Locals: Francis Bacon Band gets back to work after gloomy hiatus

Joel Oliphint

Jay Harmon was bummed out, but he didn't know why until he told his friend Mark Dutton about it.

"He's like, 'I know why. You haven't been making music,'" said Harmon. "'You're happy when you do it, and when you don't, you get bummed. I've seen it before.'"

Dutton was right. Harmon had stopped writing songs and playing music with the Francis Bacon Band, a group that began nearly 10 years ago as Harmon's solo acoustic project and then grew over time. "I decided I wanted to do a full band but didn't want to make it straightforward," said Harmon in a recent phone interview. "So instead I got a bunch of guys who were kinda wild, almost noise improvisers."

Early Francis Bacon Band releases (Unsafe in Any Skin;Judas, Betrayer of Words) reveled in feedback-driven guitar blasts and Krautrock-inspired structures, but when Harmon recruited Dutton to play guitar, the band dynamic began to change. "We moved in a different direction with Mark because he's a great musician, a great guitarist," said Harmon, a Pickerington native. "I had more options stylistically of where we could go now."

After recording the 2012Paleoweltschmerz EP (named for a German theory that suggests boredom drove dinosaurs to extinction), the Francis Bacon Band played shows for about two years, performing songs from a never-released record,Be My Body. But the album never materialized. "Sometimes when you play songs into the ground, you get sick of them, and it's hard to motivate anyone to do anything with them," Harmon said.

For the Francis Bacon Band's new record,Retreat, which the group will release on Friday, July 1 at Ace of Cups, Harmon and Dutton took the opposite approach, laying down quick demos and then recording nine songs in a day and a half at bassist Tom Mitchell's Indianapolis studio alongside new drummer Andy Morehart. The result is the band's most melodic and cohesive album to date.

"I got into a weird obsession with [Neil Young's]Comes a Time record," Harmon said. "It's such a normal record. It's so radio-ready. I love it a lot, though. I made it a goal to make a record that was a little more easygoing and accessible. … And also hearing songs on the radio and being like, 'Man, this Neil Diamond song is kinda dumb, but I really like it.' I got into how to craft a solid pop song."

That's not to say you'll mistakeRetreat tracks for songs by either of the Neils. The slow, rolling bass and high harmonies on "Bone Dry, Low Tide" recall Low, while other tunes, like the title track and "Pickpocket," evoke Magnolia Electric Co. - a favorite of Harmon and Dutton. Throughout, Harmon sticks to conceptual, purposefully ambiguous lyrics.

"I'm always gunning for the abstract. I like art that does that - any sort of [David] Lynchian surrealism," Harmon said. "I'm always talking about something specific [in the songs], but I'm abstracting it out to the point where you can bring whatever you want into it. It's more fun if it doesn't appear to you right away."

In that sense,Retreat leadoff track "Sands" is a departure for Harmon. "You look all right on paper, but reality isn't doing you favors," he sings accusatorily, and for three and a half minutes he doesn't let up, ending the final verse with, "Though you're known as the king of fools, you're greedy of the crown."

Lest you take pity on the man in Harmon's crosshairs, "Sands" is merely Harmon, 29, indicting his younger self. "Sometimes you can't get your life together in your early 20s, and you're looking at yourself going, 'Oh, God. What are you doing?'" he said.

Now, withRetreat forthcoming and Francis Bacon Band shows booked, Harmon is in a better spot. "If I'm working, I'm happy," he said.

Ace of Cups

9 p.m. Friday, July 1

2619 N. High St.,

Old North

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