Live With Universal Sigh @ Aisle 5

November 19th, 2016

**All photography by Bonnie Morét**

Athens, GA based Universal Sigh played a KILLER set at Aisle 5 in Atlanta, GA. ATL is second home to the Sigh and was nothing short of a hometown throw down. If you missed out, no worries, I’m here to recap on all of the luscious licks…

Close your eyes, take 3 deep breathes, no, 5 to be prepared. Imagine you are about to taste the most colorful, sonically flavored rainbow. One taste will send you on an exotic, emotional odyssey. Universal Sigh always delivers an epic experience and this show is no exception. From the strong, mystic start of “Aralkum”, to the upbeat timbre of “Marcus Mayhem” and the closing rock classic, “Zymbra”, Universal Sigh does extremely well to incorporate a joyful synchronicity of catchy tunes.

Anthemically, Steve Terry and Pace Maynard created luscious passages with their unison guitar harmonies. Jones Maynard kept the band right and tight with his powerful heartbeat drum style succeeding in being percussive and melodious. Josiah Garrett, a very treasurable bass player, kept it funky in the pocket with strong grooves. Also, I’d really like to share with you all, that out of the vast amount of great musicians out there, dancers aren’t usually among them. Austin Parker conducted the audience with infectious dance moves. His soulful voice lulled the audience into a relaxing trance. Its apparent that these gentlemen love everything they’ve created together and get to share on stage.

Universal Sigh were definitely on fire when it’s time to get down and dirty on songs like “Zymbra”, where the more classic rock influences break through and Steve solo’s the crowd into sumbission, and “Marcus Mayhem” where Austin is at his finest in expression and energy. Songs like “Doubtful Sound” where it’s time to be meditative and break into a powerful vocal heavy ballad, moved the energy in the room from righteous highs to mellow lows. Universal Sigh proved their worth in being able to read the vibe in a room and cater to the aural needs of the audience.

My personal highlight of the night was their debut of “Theatrics.” These boys were on fire while giving us a preview of the marvelous direction of the new music they’re making. Theatrics hypnotized the audience into a peaceful state of mind. This classically structured piece proves that a song in today’s pop dominated market can utilize as many ideas as come to mind, yet still be presentable to any audience. The way the movements in the song were structured sounded gorgeously dark, Radiohead-like, ambient, unpredictable, and they successfully teased apparent influences from Baroque era composer, J.S. Bach. This 15 minute voyage truly radiated a unique level of musical comprehension.

Boys and girls, that was my perspective of the night in a nutshell. If you’d like to learn more about the band, please, see below! We had the pleasure of us entertaining each other in an interview prior to the show at Go Vinda’s Cafe in Little Five Points.

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The Universal Smackdown with Universal Sigh

Q: Why the name “Universal Sigh?’

A: Steve: Well, coming up with band names is really really hard. It was like choice number 8, but ended up being the best of all choices because 1 – 7 were all taken. But it’s a Radiohead reference. It’s the like the 2nd set lyrics of the first song, of their then newest album, King of Limbs.

Pace: It’s also the title of the newspaper they released with that same vinyl, called The Universal Sigh. If you go to UniversalSigh.com that’s the newspaper which is why our website is UniversalSighMusic.com. It’s open to interpretation though, which is why we really chose it in the first place.

Q: Did you all know you wanted to be musicians? Was that a unanimous sentiment?

A: Austin: No not necessarily, not for me. When I was younger I wanted to be an actor. I did a lot of theatre actually. Community theatre, high school theatre, just acting all the time, and it was really fun, you know. Especially doing high school theatre where it’s always really musical and a cool experience.

Halfway through high school though I was getting way more involved with bands. In middle school I started a band, a classic middle school band really. Then I got to high school and was about to give up on playing bass, but then I realized that everybody needed a bass player because no one really played bass and that became really fun for me. As I really started getting more into music, I decided halfway through high school to drop out of theatre and continue pursuing music more because, for me, it’s a better form of self expression.

Pace: I definitely always wanted to play music, be a musician, and work in the music industry.

Jones: I mean, when I was younger I really liked to read a lot and thought, “I’ll be a historian!” Then I realized that you don’t really get paid shit. Then I decided to be a drummer but you don’t get paid shit either, but I’m having more fun this way.

Steve: No I had no idea. My parents forced me to – actually I wrote 120 pages of a book in 8th grade and I really wanted to be a novelist – but my parents made me take piano lessons starting in 1st grade and I really hated it and really wanted to quit and then one day in 8th grade I realized I loved it, and that’s also when I started playing guitar and joined a band. Still it wasn’t until sophomore/junior year of college that I really realized that professional musicians who are rockstars actually existed, and I could be one of them.

Q: There’s kind of a follow up to that, and this one is for you, Austin. Have you always been such a good dancer? It seems like your background in theatre must have contributed to that.

A: Austin: Ahah, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a good dancer, but I’ve always loved the dance. It’s something I’ve gotten better at, but I’ve always been fairly self-conscious, and that kept me from pursuing any kind of dancing, but being a little older, I absolutely love dancing. It’s super fun. In a way it’s kind of like music where it’s a self expression but it’s really in your body movements. I’ll still get up there in stage and be like, “I don’t know what the fuck to do with my hands, maybe if I throw them around all over the place people might think it looks cool.”

And I use to, when I would perform, stand like a stick. Like I just wouldn’t move at all. Then I got to college and decided, ”well I’m not gonna do that anymore, that’s boring,” so yeah I’ve just always loved dancing.

Q: How do you guys go about writing your songs?

A: Austin: A lot of the material is written by Steve, especially a lot of the new stuff, ya know, he’ll write all the parts out, uhm, a lot of the time he’ll write the parts out while driving, while in his head. Then he’ll go and revise that and take it to his guitar and piano and record it and then do all these components that he’ll then show to us. From there, the band kind of manipulates it to see how things work.

However, I’d say new songs, like “Theatrics,” is 99% Steve. Then we have a little bit of changing stuff for the band, but it kind of depends.

Pace has written some songs, I’ve written some songs, Jones wrote a song that we need to bring back..

Steve: Jones writes about 98% of the drum parts. We’ve been playing together long enough that it’s really easy to write for these guys, since I pretty much know what they sound like, and know which parts will work for who and which parts, hopefully, will bring out the best in each player. Because guitar is similar to bass, and I play piano and can kind of sing,  then those things I have a pretty good grasp on. Then there’re songs like “Blinker” that will have a specific groove; most of the time I just know that when Jones hears it he’ll just know what to do.

Austin: I think the cool thing with Steve as a writer too is that he’s very open to tweaking stuff. Ultimately if it sounds better, that’s just how we’re gonna do it. But there were times, before tendinitis, when I was still playing bass that I could be like,”Steve, it could sound better this way” and we’d make changes depending on how it was sounding.

There are definitely times when we try something and it doesn’t work out when we need to revise it and remake something and it works out, yeah.

Steve: And most songs, once we start performing them live, they’re gonna change over the next six months to a year, ya know, with little things. So that’s always fun. Ya know, certain tunes are very composed where you have to be inside the box with your playing, but lots of them have room for extended sections, or fills, or abrupt dynamic changes that weren’t originally written. A lot of the best parts of our tunes, though, happen when we first play the song together because everyone plays a part differently than originally written.

For example, “Golden Lotus,” has like a really important bass line that comes in that Austin just improvised one time while we were playing that and we were like, “DO that.” Also it has these really important drum breaks in the chorus that Jones just did and we were like, “do that.”

Austin: It really just depends on a song to song basis. Like for my song, “Leftover’s Life” it was like a concept I recorded, and I laid down a terrible drum track. It was really funny that of course it had a drum track that Jones cleaned up real well and made it actually listenable. Pace helped me with some of the lyrics and revised it, but ya know Pace wrote “Bedrock & Paradox.” It’s really just back and forth, but I can’t say that we’re all equal in the amount of songs we write because, ya know, Steve is just an alien that writes nonstop.

Pace: I often, when I write a song, it all comes at once and it doesn’t come very often. I’m not like, constantly putting things together in the way that Steve is always constructing material that may not even be Universal Sigh type material.

 

Q: So about two more questions for you guys. I know that some of y’all went to high school together, and some of you guys are related, but how did the rest of y’all meet?

A: Austin, before I cut my hair off, people would always ask if Steve and I were brothers.

Steve: Funny enough, there are brothers in the band but they’re not us.

Pace: So we all went to high school together and were in different grades. I met Austin through the Music Business program at the University of Georgia.

Austin: I knew he meant business, because when we were at a mixer, a meet and greet to get all the students to get to know each other better, and I was talking to a completely different group of people and Pace came up to the group. He ran up and asked, “who here is a bass player? I need a bass player.” I said I was and he was like, “GREAT! Here’s a CD, and he had recorded tracks of their music and told me they’re looking for a new bass player for our band called Universal Sigh, and let me get your number.

It was just THAT quick.” So when I first went over to jam with them they showed me a song called “Anata,” which was still pretty new at the time and my heart just sank because I thought, “these guys are waaaay too good for me to play with them.” I was trying to jam with them at first and just gave up and listened and they kept playing it until they finished the song and I said, “that sounds GREAT but I can’t play any of that.” They just started laughing and said, “it’s cool,” but after that they just kept calling me back.

Steve: well I’d like to add that “Anata” is a piece of madness and none of us could jam to it. It just so happened that me, Jones, and Pace had already learned it. So it had nothing to do with musical ability, just having memorized it previously.

Austin: It was hard for me since I just met you guys and didn’t know that yet.

Me: That’s how you tear up the newbie, pretty savage, guys .

Steve: Also what was really cool was that we needed a bassist but we also needed a singer. So after we had jammed a bit, Austin walked over to the keyboard and started playing and singing super freaky well. We thought it was cool but wow we were lucky, absolute jackpot.

Austin: It was cool for me too because that was early September that that had happened and I had quit my previous band, Street Rhythm and Rhyme, earlier in May of that year. So I had gone through this summer of 2012 playing with some friends but didn’t have anything locked down and feeling really anxious to get back into music and I called my old band mates up to see if they might want to reform even though I knew I didn’t really want to do it, but just wanted to perform. They’re both really great guys, incredible musicians. It just wasn’t what I wanted to do and I wanted to be in the forefront doing vocals.

It just kind of happened, and I’m thankful that they came into my life.

Q: So I’m gonna ask you guys a comical question before asking the final question.

What favorite TV shows, if any, inspire you in life?

A: Unanimous: Rick and Morty!

Me: Wow, I was reluctant to ask that question because I thought, “these are the kinds of guys that are always playing music and don’t watch TV.”

Steve: We don’t watch much but if anyone makes a Rick and Morty punn, it will be followed by 10 more.

Austin: Actually one of the things we’ve been joking about as a band is, “man they really need to release the 3rd season because we’re really running out of these. We’ve repeated these references so much it’s getting redundant.”

Steve: We’ve made Rick and Morty references on stage, which, maybe we shouldn’t do, but I dunno.

Q: Is there anything coming up that you guys have been working on or have in the back burner that you may want to tease people about? Any birthdays?

A: Steve: We’re going back out to Colorado for the 2nd time, this December. Another thing we’re really excited about is a new tune that we’re playing tonight. It’ll be the 3rd time we’ve performed it, but it’s this piece called, “Theatrics.” It is pretty intense, a whole lot of attention to detail. It has six sections and clocks in between 14 and 16 minutes in length without the improv. In the middle of it is has a 3 part Fugue, which makes this the most ambitious piece of music we’ve ever written. We’ve played it at 2 shows that were both really low key shows in front of a group of strangers. So, it’s a totally new thing altogether to play it in front of all of our friends on a big ol’ stage in Atlanta. We’re definitely nervous but excited. 2 parts excitement. 1 part freaked out.

Austin: If I can give any advice to anybody: If you want to hear new Universal Sigh stuff, come out to the shows because we’re always doing our best to try and experiment with new stuff and songs. We’re always testing out the waters with our new songs at our live shows to keep it interesting.

Pace: The Colorado tour ends back home in Athens with a charity event for Toys for Tots at Livewire. Then we have a big tour in February around the South East which will be announced when it’s ready.

Me: Well thank you guys so much, we’re all really looking forward to all your future doings. Thanks again for giving us the Universal Smackdown!

This has been the first installment from yours truly,

Anthony Prince

More from the band here: UniversalSighMusic.com

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