Photos by Justin Fox Burks
In late March at Austin, Texas’ enormous South By Southwest Music Festival, plenty of Memphis artists were showcasing their sounds. But two of the more interesting, and newest, Memphis-connected music-makers at the fest — Apex Manor and Bosco Delrey — were more tangentially connected to the city’s scene.
The rock band Apex Manor is the brainchild of Memphis native Ross Flournoy, who was returning after the breakup of his fine previous band, the Broken West.
Flournoy was born and raised in Memphis, but his family moved to California when he was 11. When Flournoy was in college, at Amherst in Massachusetts, his family returned to Memphis. And though Flournoy is currently California-based, Memphis is “home” again — where he comes for holidays to visit parents and a grandmother in East Memphis.
The Broken West was a bright, winningly melodic band. Apex Manor, which debuted early this year with the album The Year of Magical Drinking, for the venerable North Carolina indie label Merge Records (home of Grammy winners Arcade Fire), scales back a little from the previous band’s power-pop sound and adds a little more classic-rock muscle.
“[The Broken West] made those two records and weren’t really making a lot of money. That burned everyone out a bit,” Flournoy says after his SXSW showcase, slipping out to the club’s back alley for a little respite from the noise. “But I knew I still wanted to keep writing. I made demos and sent them to Merge [which had released both Broken West albums] and they liked them.”
Assembling a new band that also includes Broken West bassist Brian Whelan, now on guitar, Flournoy tweaked his sound. “I grew up listening to classic rock,” he says. “I sort of wanted to rock out without any preciousness.”
At the Austin club called The Parish, Flournoy and his band were really strong, opening with the rave-up “Teenage Blood” before moving into the hooky “Under the Gun” and generally bringing their debut album’s impressive combination of melody and power to even greater life.
The next night, one-man-band BoscoDelrey showcased at Friend’s on 6th Street as one of the few rock acts for his label Mad Decent, an imprint run by Philadelphia DJ/producer Diplo (best known for his work with musician M.I.A.). Delrey was listed in the festival guide as a Memphis artist, but, like a lot of young musicians ditching their day jobs for the touring life, is probably closer to itinerant.
“I can fit all of my worldly possessions in a two-door car,” Delrey says, ducking around the corner from the club a couple of hours before his gig. “But I feel most at home in Memphis.”
A New Jersey native, Delrey was an aspiring musician in New York when he met up with some relocated Memphians. He ended up moving south, touring with locals the Magic Kids and recording part of his debut album, Everybody Wah, locally with producer Doug Easley. The video for his recent single “Space Junky” was shot at the South Main bar Earnestine & Hazel’s.
A bit of Memphis can be found in Delrey’s music too, his affinity for rockabilly coming through in sound and visual style but mixed up with glam-rock, electronic dance music, Sixties pop, and other influences.
“It comes from what I was hearing while writing those songs in Brooklyn,” Delrey says of his album’s eclectic sound, though he does acknowledge a childhood Elvis fixation. “I was living in this apartment with thin walls, hearing music from neighbors, coming out of bars, what my friends were playing. I don’t try to do just one thing.”
For his showcase, Delrey performed solo, playing guitar over remixed backing tracks and singing through a slightly distorted microphone, Diplo watching appreciatively from the side of the small stage.
But however much his label benefactor may be a fan, Delrey’s debut has been in flux for a while. Recorded last summer, it’s been pushed back several times. The most recently announced release date was March 29th, but that got delayed, and in Austin Delrey says he was hoping for a late April release.
“They want to make sure the audience is there for it,” says Delrey, who was leaving Austin for a Mad Decent event in Miami and then going on a brief tour with buzzy New York band Sleigh Bells.
“Waiting for someone else to put out your music is a strain,” Delrey says with exasperation. “If it doesn’t finally come out [soon], I quit.”The label? Music itself?
“Everything,” he says, throwing his hands up, but smiling.