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Observational Songs 

Adrienne Shurte talks about the genesis of her band, Ages, and it's new album, "Must Be Nice."

click to enlarge The members of Ages (left to right): Adrienne Shurte, Tim Falen, Tristan Brennis and Christian Monroe.

Scott Elmquist

The members of Ages (left to right): Adrienne Shurte, Tim Falen, Tristan Brennis and Christian Monroe.

Growing up in a home without a TV and a neighborhood without other children, Adrienne Shurte remembers a childhood focused on self-reflection, reading and crafting.

When the 10-year old found an old classical guitar at a relative’s house, she had to have it. Her parents had the gifted guitar repaired and Shure quickly found herself addicted to writing music.

“Classical guitar was lovely to learn on because it’s small and the strings are so pliable, so it was a great starter guitar,” she recalls. “Inevitably, I ended up trashing it but I’m glad it was the guitar I learned on.”

Over the past decade, Shurte has played in a range of familiar Richmond bands - Magnus Lush, Fire Bison, Hail Hydra – but when she first started playing out in 2005, she would hear a lot of comments about her gender.

“It was infuriating. I didn’t know why I couldn’t just be a guitar player without it always being mentioned that I was a woman,” she says. “Thankfully, that’s no longer the issue here, which I’m so grateful for.”

She’s also watched the evolution as the local music community has come to a growing awareness of the importance of representation for minorities and POC.

“I love our scene. I’m so proud of all the different subcultures here and how far we’ve come since I started,” she says. “It’s become more inclusive, which is wonderful.”

By design, her first projects were abrasive and extremely loud. The tone was always dirty, the lyrics pissy and nonsensical.

“It was fun! Slightly destructive and very misunderstood,” she explains. “As time went on, that period of my life was mellowing and I started tapping into what’s important to me: How I could use music as a platform to discuss issues I find important, but in an appealing way. I think I got soft in some respects.”

She admits to still producing some fairly surly, almost curt lyrics – “I’ll always be a pessimist” - but by making the blows less explosive, she hopes to be heard better. Call it maturity.

After forming over half a dozen bands since 2005, Shurte felt like she was depleting her songwriting abilities by writing specific songs for specific projects. The bands would break up on average every two years for the usual reasons - bandmates moving, new jobs, families starting - and then she’d have to retire the songs she’d written with that project, even though they were formed around her guitar playing and vocals. She found it exhausting.

“I realized I needed to have a project where albums can be conceptual and if members want to rotate out, they can do so freely without sacrificing the past songs or albums,” she says.

The resulting band, Ages, is made up of Shurte on guitar and vocals, Christian Monroe on guitar, Tristan Brennis on bass and Tim Falen on drums. They’ve recently released their first album, “Must Be Nice,” on Ossein Records.

Recorded at Stereo Image Recording Studio in spring 2020 by Bryan Walthall, just as the pandemic began affecting daily life, the songs were written in a pre-quarantine world. Shure remembers being excited to see what the foursome could do together, having saved up a lot of riffs and acoustic songs that she wanted to perform with a backing band.

“Tristan Brennis started writing very unique bass lines and since he primarily plays saxophone in Dumbwaiter, I think his musical ear tends to find original undertones in songs,” she explains. “From there, we were able to hone in on the vibe of what we were creating.”

While Ages’ sound can have a languid, even dreamy feel, the lyrics on “Must Be Nice” are focused on telling the stories of people with mental health issues and people living in destitution.

“I realized that sometimes we have ugly and uncomfortable thoughts that we don’t understand,” she says. “A lot of the songs express voyeurism, observing people with mental illness and how, without knowing the full story of someone's actions, it can be baffling. So jumping to conclusions can have dire consequences.”

Shurte frequently employs a lyrical technique when writing songs that switches the identity of the storyteller throughout the verses, giving some of the songs manic undertones. The song “Death Farm” jumps from wife to husband throughout. “Sidewalk Rooftop” switches from third person to first person as the main character plays the role of the antagonist and protagonist in the song, the result of being homeless and suffering from bipolar disorder.

Because “Must Be Nice” was written before the pandemic, Shurte also sees it as highlighting the world pre-pandemic.

“There was turmoil building up all around us with the volatile political news. Richmond is a progressive city and the younger generation was vocalizing issues that would really be amplified in the coming months,” she says. “I think in some ways, we all kind of had the taste of something bad to come on the tip of our tongues but we just didn’t know it yet.”

The album will be released digitally as well as on cassette, because it’s small and affordable. “Records are expensive to make, CDs are wildly outdated, but a tape is something that you can physically hold in your hand and have the nostalgia of putting music physically into a player,” she explains. “It’s intimate and quite frankly, I find cassettes adorable.”

For Shurte, making music is like fitting together a strange and unique puzzle. She enjoys the constant challenge of writing new parts and using muscle memory to make a cohesive song that causes others to feel.

“The best thing is playing and having someone tell you how much it meant to them,” she asserts. “It's an expression, and it feels good to tap into your feelings and also have others embrace those waves.”

“Must Be Nice” is available digitally or on cassette on Ages’ bandcamp page.

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