Upon listening to Admiral Contempt for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised by the scope and depth they bring to their sound.
Eschewing a drummer and bass player, Maddie Nicole (vocals/guitar), Jackson Arnold (keyboards) and James Sterling (guitar) weave an intricate sound that wafts through your aural synapses. Stated simply, their sound works.
It would be a mistake, though, to label them as just another hipster trio playing folksy music.
“Sometimes when there’s not percussion,” said Jackson, “you have to do things to make up for it. We have to things differently, rhythmically to make up for it. It changes the songs and makes them sound different, which I kind of like.”
Meeting them at The Grandview Grind was nice respite from the chilly evening, as we enjoyed a relaxed atmosphere to talk about their music and how it all came together over fresh coffee.
“I’m going to take credit for that,” James said about them becoming a band, chuckling along with Maddie and Jackson. “We all worked together at a restaurant. It was my last day and it started as a joke of ‘Do you want to start a 90’s lesbian rock band?’ Which isn’t really what it became.” More on this later…
The trio’s roots are as disparate as their sound. Maddie grew up in Grandview, then moved to Chicago for one year. She moved back to Columbus after finding that Chicago was not her cup of tea.
Jackson hails from England, born and raised five minutes from Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal Football Club. His father is English and his mother is from San Diego.
James found his way to Columbus after growing up in Ohio Amish country, near the Mohican State Forest. “There were a lot of fields and not much else,” he said, “so music was very important to me.”
“It transitioned from a joke,” said James, “into can we do this? Seeing Maddie and Jackson sing and play kind of blew me away. I mean, we have played some tiny venues with some shitty sound. And she is never off pitch. I’ve never played with anyone quite like Maddie.”
Maddie opined, “We just have… I don’t know. Everybody is just so good at what they do. Bringing it together, it’s just magical.”
They take the listener through a variety of emotions with a simple sound that is complex at the same time.
“We each come from a different background in music,” James said. “As a guitarist, I grew up with 90’s alternative and grungy stuff. I cleaned it up as I got older, but it still has elements of a gritty rock edge. Maddie’s a singer-songwriter and poet. Jackson is a blues and jazz piano player.”
“It’s been interesting and fun learning what meshes and each other’s styles.”
What is most intriguing is Maddie’s voice, as it seamlessly meshes with the keyboards and guitar. She sings with evident passion, while revealing a hint of the ingénue within her.
“The songs that I’ve brought to the table have changed over the last year. I feel that we all write songs that allow each person to show their shit,” she said, somewhat sheepishly.
They have a polished sound that came together by playing together for almost a year before they did their first live show. This is no small feat for a band that’s been together for merely 13 months.
The video for their single “Set My Table” shows their fun and ‘campy’ side. The song itself is a wonderful piece that has an almost ‘film noir’ feel about it.
“The vocals for ‘Set My Table’ were done in just one take,” James said. “Then Jackson and I put piano and guitar on in one take.”
Their influences run the gamut from Queens of the Stone Age and Muse (James) to the Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters (Jackson) to Ani DiFranco (Maddie).
“My dad is the original 90’s lesbian,” said Maddie with a twinkle in her eye. “He’s was so into Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, Ani, Indigo Girls, all of it! Of course, he was very into 70’s folk music as well.”
Maddie weaves elements of the poetry of Patti Smith and the emotion of Laura Nyro’s voice as she takes you on a journey through Admiral Contempt’s songs. This is evident on the songs “Fortune Teller” and “The End.”
“We’re constantly creating, which is fun,” said Maddie. “We like to keep it fresh.”
They’re working on their full-length debut album, with close to a couple of hours of new material. We are, for one, are eagerly anticipating this release.
They are well worth checking out for aficionados of intricate, well-crafted music. Their next show is a free show on Friday, February 17 at Tatoheads Public House in Columbus.