When the average music fan thinks of towns where vital music gets made, Blacksburg, Virginia, is probably not top of mind. Although it is better known for Beamer Ball and pit stops along Interstate 81, the mountainous college town has also been home to a group of boundary-defying musicians that blend old-timey string music with avant-garde drone techniques. It is a sound that is equal parts Velvet Underground and Dock Boggs.
Two bands with Blacksburg ties – Pelt and The Black Twig Pickers – are the standard-bearers of this type of music. Each band has enjoyed critical acclaim for its recorded output, and they’re both revered among East Coast underground music heads. The bands also shared an orbit with Jack Rose, a massively influential guitarist whose premature death in 2009 caused a lot of discerning music fans to begin paying attention to this visionary style of music. It goes by many names – freak folk, psych folk, drone folk, New Cosmic Americana, New Weird America – but to name it is not the point. It is simply some of the best music in the US today, regardless of what you call it.
Banjo-player Nathan Bowles is a progenitor of this sound. As a member of both Pelt and The Black Twig Pickers, he has played a key role in widening its appeal. Somewhere along the way he caught Steve Gunn’s attention and began playing drums and keyboards in his band. Kurt Vile is a fan as well.
Nathan will be bringing his banjo alchemy to Charlotte this week for an intimate living room set at Recover Brands. We caught up with him over email beforehand to gain some insight into the way he approaches this singular music.