The best track on “Hagiography,” the new album by the Spartanburg quartet St. Maurice, might be the last.
The song, a largely improvised instrumental called “After Credits Scene,” has an infectiously slippery groove by drummer Tyler Tullis and the band’s new bassist, Jonny Dylan, over which Will Robbins and Geordon Tullis layer guitars that are alternately blurry and razor sharp.
Throw in a smoky sax line and some truly outstanding bass work by Dylan, and it’s damn near irresistible.
It’s also unlike every other song on the nine-track album, and we mean that as a compliment. The 6-year-old band takes on a catalog’s worth of genres on “Hagiography,” from the tricky progressive time signature of “Vash the Stampede” to the anthemic modern rock of “Untitled” to the swaggering organ-heavy strut of “No Man, No Name.” It’s like a calling card for what the band is capable of. The stylistic grab-bag of sounds is something the band didn’t aim for, but they didn’t shy away from it, either.
“While we were writing the songs, we certainly weren’t setting out to write something different every time,” Tullis says. “But that’s the way it turned out, and once we realized it, we made it a point to continue to go in that direction.”
“Hagiography” was a true labor of love for the band. They’ve spent the last four years working on it in one form or another, diving into the studio whenever they had the time or the money, and constantly developing the material onstage as they were recording it. It took time in three different studios — Zealous Recordings in Ehrhardt, S.C., Studio 101 in Woodruff, and Echo Mountain in Asheville, N.C. — and work by four different engineers (Ben McMillan, Brad Phillips, Clay Miller, and Jim Georgeson) to get it done.
Which raises two questions: How does a band not get tired of recording the same songs over four years, and how do they create a cohesive sound while moving over multiple studios, not to mention replacing a bass player?
We’ll start with the not-getting-tired-part. While the band admits it was occasionally a struggle to stay positive about getting the songs done, Robbins says that shaping them onstage helped keep St. Maurice excited about what they were doing.
“Even while we were writing these songs, we were still playing them live and fine tuning and developing them,” he says. “So we still had a lot of enthusiasm for them because they were never on the back burner.”
As for keeping the album cohesive, that took a concerted effort. The band would bring the recordings with them from studio to studio, studying everything about them to make sure their new work would sound similar.
“We wanted continuity,” Geordon Tullis says.
“We wanted to have a conceptual unity. We would strive for the same ideas wherever we were. There were little things that I really kept in mind at all times: what guitar I recorded the song on, the volume, the effects, everything.”
“We definitely intended to put this out as a full album,” Tyler adds. “We resisted the temptation to put out what we had as an EP or singles, and that was in the hope of creating something cohesive.”
As for the title, once you know the definition of the word hagiography, it becomes clear why the band chose it.
“I was looking for something that was meaningful, but I didn’t want to force it,” Geordon says. “Then one night I was watching something on the History Channel, and I heard that word, and something about it caught my attention. I looked it up, and it means ‘writing on the lives of saints.’ And this album was about St. Maurice, about our lives. So I thought it was serendipitous.”