Clad in black, red hair tousling in the wind, Powerkompany’s Marie Davon is a pixie engulfed by emerald waters and ancient mountains. The deep thrum of her baritone ukulele vibrates back and forth through time. She’s dreaming. She’s awake. She’s on an ivy-choked front porch in Athens, Ga., bandmate Andrew Heaton at her side. Shazzan! He is the gleaming other half of that golden Arabian ring, the missing piece to her creative jigsaw puzzle—towering, dusky, his leather boots stomping between guitar strums while cicadas and surging electricity create a hypnotic rhythm track.
For the band’s debut LP, I Am More Than This, Powerkompany has channeled a brand new set of songs… futuristic, nostalgic, electric—high-voltage ghosts flailing in the current. Davon’s voice cascades like a waterfall over them one minute and the next punctures eardrums as if Cupid’s arrow to an unsuspecting heart. It is Dolly Parton’s frail warble filtered through Warhol’s Factory, the sound of tiny incandescent angels trapped like butterflies in a moonshine mason jar. On the new record, Davon’s inventive melodies are draped by sonic tapestries that unfurl in Fibonacci spirals, as if the band had just peeled 1960s Phil Spector from a tinfoil time capsule, held a gun to his head and demanded he update the Wall of Sound for a new generation.
While I Am More Than This scrolls, Davon and Heaton walk arm in arm through the blinking city, wooden hearts glued together at the seams, loping beats marching them past cinematic vistas of a New South. Theirs is a world of fragile, triumphant daydream pop, sips of Stoli, pale blue lights, never-ending goodbyes and fanciful Catherine-wheel anthems, the latter’s flaming pinwheels illuminating man, woman and machine—acoustic serenity, cacophonous synths. Davon’s verses seep like blood from a pinprick. She’s a medium, a vessel for these songs, which materialize for the prolific writer about as often as the sun rises. Some are terrible, she says, and some are good. She plays them for Andrew. She trusts his feedback. He is her mirror. He sculpts her ideas—twisting knobs, shifting chords, filling in plot holes between her cryptic lines. Together, they are scientists, alchemists, creative escapists, their buoyant soundscapes transporting them far from the pressures of now. Their music and lyrics are the dance of the corporeal and incorporeal—dualistic panoramas of truth, space-dark and earthbound, lush green and crumbling brown.
Once upon a time, before it was a band name, Powerkompany was Davon’s AIM handle and the main vehicle for communication between her and her musician brother, Paul. The two were close friends and constant collaborators. She loved him dearly. Nine years ago, when Paul was just 20, he committed suicide. The experience was earth-shattering for Davon, forever changing her life. All of the music she’s made since then—including Powerkompany’s new record—is dedicated to Paul. She sees her body of work as an ongoing conversation with him, a way of continuing their relationship, which—even these days—is far from one-sided. When she writes, Davon explains, something happens. Suddenly, a song is just there. She’s doesn’t know if it’s from her brother. She just feels very close to him when she creates and performs. And she thinks having that outlet, and being able to keep their connection alive, has kept her alive.
Before Powerkompany, Davon played pretty-as-a-picture orchestra pop with Venice Is Sinking, and Heaton double-stopped up a storm, fiddling bluegrass with the Packway Handle Band. On the precipice of the divergent worlds of indie rock and Americana, the two found each other, arms outstretched, muses in full astral synch. Their new band formed to play a birthday party. From there, it beat on, hastened by the current, borne forward ceaselessly into the future. Which is where one goes to find hope, freedom, possibility—something more than this.
For Heaton, his musical partnership with Davon has provided an outlet for his more serious, dramatic side. In 2011, they made a spontaneous EP called Comfort. It captures the band in zygote form, as it searches the recesses of outer and inner space for itself, settling on an ethereal black-and-white sound, the aural equivalent of Ansel Adams’ stark landscape photography. A set of daring remixes, Pulse, was released the following year. Now, I Am More Than This (out April 30), finds Powerkompany moving in a relatively terrestrial, sepia-toned direction. That said, the band’s eponymous studio, where they recorded the new album, is still an other place, somewhere between Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge, a Vegas casino and the bridge of starship. There are no windows. When you’re inside, you can’t really tell where you are, or whether it’s day or night. It’s new, sleek, clean, awash in tiny rows of flashing lights like a bustling metropolis on final descent from the night sky. You can hear it in the music.
The songs on I Am More Than This were written by Davon during a tumultuous three-month span, a period of motion and transition—moving to a different house, connecting with strange new people and processing all of the wild, perspective-shifting experiences. As a result, the record is frenetic—at times angry, blindsided and defiant, but also obsessed with freedom and new beginnings. It is the sound of turning a corner, of better things to come. When Powerkompany incorporates futuristic elements into its sound, or looks forward in its songs, Davon says, it’s because the future makes her feel hopeful. And if you’re making hopeful music, perhaps you can inspire other people to see the future as hopeful, too. It all goes back to her brother’s death, and a desire to give people in similarly bleak situations something to hold on to.
A lot of the songs on the new record were written to have an anthemic optimism, Heaton says. Lead single “Not the Last” is a perfect example. The song is in E flat major, a historically triumphant key—the key of love and devotion, of intimate conversation with God. From Beethoven’s Emeperor Concerto to Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and Strauss’ Hero’s Life, the explosive “Not the Last” and its trumpet-like fanfare are tied to an ancient tradition of bold and courageous sounds.
It’s all of a piece with the record’s multi-layered, wide-open title. The phrase—I am more than this—popped into Davon’s head after seeing a friend’s gorgeous illustration of a sad panda bear. But it wasn’t the bear itself she was interested in, it was the intense emotion she felt while looking at the drawing. “You guys are treating me like shit!” it seemed to scream. “But I’m more than what I appear to be.” The whole record is tied together in that one line—I am more than this. Depending on context, it’s a refusal to be casually filed away; aggression and anger at the world for not offering the benefit of the doubt, and at one’s self over perceived shortcomings and failures; it’s an aching, deeply sincere plea for human connection, acceptance and understanding; a cry of hope and determination, to carry on, to be a more complete version of one’s self.
I Am More Than This—both the record and the idea behind it—is a challenge. It hurls a gauntlet at our feet, begging us see music and each other in a new, more open way.