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REELS Around the Fountain

St. Augustine trio blends sunshine and gloom

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No band reflects the sun-soaked streets of St. Augustine quite as well as REELS. They’re the quintessential beach lads. They have long hair. They wear shorts. One of them works at a local taco joint. The others tend bar at a craft beer bar and neighborhood music venue.

Fittingly, REELS’ music is marked by more than a touch of surf guitar. But then the driving post-punk rhythm kicks in, along with the ethereal vocals–and suddenly, we’re not in the Nation’s Oldest City any longer. We’re in Manchester’s Hacienda during its Factory Records heyday.

The power trio comprises former members of The Cosmic Groove: guitarist/vocalist Zach Engh, bassist Jerry Delk and drummer Cory Chavis.

Their songs are powerful, with undercurrents of anxiety and hope, because music is a form of protection–as Delk says, “like a blanket, where you cover yourself.” Yes, sometimes life sucks, but that’s no reason not to dance.

Engh elaborates on the sonic catharsis.

“When I write, it’s when I’m upset,” he says. “Not to sound angsty, but it’s when I’m most inspired.”

One of the most interesting things about the band is their lyricism, ambiguous, zephyr-like. In terms of the verse itself and the intensity with which it’s delivered, REELS ranges from the low crooning of “Dumb in Love” (with the lines “I do not feel anything/My brain is numb/Dumb and in love”) to the divine exclamations of isolation in “Ground Is Me”–“If I fall again/We’ll see the ground is me/Who knew/That it’s you, too/We’ll share the space we have there.”

Engh says the songs are about “relationships and stuff like that,” though he’s often unaware what they mean until much later.

“I’ll write something and be, like, ‘I don’t know what that means but I like the way that it sounds,’” he explains. “A new meaning usually comes later on, through different situations in life. It’s, like, ‘Oh, sh*t! That’s what I was trying to say!’”

With Engh’s oblique verse and reverb-drenched guitar lines existing somewhere between here and there, REELS’ rhythm section often asserts itself as the most immediate element. Not just immediate, either, but downright insistent. Chavis pounds the pulse of pre-tsunami tides while Delk’s driving bass lines ring out like the cannons fired at Castillo de San Marcos.

“For this project it was a lot of ’80s-inspired music,” Delk says. “The inspiration comes from the sound that Zach’s going for. I’m a canvas going for color with no direction.”

Their six-song EP Not Now is about analyzing complex past relationships and learning how to be a better human being–all while packing a sonic punch of gloomy surf-guitar riffage and crazy rhythms.

REELS’ live show used to be a multimedia experience, until the band got carried away. A television set sat the stage, abuzz with static and illuminating REELS-related artwork.

“The TV was Cory’s idea,” Engh explains. “We did that a lot for, like, the first year as a band. One time we smashed one. That was pretty fun.”

Fun enough to give it another go, perhaps?

“Maybe!”

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