Talk with Eric Margan, the 21-year-old brainchild behind The Red Lions, and he might talk about how he’s flattered when his work is characterized as a sort of contemporary chamber music — a thoughtfully arranged amalgam of sounds that happens to be fit for a rock club.
He’ll talk about how he writes out the sheet music for the rest of The Red Lions, but dismisses the notion that this approach is high-brow, saying it’s merely the most efficient way to get the band to learn a song. And he’ll talk about how his guitar belongs in a spot not typical when considering the recent history of popular music.
“I never wanted the guitar to be the backbone,” Margan says during an interview last week at a coffeehouse in Albany, just down the street from The College of Saint Rose, where he studied music. “I wanted it to have an orchestral sound. And I wanted to emphasize the song, not one instrument. . . . The guitar is just harmonic support.”
Serving the song
The same goes for the rest of the instruments in a band that departs from the typical bass, drums, guitar lineup, a band that incorporates flute, violin and clarinet. And Margan will talk about how this instrumentation is meant to serve the song. That is, the song doesn’t exist to serve the instrumentation.
This is just another element of Margan and his Red Lions that departs from the ordinary. With a sound that infuses elements of indie rock, jazz, classical and folk, The Red Lions are a shifting lineup of players behind Margan’s songs. But in its short time on the greater Capital Region music scene, the band has evolved into a core group: drummer Jimmy Felter, bassist Scott Kellerhouse, violinist/violist Kelly Diehl, flutist Laura Carrozza and clarinetist/pianist Ernie Casile.
Margan started writing for this band only 18 months ago, before he even put the Red Lions together. While he has performed this music solo with guitar, he was ultimately struck with the desire to play it live the way he had always intended it. In stepped the Red Lions.
The band has not been around a year and is still at work on a debut album due out this summer or fall. But already, The Red Lions have gotten some attention. Margan and company are picking up more gigs, including a show with The Lonely H Thursday at Valentine’s in Albany, and a pair of dates opening for the Benevento-Russo Duo in Ithaca and Syracuse. Next month, they’ll play notable Manhattan venue The Living Room.
Redemption via music
Margan, meanwhile, grew up in the Columbia County town of Kinderhook, to which he returned after his days at Saint Rose. He started playing the flute at age 10, focusing on classical music. He said he picked up the flute because as a very young child he was a “troublemaker” and wanted to turn over a new leaf. The young Margan saw the flute as a way to redeem and reform himself.
Did it work?
“Yeah, I think so,” he said smiling, “and it helped me meet some girls, too.”
Since then, he has added bass, piano and guitar as his instruments. But songwriting and its attendant lyric writing remains a crucial part of Margan’s artistic expression. Among the surprises in a conversation with him, he talks of Tom Waits’ lyrics and Sylvia Plath’s poetry in the same sentence. Then he turns to his own song “Bay of Naples.”
“It’s using the volcano eruption of Mount Vesuvius — you know, Pompeii — as a metaphor for preserving a relationship. All the artifacts in Pompeii were preserved, but everyone is dead.”
“I like reading poetry,” he continues, “and ultimately, I want the lyrics to stand up to great poetry.”
The Red Lions,
with The Lonely H,
The Sad Little Stars
Where: Valentine’s, 17 New Scotland Ave., Albany
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
How Much: $5
More Info: 432-6572, www.valentinesalbany.com, www.myspace.com/theredlions