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August 16, 2006

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"We're about to put in more [working] hours than we ever have," says Jordan Jeffares, Snowden's guitarist and bandleader. As he speaks, clouds hover outside the Maasty Computers Internet Cafe where he and two other members of Snowden sit, portending a furious summer thunderstorm. Traffic congeals on the road nearby. "We're about to be heard by more people in two months than in three years."

Formed in 2002, Snowden is finally issuing its debut album, Anti-Anti, on the respected indie label Jade Tree Records. The group will have its album release party at the Drunken Unicorn, a rock venue located next door to the café. Three days after the party, Snowden plays in Chapel Hill, N.C., the first stop on a 24-city national tour.

So on the eve of Anti-Anti's release, Jeffares, guitarist David Payne and bassist Corinne Lee deliberate reaching a national audience for the first time. (Drummer Chandler Rentz couldn't make the meeting.) It's an event fraught with potential growth and existential worry. Is this the first step to achieving industry success on the scale of the Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, two bands Snowden once performed with? Will indie-rock fans in other cities embrace Snowden as they did in Atlanta and New York? How will music critics receive Anti-Anti?

"A co-worker said that there's a little snippet in Jane magazine about us, which is cool. It's small, but it's nice that someone at a nationally distributed magazine notices us," says Lee. "Of course, it took a lot of sweat to get here."

Anti-Anti itself complicates the journey. On the surface, it bears all the traits of dance-rock -- syncopated drum beats that form a steady, danceable rhythm and icy, neutered guitar lines -- a sound oft-criticized and ridiculed by indie-rock fans in recent months. The music serves as an aesthetically appealing vehicle for Jeffares' impressive emotional depths. His voice sounds light and wispy, projecting a fragile quality against Snowden's dark and muscular rock. On "Filler is Wasted," his words barely fit within the beat and sound more like an offhand lament than a traditional lyric. "This place gets in my eyes my clothes my nose/I try to hear your voice through the drone but I don't," he sings.

"People keep telling me it's an uncomfortable record," says Jeffares. "The past few years, when I've written a lot of material, were very uncomfortable times for me. Coming out of college [at the University of Georgia, with a degree in political science] and being completely directionless, and often trying to change my surroundings and change my mood, and failing most of the time. Then there are the usual things everyone went through: as cliché as it is, failed romance and successful romance, and different things at looking at those things." Sexual politics ("Innocent Heathen") and social alienation and unrest ("Counterfeit Rules") are frequent topics in his lyrics.

The disjointed and tortured poetry of Anti-Anti is more ambitious than the irony party most dance-rock bands promote. But will listeners appreciate the efforts Snowden makes to sound different from them? While acknowledging that the band started out somewhat imitative-sounding, it has since moved toward a distinct sound. "We've been trying to get away from anything sounding derivative," says Lee. "This album is a good chance to define the band in a way not [similar] to other bands."

"We're playing a brand of rock and roll," says Jeffares. "To sit here and try and claim we're reinventing the wheel is ridiculous for most bands to do, even though they try to. We sit here doing what we're doing, keeping the concept of just trying to be innovative with the music [we] have."

Creative Loafing

Mosi Reeves