Photo by Mackenzie Hocutt
If you were in a band when you were in high school, you probably saw your group come apart or fizzle out for any number of different reasons: people moved away; different members had different levels of interest; some of your bandmates were serious about it, some were not; maybe you all realized it required more work than you were likely to invest. Or maybe egos or “creative differences” had something to do with it. The members of the Boone-based band Barefoot Modern have had a slightly different experience. The band was formed in the Triad area, from High Point, Oak Ridge and Jamestown, with members, four at the time, who were all in high school. (Three of the original members all attended an arts high school in High Point together.)
Then they all headed to the mountains, Westward, three of them to Appalachian State University and one to Lees-McRae. Instead of allowing the change of focus, the new settings and the new routines to spell out the end of a youthful creative project, the members of Barefoot Modern have continued to be a band, writing and recording new songs and pushing their music careers to the next phase while maintaining GPAs, attending classes and being college students.
The band just won the Best Alternative Indie Award for their musical submission at the Richmond International Film Festival in April, where they performed at a mixer as a part of the festival. (The band couldn’t stick around for all of the festival events because they had to head back South for their classes.) Barefoot Modern will continue to expand their fanbase deeper into Virginia, performing for the second year in a row at the Celebrate Fairfax! Festival in early June.
I spoke with drummer Caleb LeJeune last week about the band’s formation, their shared interests and what keeps them evolving. It’s been a big year for Barefoot Modern. They released an EP called Bitter at the start of 2019, and they’re working on another one. LeJeune sometimes shares vocal duties with the band’s main singer Tegan Dean. Barefoot Modern’s sound took shape before they relocated to the mountains. They come from a variety of different musical perspectives. Dean and bassist Hunter Evans had a background in country. LeJeune and guitarist/keyboardist Robert Beverly had a taste for ‘90s alternative rock and grunge.
The blend made for an organic mix of that time-honored loud-quiet-loud dynamic sensibility with nicely paired vocal harmonies, a willingness to get abrasive and gritty, but a general tendency to keep things approachable. Their latest recordings have a light dusting of radio-pop soul in the vocals and the production as well. The band’s list of cover tunes tends to reveal their taste for classic too, though they might put a twist on things if the spirit moves them. A version of “Whole Lotta Love” is fairly straight-ahead, while their jaunty take on Nirvana’s “Lithium” drains some of the angst off of the original. Showing a little Boone pride, you can also see a video of Barefoot Modern performing a pleasingly minimal finger-snap-powered cover of “Devil Like Me” by App alumni Rainbow Kitten Surprise.
Barefoot Modern have released their recordings (their full-length debut from last year, Younger Years and the more recent EP) on Boone-based Split Rail Records, which promotes the local music scene there. And while the regional connection is something that means a lot to Barefoot Modern, they’re also on the lookout for ways to bring their music to a more national audience, to find a manager, booking agents, licensing and distribution deals, and all those semi-elusive details that make a music career viable.
LeJeune said Barefoot Modern doesn’t do the cover tunes out of any shortage of their own songs. They’ve got something like 50 originals under their belt, and they keep cranking out more.
That’s a lot of material for a band whose core members are all under 21. (They recently added another guitarist, Joe Karmazyn, making the band a quintet, with the newest member, 23, being the only one of legal drinking age.)
Barefoot Modern has an interesting approach to figuring out who does what on any given song, with music and lyrics generally split, and lead vocal duties sometimes being up for grabs, with different members taking a crack at singing the main vocal to see what works best.
Younger Years had the sound of a band reaching out in different directions, with touches of mellow funk, almost glammy piano flourishes, and somber acoustic rockers.
Part of the reason the band stays so dialed into the writing and recording process is that they figure fans connect with the music primarily through hearing new releases.
“People expect a certain level of engagement,” LeJeune said. “We try to keep up as best we can.”
That means releasing new material every six or eight months, he said. With fans who are also young college students, live shows at 21-and-up venues isn’t always the best way to reach their audience.
“It’s constantly something that we’re grinding at,” said LeJeune of the blend of being students, making music and promoting their work.
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
Barefoot Modern plays Beeson Barn Jam in Kernersville on May 26 at 3 p.m.