BY CELIA ALMEIDA
Every four years or so, Gainesville’s population changes. For those of us who choose to extend our stay beyond our designated time here, those around us get younger and younger every year. Gainesville is a town of transient people, and with that come plenty of talented, but transient bands.
We know all know the story: band members all meet while going to school. They start a band. They work their way up from playing coffee shops to the Atlantic. They grow a loyal local following. They play at High Dive and the Wooly. They graduate and break up or stay for a little more time and eventually move to New York.
From the beginning, Morningbell‘s story has been different. They’re a family band formed in Miami, eventually making Gainesville their home.
On Friday at High Dive, Morningbell will celebrate ten years together as a band with additional sets by [side projects] The Slims and The Shitty Beatles. Fans at the show will also be able purchase Faster Songs With Shorter Names: Morningbell’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1, which will include fan favorites that have become staples at their live shows, an unreleased song from 2010, and an updated version of “Underwater” (which can be heard below), the first track off their first album Learning By Musical Montage.
It’s been an incredible year for Morningbell with the release of their most ambitious album ever, Bôa Noite, which seemed to really strike a nerve in everyone who heard it. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Travis Atria says that of all the accomplishments the band has attained over the past ten years, he is most proud of the reaction to the album from friends and family. “It really seemed to touch their hearts and that was the most profound success for me.”
Bassist and brother Eric Atria cites the album’s release party at Santa Fe Community College’s Kika Silva Pla Planetarium as their greatest accomplishment. The band premiered the album with two sold out, back-to-back listening parties accompanied by a custom, live planetarium star show. “Not even big bands on big labels get to do something as cool and intimate as that. It felt like a big production on a local level.”
Indeed “a big production on a local level” is an apt description of what Morningbell does. This is, after all, the band known not only for their music, but for their famous Hundred Dollar Light Show consisting of everything from strobe lights, to light-up glasses, to Christmas light jackets.
Morningbell have done it all – six albums and three EPs, their Hundred Dollar Light Show, and seven tours – completely on their own. Both brothers chalk up their band’s longevity up to being related, and thus, very close. “Since Travis is my brother and (keyboardist) Stacie (Atria) is my wife, it’s very easy to work together,” says Eric. “We know each other really well. We know each other’s strengths and weakness. The three of us even lived together for some time. And when you consider that Travis and I have lived together more or less for thirty years and Stacie and I for fifteen, we know how to work together. At this point with (drummer) Chris (Hillman) being in the band since 2007, we feel like we know him just as well.” Adds Travis, “I always think it’s about to end, but it seems to keep going.”
During the early years there were plenty of opportunities for Morningbell to call it quits. Says Travis, “We’ve payed a hell of a lot of dues. More than any band I know. Most people who come to our shows now have no idea about that. They don’t know about playing for three hours in a strip-mall in Miami for no money repeatedly.”
Eric paints a clearer picture of what gigs are like for an independent band starting out; “We played so many shows to empty rooms. We played embarrassing gigs, like some sixteen-year-old girl’s birthday party and she only had three friends. We’ve played corporate events that have just been soul-sucking. Having our car broken into in D.C. really sucked.”
Ten years, six albums, and many fans and friends later, Morningbell will celebrate the good memories on Friday at High Dive; their last show before taking a hiatus through April.
For all the low points, the band has also enjoyed successes including beloved and acclaimed albums, a show at the O’Dome, and stops at Bonnaroo and SXSW. “We’ve always said we have to be better than we were six months ago. It’s a reasonable goal and I think we’ve maintained it for ten years.” Adds Travis, “I don’t think I imagined us coming this far when we started. I always wanted to do the things we’ve done, but it seemed like such a pipe dream. I think it has been better than I thought it would be. We’ve adjusted the vision to match the reality of the music business by realizing what we do and don’t want.”
In a town that’s had too many great bands break up far too early, it’s refreshing to have a band like Morningbell as a constant. “Any town can be my home,” sings Travis Atria on “Dancing In the Jaws of A Lion,” a track off of 2009′s Sincerely, Severely. We’re glad they made Gainesville theirs.
As for what Morningbell’s future holds, Eric Atria sums up the band’s independent spirit: “We’re going to keep making music until somebody stops us. I really think that’s the way it’s going be.”
Judging from their ride over the past ten years, even if someone did try to stop them, they’d probably keep going.