Hovering up above 

Athens quartet Now It's Overhead flies high on its own terms

Now It's Overhead frontman, guitarist and recording engineer Andy LeMaster has just returned from a lengthy stay in Nebraska producing Conor Oberst's newest Bright Eyes project. So where does he wind up? Back in the studio, of course. This time he's at his home base, Chase Park Transduction, which he co-owns and operates with fellow "sound advisors" David Barbe and Andy Baker.

With his slight build and thick glasses, LeMaster looks more like a college freshman than one of the Southeast's most in-demand producers. At the moment, he's discussing his new band, Now It's Overhead, whose self-titled debut's urgent yet nostalgic ruminations on a relationship gone sour have critics raving and college radio wanting more. The Toccoa native is joined by his longtime musical collaborator, Clay Leverett. The two artists -- perhaps Athens' busiest -- are soft-spoken, reflective and a bit uneasy dissecting what makes Now It's Overhead tick.

"Now It's Overhead evolved rather unintentionally," LeMaster says. "I started recording a lot of the songs here on my own." In fact, some of the material on the much-lauded Now It's Overhead was begun just after LeMaster and Leverett's former band, Drip, broke up in 1998.

"We've played music together in one form or another since middle school," says Leverett. "Toccoa is a pretty quiet place. Not a lot was happening, as you can imagine, so we had to do something."

LeMaster and another Toccoa pal, Casey Scott, moved to Athens to attend college in 1993, and Leverett came to town a few years later. But shortly after working their way into the scene, Drip disbanded. By then, LeMaster was working at Chase Park and already planning some of Now It's Overhead's earliest ideas. Enlisting Leverett to drum on some of the tracks, he was determined to "create a specific sound with lush layers and seductive melodies. I wanted that thickness and texture that we just didn't have in Drip."

LeMaster soon found that he was developing a batch of "raw emotional songs at the core." Yet he didn't grasp the full thematic strength of the material until it was nearly half finished.

"I consider the album to have a theme now, of course. But it's certainly more expansive than it is specific, which was what I wanted," LeMaster says. "All of the songs deal with the struggle between security and uncertainty, and the fulfillment and longing that occur in a search for love. And in this case, the uncertainty and longing prevail."

Part of the otherworldly quality of the recording comes from the disjointed, angelic voices of former Little Red Rocket singers Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor -- a Greek chorus as thin as a watercolor wash but as necessary as any instrument on the album. "They can do anything -- they can rock out or sing like angels, sometimes on the same song," says Leverett.

As the recording became more complete, LeMaster realized the project would lend itself to a live band format, so he asked Fink and Taylor to sign on. After inking a deal with Omaha's Saddle Creek as the label's only non-Nebraska band, Now It's Overhead toured with label mates The Faint last fall.

Though busy with other projects -- Leverett fronts Lona with old Toccoa buddy Casey Scott; Fink and Taylor play as the duo Azure Ray and guest on a number of Chase Park productions; LeMaster produces and engineers a number of national bands -- the quartet still manages to devote quality time to Now It's Overhead. And while critical praise has been heaped on the foursome, radio airplay has been infrequent.

"Overall, I feel pretty unrelated to today's pop and mainstream music, anyway," says LeMaster. "I wouldn't be necessarily opposed if our music traveled that path eventually, but I certainly will not seek it out. Thank God for college radio."

Now It's Overhead plays Mon., Jan. 28, at The Earl, 488 Flat Shoals Ave. The Desaparecidos and Fruit Bats open. Show time is 10:30 p.m. $7. 404-522-3950. www.badearl.com.

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