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Blazing their own path and having a ball

The Annuals brand of dreamy odd-pop is both loud and introspective. These guys don't follow in anyone else's path; they just blaze their own. By Paige Newman
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“What would you rather do than be on the road — traveling, doing crazy stuff you’ve never done before — with six or seven of the best friends you have?” asks Zach Oden of North Carolina pop-rock band Annuals.

It’s a good question for this young band whose quick rise to success has been a bit of a shock.

“Almost every week we have a surprise,” says guitarist and drummer Oden. “It was crazy; we were in London and there were kids singing the words to the songs.”

It’s a dream come true for these guys who all started playing, in different bands, in their early teens. Though the band often gets compared to the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, they’re less anthemic then the Canadians. Their brand of “odd-pop” has a more dreamy, introspective quality. Though they still like to play it loud.

“We definitely don’t try to make songs that make teenagers feel empowered or anything,” says singer-songwriter Adam Baker, who counts Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash and Mike Patton among the band’s major influences.

“A lot of Brian Wilson gets into my songs,” Baker says. “I’ve ripped him off more than a few times.”

But the band doesn’t mind the association with Arcade Fire. “We’d love to play a tour with them,” says Oden. “As far as comparisons go, we don’t really see it, and we’d never heard of those bands until after the album was done.”

“I would rather have them compare me to that than like Arctic Monkeys or something,” adds Baker.

Baker is a perfectionist when it comes to the recording process. Before their album “Be He Me” was released, he redid many of the tracks at the last minute. “It was done and then I realized, Wait this record’s coming out, I have to change all this s--t to be better,” he says.

Baker is the main driving force in the band’s creative process but turns to Oden, pianist Anna Spence, guitarist and banjo player Kenny Florence, bassist Mike Robinson and drummer Nick Radford for input.

“We have a very serious mutual respect for each other,” says Baker, “because we all come from very different backgrounds and we all enjoy different types of music. Plus, we’re the best of friends.”

“I hear what he does and I always have little things I want to go places,” says Oden about the recording process. “And sometimes he says yes and sometimes he says no. When he says yes, I think it works out really well.”

“I don’t say no too often,” Baker adds. “I just delete it later.”

A fairytale-like qualityLyrically, Baker is inspired by a storytelling tradition. He prefers almost a fairytale-like quality to his words. “I really appreciate stories and the metaphors involved — symbolism and stuff like that,” says Baker. “I think people can grasp onto archetypes like that more universally. Because everyone knows that a snake is evil; everyone knows that a dove is a representation of innocence and good.”

The opening of the song “Dry Clothes” reads like something from the Grimm Brothers, “There’s a knapsack rally for the stranger who told of a spider and a purple toad.”

Baker prefers using images from nature. “I feel happier around nature and animals and that sort of stuff because they definitely have it down — the way to live — and we’ve totally f---ed it up,” he says.

The song “Carry Around” directly addresses his disenchantment with the human condition. “I’m a restless rat strung up, and burnt out, losing my fur to the wind,” he sings

“It’s about modern society and how it truly hinders the way people live,” says Baker. “They don’t even realize it because they were just born into it and that’s how everyone’s been doing it for a thousand years now.”

The band is currently in the “finishing up” stages of the next CD now — that is, if they ever get a break from touring to actually finish working on it. Baker says it contains songs that didn’t make it on “Be He Me” as well as some new tunes.

“There’s some country influence in the more recent songs,” says “But it’s still going to sound like Annuals. I’m just going to take it in a different path, where there’s not so much complete hugeness, maybe like stripped down, so you can actually hear the emotions in the picking of the guitar and the discrepancies in the voice.”

Oden adds that the new songs are “more in depth and more mature.”

For now, though, recording will have to be put on hold, because an appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” looms, which Baker says gives him “bad dreams,” as well as an upcoming East Coast tour with The Dears.

If you haven’t seen the band live, don’t expect a carbon copy of the CD. “We get up there and we’re opening for sort of a mellow, groovy type of band and we’re being loud and obnoxious,” says Oden. “And some people don’t know what to do and some people love it.”

“There’s usually a good response,” says Baker “I couldn’t ask for more at this time. We’re a new band, dammit.”