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The sketetal sound of Modern Kin

Drew Grow returns with a new band and an improved sound

Modern Kin: A new band with old souls. Photo credit: Janet Weiss

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Working my way through Modern Kin's self-titled debut, the word that kept swimming around in my head was "skeletal." Though the songs are adorned with expansive reverb, what you really pick out and identify are the three people behind the songs: Drew Grow, Kris Doty and Jeremiah Hayden. Even though Modern Kin's sound is big, the songs remain testaments to the tight musicianship of the trio. Modern Kin is a remarkable surefooted debut for the band, and one of the reasons may be that it's actually not a debut - not really, anyway.

Modern Kin began life in 2007 as Drew Grow and the Pastors' Wives, an acclaimed folk-rock band that incorporated elements of soul and spine-tingling gospel. Recently, with the loss of a member, the decision was made that a change was needed.

"It's a long story," says Grow. "But the short version is that, over the stretch of many months that it took to make this record, we went through a lot of changes as a band. We knew we had to grow musically, so we were pushing hard at that, but also we lost a band member. These two things made a palpable shift in how the band felt to us. We thought pretty carefully about whether to change the name, if it made sense and was warranted. In the end we decided it did and it was. So far, the response from our world validates our decision."

Reduced to a trio of guitar, drum and bass, Modern Kin transformed into a concentrated version of its old self. All of the folk and gospel hallmarks remain, but the new incarnation is a muscular one, bolstered as always by Grow's passionate, tremulous vocals.

"We worked our asses off to become the band we wanted to be - to grow into new powers," says Grow. "This record rests more on the strength of Jeremiah and Kris, with their drum and bass. We wanted more muscle in the rhythm and bass melodies. I'm so happy with what has come about. The sound needed to evolve, and we pretty much willed it into being."

"Abandon," the album's striking opener, does well to billboard what's in store for the listener. Mixed by David Fridmann (longtime producer for the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, among others), the song recalls the early work of Arcade Fire, with its slow build, cooed backing vocals, and near-frantic lead vocals from Grow. Grow lends texture and percussion with his guitar, without being too flashy, and lets the drum and bass take the foreground.

Another distinction of the record is that it was the producing debut of Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, Wild Flag), and a supremely confident one, at that.

"Janet is such a powerful musical force," says Grow. "So creative and such taste! As we were preparing to record, I knew I needed help on the recording and production end. When the opportunity arose to ask Janet, we went for it. ... We connected well, musically, and I was so pleased when she accepted!"

Over the years, with the Pastors' Wives, Grow has fostered a good relationship with Tacoma, and with the Warehouse production team in particular. Modern Kin's upcoming show in Tacoma is another production with the Warehouse.

"Love the Warehouse folks," says Grow. "They have done such an amazing job with every event that we have done with them in Tacoma. I'm a huge fan of Adam Ydstie, Katie Lowery, Doug Stoeckicht and all the rest. Throughout our musical endeavors, Tacoma has been so supportive and has embraced our music. On our most recent Kickstarter fundraising for this record I think a disproportionate number of the supporters were from Tacoma. We don't have any childhood roots here. It's just been a fit."

When Drew Grow makes his return to Tacoma, it'll be as Modern Kin: a new form and an improved sound.

MODERN KIN, w/ Not From Brooklyn, Us Lights, 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14, Grit City Grindhouse, 311 S. Seventh St., Tacoma, $10, $7 advance, 253.237.3069

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