Friday, October 16, 2009

A Night with Layne Underwood

By Nick Will

The room was filled with the aroma of wood-grain, stale beer and musk. The trees shook violently outside the large windows that dominated the far wall. Beer cans littered the room in bags and piles on the two tables against the windows. A man sat in a chair near those desks, clad in a red flannel and a pair of old ripped jeans with a resonator laid across his lap.

No- this is not a hunting lodge in the wilds of the North Country, this is the den of Plattsburgh’s folk prodigy Layne Underwood. Underwood is a rugged young man of 18 years, pursuing a degree in music at SUNY Plattsburgh. He keeps his unkempt brown hair back in a small pony tail, even though his hair is only an inch or so long. Wearing a pair of old plastic rimmed glasses and a makeshift necklace forged of an old bracelet and a shoe string, Underwood sat with a grin strapped across his face. It was here that he unveiled his legacy.

Layne Underwood first started playing music in 8th grade. He and a group of friends had signed up for a talent show, and created a Blink-182 cover band called 21 Days. Underwood played lead guitar in the band, along with lifelong friend and bass player Mike Kelley. According to Kelley, Underwood was “very energetic, definitely the leader.” Kelly stated that Underwood got the band many of their gigs, and motivated the rest of the group. Underwood continued with his punk roots until the summer of his senior year. “That’s the summer my Gibson SG broke” commented Underwood.

In the summer of 2008, Underwood started playing a cheap Nylon guitar that he obtained inexpensively, and began to experiment with a loop petal in his barn. Loop petals allow musicians to layer electric instrumental tracks on top of each other by recording tracks and replaying them simultaneously; this allows one artist to play different parts in a song live by themselves. Underwood went onto say that he then started being able to layer up to 60 tracks. He described the feeling as “Euphoric, better than any drug.”

Looping tracks was only part of Underwood’s evolution into folk. Underwood stated that he had started noticing similarities in punk and folk chord progressions. Folk became Layne Underwood. “Folk has a simplicity to it” Underwood said; “It is just simple to grasp.” “Layne’s use of the loop petal creates a trance-like state not present in most folk music” stated fan Scott Dombert, who dubbed Underwood’s performance as “trance-folk.”

The metal resonator sitting on Underwood’s lap is a homemade concoction. Resonators are acoustic guitars that use metal cones to resonate sound rather than the traditional wooden soundboards of wooden guitars. Underwood converted his resonator to an electric format by shoving an input into one of the f-holes on the resonator itself and attaching wires to the bottom of the fret board. “National brand electric resonators had the electric inputs in the bottom f-hole” said Underwood. “I figured it would look cool if I shoved it in there.”

Underwood also had quite a bit to say about his musical style. Each show Underwood performs contains a split set: for the first half of the night Underwood plays his folk music while sitting, melancholy in a chair; the second half of his set is comprised of violin and loop tracks to which Underwood stands and dances around controlling his music with his feet on the loop pedals. “I play the violin and loop tracks for fun and for fans, but the folk comes from the heart” commented Underwood.

As far as writing goes, Underwood had this to say: “People always complain about writing too many songs about girls or about certain situations. I like to write both direct view and imagery based songs.” Underwood especially likes to write with imagery, saying that “It gives a feeling of Nostalgia: when people hear a word, it fires a chemical in their brain.”

His use of imagery can be seen in one of his personal favorites- the song “I’m changing my name” by Underwood features such vague and well written lyrics that you would never guess that the track was actually about an accidental abortion.

Underwood stated that the song is great because it was written in 15 minutes, and is a favorite among listeners. Underwood’s friend Mike Kelley stated that he was impressed the first time he heard the song even though he has “heard every song soo many times that he just knows them too well.”

Fan and classmate Nathaniel Johnson had this to say about Layne Underwood’s live performances: “it’s not not good.” Another fan, Jocob Spurr claims that Underwood’s mannerisms in his live performances make the shows more interesting. Be on the lookout for Layne Underwood. He frequents Plattsburgh venues such as the Monopole and Koffee Kat. For upcoming shows and tracks, check out Layne Underwood’s myspace page at

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