A scant five years ago, July for Kings was the great local hope for major label success. Signed to MCA and making inroads at radio around the country with their debut album Swim, the Middletown quintet seemed as though it was on the precipice of next-level success then came the MCA/Geffen consolidation of 2003 and the end of JFK's major label affiliation.
"They got rid of everyone except, like, Mary J. Blige," says JFK frontman Joe Hedges with a laugh.
JFK hung together for a second self-released album, Nostalgia, in 2005 before calling it a day in 2006. Hedges had already started working on new songs in JFK mode, but recognized long before the band dissolved that he was working from two different vantage points.
"I was writing songs as July For Kings and we were still playing stuff out and at one point I realized that I was writing two kinds of songs," says Hedges. "Some really worked for JFK and some of them were just too out there or not straightforward enough."
About this time, Hedges got a call from producer Blumpy, an L.A. boardsman who'd been brought in to work on Swim and had mixed a pair of tracks on Nostalgia. Having become friends after their mutually satisfying Swim experience, Blumpy was eager to work with Hedges on his new material and offered his services.
"He said, 'I've got some free time, do you want to do an album together?'," says Hedges.
"We started brainstorming and I sent him the demos that I'd done at home — I sent him the songs that were a little left of center — and that's where the whole thing started to take shape."
The thing that was shaping up was Hedges' solo debut Curvature, a cross between Sting's atmospheric Jazz/Rock, The Samples' Folk/Jam/Pop vibe and Radiohead's sonic texturalism. While the sound is a departure from JFK's guitar-centered AltRock, the quality that remains is Hedges' spiritual and introspective songwriting sensibilities. Although JFK multi-instrumentalist T Miller and drummer Dan McQuinn remained on hand, everyone felt it would be best for this set of material to come out under Hedges' name alone.
"From there, it was like, 'Well, if we're going to be doing an album like this, maybe we don't call it July For Kings," says Hedges. "We had a hard time coming up with a new band name — that was an idea for awhile — but seeing as how I recorded most of this stuff myself with Blumpy up in Michigan, it just made sense."
For Hedges, the prime directive for Curvature was to produce his left-field material as unconventionally as possible. Using Blumpy's shipped-in recording rig and his Michigan cabin as a makeshift studio was the first step. Throwing out existing recording guidelines was next.
"We did the album kind of backwards. We started with vocals and guitars and then we built up the other elements around it and did drums last," says Hedges. "We really wanted the album to be about the melodies and the songs. We knew we were going to ... experiment with different synth sounds and electronic elements but we didn't want it to take over. Starting with the vocals was a good way to do that."
Curvature has gained some great notices since its April release and Hedges is busy doing area solo dates to support it. He notes that July For Kings is not necessarily defunct, as talks are in progress to possibly resurrect the band to present the songs that Hedges has written in the band vein.
"We still do some JFK songs at the shows and I'm writing a lot recently, so we're kicking around having two entities just as an extra outlet creatively," says Hedges. "I've got all these new songs that are sort of Pop oriented, so we'll see. I think, as an artist, you have to do whatever's going to make you happy and keep you from getting bored so this has been a great thing for me, just to keep me inspired and keep my head in music."
JOE HEDGES (joehedges.com) performs Friday at Dirty Jack's.