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Dynamic duo's friendship provides backbone for local band

Underground rock fans soaking up the Atlanta scene for the last four years may have caught a set by the Close at one time or another. The band's live shows blend terse, jagged melodies conceived by frontman Brooks Meeks with the exhibitionist gestures and perpetual mugging of bassist Dustan Nigro. It's in the eight-year friendship, and divergent personalities, of these two musicians that result in the synergy that makes the Close one of the city's most compelling bands.

Atlanta native Meeks and Nigro, who finished high school in Charleston, S.C., after multiple moves, met as freshman at Auburn University. They were united by the archetypal rock star/hipster social activity: smoking. "We were smoking cigarettes outside of my dorm," says Meeks. "He was this little goth guy, dressed in black, skinny as hell and all curled up smoking a cigarette. We just sort of started talking and we really haven't parted company since."

Meeks, who has since quit smoking, wanted to start a band, and Nigro was quick to jump on board. Adding a drummer, the band settled on its name early, but a sound didn't develop until the members got a sense of one another's strengths. "It was more a showcase of our ability to play our instruments," says Nigro of the early days.

Current drummer Keefe Justice, whose role in songwriting Meeks credits as vital to the band's success, joined during Meeks' and Nigro's junior years. Keyboardist/vocalist Theresa Marie Fedor arrived soon after. While booking shows for a D-I-Y house venue, Meeks encountered two bands that would soon change the band's direction: Karate and the Van Pelt.

"That was the first time I had heard anybody doing a spoken vocal thing, where they're not actually singing, but they're speaking in a song," says Brooks. "That changed what I was doing, 'cause it freed me up to do more experimental guitar work that didn't have to have a vocal melody over it."

Sonically, it's Meeks' teetering guitar parts, along with Justice's all-frills/all-fills drumming, that most differentiate the Close from other local rock acts. But Nigro's visual interpretations are what attendees remember about a Close show. He can be seen on-stage striking poses, leaning into his bandmates, ascending speakers, disrobing and chain-smoking. Nigro's clearly the band's most memorable element, but his theatrics can also turn off audiences. "You either find it amusing, you find it annoying or you just think it fuckin' rocks," says Meeks.

Nigro says his performances take root in the spirit of the house shows the Close used to play in college. He worries that stages put too much distance between the band and the crowd, so he likes to serve as the conduit. "You gotta make sure people are involved in what you're doing," he says. "I make sure to look out at the crowd and point people out and get them involved. Like I'm playing to them with the hope that they would give something back to us."

Memories of Alabama house shows isn't all Meeks and Nigro brought to Atlanta. Their D-I-Y ethic is still largely intact. In the communal apartment they share with Fedor and seven others in the West End, the twosome built a studio, dubbed "C-11," using knowledge Meeks gained while earning an electrical engineering degree and working construction.

Love them or hate them, you have to respect them -- the Close is one of the hardest-working bands in town. So as the band winds down a fall tour and returns home to celebrate the release of its second album, It's a Secret to Everybody, Atlanta's underground can count on more shenanigans from Nigro.

Meeks says Patrick Hill, who books shows at the Earl and manages the Close, puts it best: "When you've come to every show the Close has played, and you've heard the songs a thousand times, there's that guy up there still just fuckin' tearing it up to those same songs he plays every night for a month on tour."

Where does Nigro's expository stage presence come from? His college major: Drama.

nikhil.swaminathan@creativeloafing.com

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