"Elvis Costello was the one who said, 'You have 20 years to do
your first album, and two months to do your second,'" recounts guitarist Alan
Licht. His group Run On had more like 20 bands in which to record their
While Run On's family tree may seem obscure to middle
America, it reads like an all-star team for Village Voice-reading types.
Members have logged time in Fish & Roses, The Shams, Peach Cobbler, V- Effect,
Love Child, Timber, Blue Humans, the Special Pillows, and other projects. These
days, however, Run On is the full time focus for all of the members, who in
addition to Licht include Sue Garner (vocals, guitar, bass), Rick Brown
(drums), and Katie Gentile (violin, organ). The group has just released its
sophomore disc on Matador, No Way.
An excellent pastiche of sounds
and styles, No Way begins with the subtle machine hum of "Something
Sweet," and closes on an urgent, earthy rendition of the traditional
"Sinnerman." Between points A and B, the album makes any number of detours.
Witness the junkyard clang of "As Good As New," or the wide open expanse of
"Bring Her Blues"; the melodic lilt of "Anything You Say" next to the agile
marimba of "Road," beside the plaintive drone of "Days Away." A variety of
textures work within individual songs as well. "Lab Rats," for example,
effortlessly ties feedback and noise to gentle, folksy vocals.
easy to spot the disparate...
While it's easy to spot the disparate elements within a
song, it's more difficult indeed to account for Run On's cohesiveness. "There's
a certain precedent for that within some of the psychedelic bands of the '60s,"
says Licht. "Like the Byrds, where you would have noisy, experimenting guitar
playing, but also a lot of country, and folk, and rock influences going on on
the same album or the same song."
Licht cites the Who, Pink Floyd, and Led
Zeppelin as other patchwork ground breakers, but has trouble explaining his own
band's success. "I don't know. I guess we know what we're doing."
however, that credit is due in particular to Gentile, who, with her violin,
replaced David Newgarden and his trumpet. "Having a third string coheres the
sound more than, say, the trumpet did, although I liked the trumpet. For
instance, the other night we were playing and there was one feedback thing that
was the exact same frequency as something Katie was playing on the violin. It
was really cool. You couldn't tell what was the violin and what was the
No Way's music often carries the songs' sentiments (flight,
confinement, longing, among others) more than the words, which are regularly
set back in the mix. "It's not always the singer-- tonight it's the song,"
sings Licht on "Bring Her Blues," reversing Mick Jagger's quotation. But with
Run On, it seems as if the emphasis is never the singer and
always the song. That is, Run On not only layers most vocals just below
the surface, but also gives each instrument a distinct voice within any given
number, creating the sense that the whole will not succeed without each of its
parts. Thus, the band comes off as a humble unit, more true to the material
than any individual who created it.
"That's a reflection of the
personalities involved," says Licht. "Nobody is a limelight seeking type. Even
though Sue is arguably the only one in the band who can sing, she's always the
one who's shying away most from having her vocals up front in the mix."
while fidelity to a particular piece is important, in another sense, the band
maintains a certain loyalty to the individual songwriter. For example, just as
Garner keeps her vocals in back, Licht aims his own singing further up in the
mix. "My vocals, I try to make audible, so people know what it is," he says.
Hence, following the artist's lead here is more important than having
consistent vocal placement throughout the album. That willingness among Run
On's members to follow one another, while at the same time maintaining their
individuality, suggests the type of modest confidence that is born only of
The same respect allows, and perhaps even encourages, Run
On's members to continue working outside the band. Within the next few months,
Licht will have a solo album released by a New Zealand label. Meanwhile, Rick
plays infrequently with Timber, Sue has Peach Cobbler, and Katie rehearses with
For now, however, Run On will continue to gather the most
attention from both the media and the band members themselves. "There are
pre-existing relationships and side projects," says Licht, "but none of them
happen on as frequent a basis as Run On."