Sunny side up: Hope for Agoldensummer 

Athens trio lives up to its name

Hope for Agoldensummer is an inherently mysterious name. It could mean hope in the midst of deep depression, a way to view the silver lining in any cloud, light or dark.

"This band is a source of light," Claire Campbell says. She has driven from her home in Athens to her bandmate Deb Davis' house in Decatur, and the two sit in front of a coffee table with stacks of paper. They are working overtime to collate the sheets into lyric books that will accompany Hope for Agoldensummer's new album, The Ariadne Thread.

More than just an indie-rock band with folk leanings, Hope for Agoldensummer is a multidisciplinary art project. It's a brand for both music with intellectual ambitions and common household goods, including soap, lip gloss, pocket knives, T-shirts and coffee purchased from a feminist farming cooperative in Peru. Campbell says she used to make ceramic dishes, too, but they would break when she took them on the road.

The three women who comprise Hope for Agoldensummer – Davis, Campbell, and Claire's sister, Page – all have day jobs and, despite their remarkably creative merch table, barely break even. They rely on a community of helpmates and an audience that Davis says ranges from indie hipster kids to grandmas. Musically, they flesh out their recordings with odd folk effects such as glockenspiel and pedal-steel guitar. Admiring fans purchase their sundry homemade products, which they call the Hope Apothecary.

"We think of it all as art, and extending the making of an album out into the way that you package it," Claire says. "We just try to bring the gospel around, the good news of songs and art and community and things like that."

Being based in a closely knit college town such as Athens conflates the women's fondness for both Southern mysticism and intellectual ambitions. The Ariadne Thread interlaces the Greek myth of Ariadne – who helps Theseus navigate Minos' labyrinth and slay the Minotaur that lurks within it – with songs that detail the women's personal relationships. The lyric booklet includes a short story based on several sources, including Edith Hamilton's classic book Mythology, and quotations from writers John Berryman and Jack Kerouac.

But it's possible to enjoy The Ariadne Thread without a Ph.D. in literature. Its songs are lovely and romantic. "Katelina, Dear," which Claire adapted from a poem her cousin wrote, sounds like a bluegrass waltz. Another song, "Watermelon Heart," is based on a postcard Claire received. "I want to pour salt/On your watermelon heart/And take it with me to the city," she sings.

"I steal from my friends' writing, because they can't complain," says Claire, who goes by "Claire Kettlebelle."

Claire began Hope for Agoldensummer as a solo project in 2002; her sister Page, Davis, Will Taylor and Jamie Shepherd joined soon after. The group's self-released 2004 debut, I Bought a Heart Made of Art in the Deep, Deep South, drew praise for its gothic poetry and dramatic folk ballads marked by bombastic drum beats and cello.

In 2006, Hope for Agoldensummer began recording its second album at Chase Park Studios with David Barbe, an acclaimed Athens producer who helped assemble Drive-By Truckers' Americana classic Southern Rock Opera. But before it was complete, Taylor and Shepherd quit, and the remaining women decided to scrap the sessions.

"All of the finished songs didn't have any energy, and you could tell that – at least I could tell – that the guys had one foot out the door," says Claire, who adds that everyone has since reconciled.

The group couldn't afford to use Barbe again, so they pieced together sessions using different producers. The Ariadne Thread features dozens of instrumentalists and singers, including Liz Durrett and Leslie Helpert and members of Dark Meat. In spite of the haphazard, years-long recording process, the sound quality is much better than the first album, and its tone feels spare and confident. If I Bought a Heart began with eerie whistling, then The Ariadne Thread opens with the soft chirping of crickets. Its depth comes from its silence.

"This one feels more like a journey to me, whereas the last one was more theatrical, dramatic and a little bit rigid compared to this," Davis says. "They're just two different things."

Claire and Davis are collecting the sheets for the booklet, which they will bind into a blue hardcover with gold string. The pages are speckled with illustrations by Davis, whose style is reminiscent of Egon Schiele, and Page, who draws stick figures reminiscent of Edward Gorey.

The three women of Hope for Agoldensummer consider the group an artistic experience – a vehicle to draw people together, instead of just a band. But they don't take it too seriously.

"The thing about Hope for Agoldensummer is that it's not this analytical, rigid thing. Just come and be in the moment," Davis says. "I think the fact that we don't have to define it – when we meet up with each other, when we're on stage, or setting up the merch table – that's what makes it an organic place to hold and be held."

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