NEW HANOVER COUNTY — “The world ain’t coming back until I hear you sing,” Team Player’s guitarist Marty Cunningham croons on “Wake for You” — one of the songs on “GROW: A Compilation in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” The latest 12-song compilation was released on Oct. 30 as a fundraiser for the New Hanover County NAACP and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. According to producer James Tritten of Fort Lowell Records, the goal is to raise $30,000 for the nonprofit to create a positive impact toward justice.
Tritten reached out to Wilmington artists, past and present — and many of whom he’s known since the mid-’90s — to flesh out the record. More so, he went beyond musical partners and connected with literary and visual artists, plus the business community, to create a wide circle of advocacy.
“Art is healing, and vinyl records specifically allow for multiple types of art to be showcased — not just music,” Tritten said.
The album art, titled “Persistence,” was created by James L. Williams from New Elements Gallery, with additional design elements and liner notes contributed by Trevor Van Meter of Hey TVM, Chet Childress, students at DREAMS of Wilmington and Third Person Project.
According to New Hanover County’s communications and outreach coordinator, Lauren McConville, even the county got involved with the project. Originally posted around county workspaces were signs noting, “I stand in solidarity because…” Employees filled in the phrase with their own thoughts, intended to be a conversation-starter in the workplace.
“James asked if the county would consider sharing the sign image as part of the ‘GROW compilation record as [smaller] inserts,” McConville said. “And we were happy to do that as a show of support — and to help promote the county’s efforts and shared values of diversity, inclusion, equity, and respect county-wide.”
Each vinyl record comes with a card insert, encouraging folks to consider the phrase for themselves.
Cunningham’s lyric also will have listeners considering the importance of human rights and inclusivity, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, beliefs or political affiliation.
“The betterment of society isn’t coming until every voice is heard loud and clear and justly represented,” the singer explained.
“Wake for You” was recorded in Cunningham’s bedroom after Team Player picked up a free piano they saw advertised on Facebook. The band, also consisting of Chandler Hicks on bass and Chris Warren on drums and piano, tends to post up whenever and wherever they can to flesh out a tune.
When Tritten approached them about “GROW,” “Wake for You” gained new legs.
“It gave us a definitive direction,” Cunningham said, “something that matched the energy we wanted for it all along.”
Covid-19 put a damper on many bands’ plans in 2020, including Team Player, which was slated to hit the road for their first tour. Instead, they’ve focused on another compilation, “The Quarantine Sessions” and their own LP.
“With Covid, we can’t affect people in person the way we’ve always tried to,” Cunningham said, “but with a compilation like ‘GROW,’ we just might be able to bring about some positive change right here from home, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Local band Lauds also has felt the hardships and effects of the shutdown this year, with some bandmates in school and others working full-time. McKay Glasgow (guitar and vocals), Holt Evans III (guitar), Boyce Evans (drums), Rett Nabell (bass), and Colin Allen (synth and vocals) are trying to get by—in that regard, music hasn’t been at the forefront of 2020.
However, Evans had a song which never made it onto a Lauds album, so he and Glasgow decided to rearrange and record it with an upbeat vibe—opposite of the more lamenting and brooding sounds they’d otherwise been playing around with.
“We added a bridge and spent a while filtering through different riff arrangements and eventually locked in on the ones you hear on the track,” McKay described. “We felt like it was a good song for the project because it has the positive message of needing each other to figure out what to do.”
Another song on the compilation includes Summer Set’s “Comfortable Town,” created years ago by band members Brian Weeks, Robert Rogan and Jeff Bridgers. But Summer Set never released it. The time felt right, according to Weeks, to send it out into the ether in 2020.
“There was so much unrest this year, globally, nationally and locally,” he said. “It’s really been paralyzing, and I’ve been asking myself what I could do to make things better. . . It feels good to do something positive and together collectively.”
Heather Jensen, a.k.a. Pinky Verde, played guitar, drums and synth on “Come on Over”—a tune Jensen explored sonically with the yin and yang of chaos and calm.
“Much like the social anxiety theme of the song,” Jensen explained, “it fits into ‘GROW’ because it’s calling upon awareness of social norms and society.”
Neon Belly directly deals with angst of the day as well. Lacie Jay (vox), Nice Derek (drums) and PMattitude (guitar/bass) created a tune centered on themes of gender-based violence and white supremacy in “The Boys Are Alright.”
“Although this year has shed greater light on white supremacy and how it permeates our institutions, these issues are not new,” PMattitude said. “We take responsibility as artists and in our personal lives to be involved in efforts that contribute to meaningful change.”
For local artist Sean Thomas Gerard, “Strange and Electrifying” became an anthem to protect and look out for one another. He spent a great deal of the year in his home studio, putting his hopes and fears into music.
“I want the world to be a better place for my daughter some day,” Gerard said. “I want to look back some day and know I was on the right side of history.”
The Love Language (“Throwing Darts”), The Rosebuds (“Get Up Out”), Life of Saturdays (“That Kind of Love”), Kicking Bird (“What Would All the Other Girls Say”), and The Majestic Twelve (“Amphibious Vernacular”) round out the LP.
Tritten and his wife, Tracy Shedd, also make an appearance on ukulele, air organ, bass, synth and drum machine. “Holding Space” is about expanding minds and really making room for others intently.
“It is about creating space and listening—truly listening, not reacting,” Shedd said. “I think 2020 for me is about opening our hearts and stepping in someone else’s shoes. Seeing life from a different perspective. It’s been a crazy year. Hopefully, we can grow and learn and keep growing.”
Shedd and Tritten started Fort Lowell Records in 2009 when they lived in Tucson, Arizona. They’ve worked with more than 70 artists, like Calexico, Neko Case, Jimmy Eat World, Meat Puppets, and Spoon.
“Releasing records is our voice,” Tritten said, “and after witnessing the horrific Memorial Day murder of George Perry Floyd Jr. at the hands of four Minneapolis Police officers, we could not help but want to use our voice to support our own community—with working towards a better, more just future for all persons.”
Only 1,000 hard copies of “GROW” are available for sale at Gravity Records, Modern Legend, Record Bar, Yellow Dog Discs, and Angie’s Hair and Records. It also can be purchased digitally from Fort Lowell’s Bandcamp in a “name your price” capacity, or streamed at Amazon Music, Apple Music, Bandcamp, Deezer, Pandora, Tidal, and YouTube.