WHEN REIGNING SOUND releases its new album Shattered on July 15, it will be nearly five years since its predecessor, 2009's Love and Curses.
No one questions the work ethic or focus of the beloved garage-rock band's helmsman, Greg Cartwright, who has played in a slew of bands over the past two decades, both in his native Memphis and his current hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. In that five-year span alone, he's cut records with his bands the Oblivians and the Parting Gifts, toured behind them, and generally did what Cartwright does: make and play music.
But music was not the only reason for the wait between Reigning Sound records. A death in his family forced Cartwright to put Shattered on the shelf for a bit.
"Things come up, definitely, in life," he says, "and sometimes you just have to stop everything you're doing and take care of business for a while."
With the new album, Cartwright gets back to the business he has unassumingly dominated for years: blending pop, garage rock, and classic soul into a sound that feels both vintage and vibrant at once. This is timeless rock 'n' roll, with melodies that seem familiar even though they're new, and space for Reigning Sound to stretch out.
That space didn't happen by accident. Shattered was recorded on eight-track, one-inch tape at Daptone Records' Brooklyn studio, a format Cartwright had used on a couple of previous recordings, but never a Reigning Sound full-length.
"What it does for the low end and for the drums, it's really unusual," he says. "To me, it sounds a little more like drums and bass really sound. It's a lot warmer and... has more of a three-dimensional sound. When I close my eyes and listen to it, I can hear the room."
Limiting the recording process to eight tracks—as opposed to 24 tracks, which Cartwright "used for years," or the infinite possibilities of digital recording—also builds in quality control, forcing the producer to prioritize sounds from the beginning.
"Two guitars, bass, drums, vocal, keyboards—that's six tracks. There's really not much left," Cartwright says. "So you have to think about it ahead of time: 'Okay, what really needs to stay and what needs to go?' It really does leave me with a sense of peace that everything that needs to be there is there, and nothing that doesn't is cluttering [the music]."
You can hear that on Shattered, where rockers like "North Cackalacky Girl" and "My, My" thump and swing in a very tangible way, like it's coming from inside your chest. The bass scurries, the organ squalls, the buzz of the guitar courses back and forth between your ears. And ballads like "Never Coming Home" swoop and soar, yet leave room for Cartwright's graceful melody to shine.
After years working with small punk labels "where it's just one guy who is an incredible music fanatic," Cartwright says, Shattered will enjoy the cache and promotional push that comes with the band's new label, mega-indie Merge Records. That's a good thing, though it comes with pitfalls.
"As much as I like it, it also makes me really anxious because before I had nobody to please except myself," he says. "But now when you see that someone is spending money [on the record], on some level it's terrifying to me because I think, 'Oh wow, they're really going to push this in people's faces. What if people say it stinks?'"
He pauses, and you can almost hear Cartwright's confidence in the power of rock 'n' roll creep into his brain.
"But I do feel happy with the record and the band sounds great," he says. "I know when we get out on the road, we'll deliver."