Mitch Easter captures Amigo in the mood to play

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Mitch Easter and Suzi Ziegler on stage at the Let's Active reunion. He produced Amigo's new release, And Friends, at hi Fidelitorium in Kernersville. (courtesy photo)

For the artist, manufacturing a sound is easy.

There are any number of effects, programs and software that can produce the exact sound you’re going for. But when it comes to the authentic sound Charlotte-based rock band Amigo has captured on their latest record And Friends, there is no substitute for talent and chemistry between the band members.

Formed in 2012, Amigo has released three albums to date, working with producers like Scott Solter, who has worked with Superchunk and the Mountain Goats. But for Amigo’s latest release, the trio sought out acclaimed producer Mitch Easter.

“In my opinion, the best albums are co-produced by the band and the producer,” Easter said from his Kernersville home, stopping in for the afternoon before heading back out on tour playing guitar with Alejandro Escovedo. “That’s the way I like to work, and people like [Amigo] who are just great songwriters, it works out perfectly.”

While some studio engineers and producers live by the notion that you must tear songs down to the foundation and build them back up, Easter’s approach focuses more on the artist’s vision.

“I’ve always said, ‘Yeah you could do it that way, or you could just record them now when they’re in the mood to play,’” Easter said. “Even when you work very hard on something, when you play a record, it should never feel like work. It should sound like you’ve captured something, a good moment, and good spirit. So while sometimes I need to move things around in the song, the goal is to keep it sounding spontaneous, or at the very least still expressive.”

The driving force for the members of Amigo is their union and connection to each other, having performed together for the past six years. This led to most of the album being recorded live at Easter’s Fidelitorium Studio in Kernersville.

Released on Jan. 26, the 10-song record captures a palpable joy and love, on which Amigo centers its music. A tasteful blend of Southern rock, blues and garage rock, Amigo has managed to develop a raw, organic sound, using minimal overdubs and effects. Comparable to Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Barenaked Ladies and Pavement, Amigo at its core sounds like a group of friends coming together to relax and jam. Add to that catchy melodies and fine songwriting, the product is an album that remains true to itself and to the artist’s sound. And while Amigo’s capable and fine-tuned musicianship plays a massive role in creating an album, the relationship between producer and artist is likewise of vital importance.

“It’s absolutely critical,” Easter said. “Otherwise it’s like going on a terrible date. A lot of these studios that sort of shuffle bands in and out don’t really get the human side of it. Some people love the idea of recording and engineering, but when the bands actually get in there, it goes haywire. Some people are more technical, others are a little more musical, but I think in order to pull the whole thing off you need to be able to [do] all of it.”

In support of their latest LP, Amigo is currently on tour and is making their way to the Triad, playing Monstercade in Winston-Salem on Thursday.

To listen to the album and find tour dates, visit amigotheband.bandcamp.com.

And Friends shoots out of the gate with the opening track “Big Idea.” A grooving, median tempo drives the track. Simplicity flows through the song (as well as the entire album). Horns and organ layer the melodies and expand the sound, while singer and guitarist Slade Bairds’ voice bellows like smooth whiskey in the forefront.

Amigo collaborated with North Carolina musicians Eddie Garcia and Nathan Golub, peppering the stripped-down nature of the songs with brief moments of psychedelic and wailing slide guitars. And while at its heart rock and roll drives the album, songs such as “I Wanna Live (UK Surf)” and “Almost Something Good” reveal a tender, mellow contrast to the happy-go-lucky nature of other tracks.

For a band like Amigo that strives to make simple, yet compelling music, there is always the possibility of too many instruments playing, of a producer perhaps tinkering too much with structure and form. Mitch Easter didn’t have any such fears.

“I never worry about ruining the song,” he said. “If I feel a song might really need banjos, but the whole world hates the song, I’ll still think the banjos were really great. So you really can’t worry about something like that because otherwise you wouldn’t do anything. It’s so sad to see bands second-guessing themselves because of what the audience might think. The real heroes are the ones who had an artistic vision and just went for it.”

And Friends remains true to such vision from beginning to end. Taking on melodies and structures that fall outside the mainstream, such as the song “Own Trip Now” which compiles the unique sound of a mouth harp with strange guitar effects, Amigo has accomplished an album that remains true to its own spirit, something that made the recording process a joy for Easter.

“There is so much meaningless music out there,” Easter said. “I was horrified when rock music made its way into advertising. As a kid, advertising music was silly and dorky, but now classic rock is used to sell pick-up trucks. So the challenge now is for a rock band to immediately sound more authentic. And it’s not a challenge when people allow themselves to be fearless. You can’t be afraid of not fitting in. You have to remain true to the music.”

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