials laid down the tracks for the band’s first two records in Nashville. That’s where country and Americana bands go to find the experts in their field.

And those two records, “The Clearlake Conspiracy,” released in 2019, and “Back in the Saddle of a Fever Dream,” which was nearly complete when the coronavirus pandemic sent the band members home to Vermont, have that Music City polish.

For their third record, the band went in a different direction, gathering at Bow Thayer’s home studio in Stockbridge, Vt. The music is similar, the band’s signature brand of classic country filtered through the punk sensibilities of the late 1970s and early ’80s. But the sound is fuzzier, warmer, homier.

“With Bow’s prodding, we played more confidently and comfortably,” Terrestrials frontman Nick Charyk said. They also featured other Vermont musicians, including Thayer, Colin McCaffrey and Asa Brosius (a Vermonter now living in Nashville).

Western Terrestrials will play a preview of their new record, “Working on the Case,” on Sunday at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction. Their set is part of the Rumble at the River, an outdoor concert starting at 3 p.m. and featuring Western Terrestrials and musicians they’ve collaborated with: Thayer, Megan Jean’s Secret Family, The Y Lie, So Sol and Saints and Liars.

A band that mixes honky-tonk music with songs about space aliens would generally have a bent toward world domination. But since moving back home, Charyk and his bandmates — drummer Jared Croteau, bassist Jason Pappas, guitarist Chris Billiau and keyboardist Alex Kelley — have started to put roots down in their native soil. (For example, Charyk grew up in Thetford, graduated from Thetford Academy in 2004 and now lives in Sharon.)

So for their new record, they set out to work with Vermont roots musicians they admire, Charyk said.

Where the Nashville records were made with brisk efficiency, in a couple of days, the sessions at Thayer’s home-built studio unfolded in a more leisurely way, over the course of more than a year. Charyk had visited Thayer to talk to him about being in a movie the band was making in 2020. He saw the studio and it planted a seed, Thayer said.

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“They wanted to do something that was a little more down home,” Thayer said.

Particularly since the pandemic, most music is recorded with individual musicians laying down tracks on their own that are then mixed and engineered into finished songs.

But Thayer’s studio is one big room — “It’s basically in a barn,” he said — so the whole band could assemble and record all at once. The Terrestrials were formed from the ashes of Pariah Beat, a long-lived, Upper Valley- and Boston-based roots band, and the bandmates have played together for so long that they can pick up where they leave off.

“It was kind of a clubhouse atmosphere,” Thayer said. They’d gather for a weekend, bring some beer and have some fun with what they were doing. “They were just able to be a band, and the vibe was there,” he said.

The songs on “Working on the Case” revolve around an unreliable narrator, a detective looking in all the wrong places for why his love life is in ruins. The analogy between criminal justice and the laws of the heart runs deep.

“It’s funny when we’re writing songs,” Charyk said. “You get onto a theme, and you have to roll with it or push it away.”

The record also ranges around American music. While old school country and honky-tonk form the dominant strain, there are filigrees of Sonic Youth-era noise, and one song, “Attempted Murder of a Memory,” starts out with a riff straight out of Motown or Stax.

Charyk said he’s “always liked albums that ramble a bit,” and cited The Clash’s “London Calling” as an example.

His tilt toward The Clash also explains the Terrestrials’ disgust for what one song on the new album calls “corporate country.” That’s another reminder of how far Vermont is from Nashville, physically and, I don’t know, spiritually.

Sunday’s Rumble at the River fits the local spirit Charyk is trying to tap.

“I wanted to find a way to bring it all together,” he said.

The Rumble at the River takes place Sunday starting at 3 p.m., out behind the Main Street Museum, at 58 Bridge St., White River Junction. There’s no set admission price, but a suggested donation of $10 to $20 for the musicians. The Western Terrestrials’ new record comes out in mid-October.

Boots at the door

AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon celebrates the 10th anniversary of The Mudroom, the nonprofit art center’s evenings of storytelling, with a special installment Thursday night at 7.

The Mudroom is a takeoff on The Moth Radio Hour, which features unrehearsed stories told by ordinary people, generally on a theme. AVA encourages people of any age to tell a story under a version of those rules: Under 10 minutes, must be autobiographical and true, unrehearsed (though it’s hard to imagine someone telling in public a story they hadn’t told at least once before), and must be told, not read aloud.

Chief among the storytellers on Sept. 14 is a true pro, stand-up comedian and sex educator Cindy Pierce. The evening’s theme is “The Big Event.” Tickets ($15) are available through avagallery.org or at 603-448-3117, and food from Pon, a Lyme-based caterer, will be available starting at 6:30 for another $15 cash.

To submit a story for future installments, which take place quarterly, call 802-448-2088 and leave your name and email address, and a sketch of your story. You can also email 300 words to mudroom@avagallery.org.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.