10 p.m. Tuesday
AllWays Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave., 218-5778; www.theallwayslounge.com
Amid South By Southwest's hectic schedule of nonstop showcasing and on-the-hour concerts, keeping your wits means staying grounded. Even if it's on a rooftop.
This year, on the Austin, Texas, music, film and technology conference's kickoff Wednesday — the annual on-ramp to a weeklong musical Autobahn — Floating Action brought the often-flighty festival back to earth with a dusky, downshifted 7:15 p.m. set atop the Cheers Shot Bar on sixth Street. The sentiment was reciprocal. "It's nice to spend the sunset with you here," frontman Seth Kauffman told the crowd, strumming the opening chords of "Well Hidden," the first track off February release Desert Etiquette (Park the Van).
The North Carolina band's live incarnation is a quartet, Kauffman's crawling drawl backed by bassist Michael Libramento, guitarist Brian Landrum and drummer Josh Carpenter, a former guitarist whose natural rock instincts, Kauffman says, bring a "hard-hitting, in-your-face" aspect to the group's laid-back, slow sound. On recordings, however, it's all Kauffman. As on 2007's Research (released under Kauffman's name) and 2009's self-titled debut, he plays almost every note on Desert Etiquette, from the ambling drumbeats and bass lines to the wobbling keys and guitars, knocked off-kilter by various phaser and reverb effects for a hazy, flashback feel.
That clock-stopping aesthetic, molded on the self-titled album around vintage Caribbean soul, got a stopwatch workout on the new LP, which Kauffman wrote and recorded at his Black Mountain, N.C., home studio on a self-imposed 48-hour deadline. "I'd always kind of done them the same way: take your time, let it make itself," he says. "You're just trying to press the boundaries and challenge yourself. You can churn out a bunch of crap in a couple days. I wanted to not be careful."
Oddly, the result is Kauffman's calmest record, one that emphasizes negative space and moves along at a beach-stroll pace. On centerpieces "The Balance" and "Rincon," two of five Desert Etiquette tracks played at SXSW, guitars flap and sitars sway in a rhythmic breeze while cymbals crash in the distance like lapping waves. Kauffman's recording techniques are palpable, even if he can't exactly describe them. "A lot of it's me not really knowing what I'm doing," he says. "You just kind of try random things until you're feeling something. A lot of it, in the studio world, is not correct. Some of the stuff people would never let you get away with in a real studio."
It's one reason he chooses to record by himself. But Kauffman's attempts at a recording sprint have altered his production work for others, most recently with former bandmate Tyler Ramsey (Band of Horses). "That was after I'd recorded Desert Etiquette," he says of Ramsey's forthcoming second album. "That's my new approach, just forcing somebody to do it really fast and trust yourself that it's going to be good."
The Floating Action sound, however, begins and ends with Kauffman. "I think people who've asked me to produce their albums did it because they'd heard what I did, and kind of wanted that," he says. "But it's funny, I'll do some weird, crazy things that people just aren't on board with. I guess that's another thing I like about doing it yourself: When you're working in the studio with other people, ideas will get shot down or voted out. There's nobody to do that."