Indie rock duo Flagship set out on a mission to make music that stirs up feelings, creates an atmospheric vibe, and makes you feel an array of emotions amidst a moving soundscape of timeless rock and roll.
While that mission has been accomplished on the Charlotte, North Carolina-based band’s previous releases, it comes to fruition even more intensely on the band’s second full-length album, The Electric Man, on Bright Antenna Records. The album, which was produced by Beck’s longtime drummer Joey Waronker (Brandon Flowers, Yeasayer, Atoms for Peace, Air), finds singer/guitarist Drake Margolnick and drummer Michael Finster taking listeners on a journey from light into darkness and back again.
“Making people really feel something when they listen to our songs has always been important to us,” explains Finster. “I don’t think of music in terms of a lyric or a note or a beat. It’s more about the feeling it conveys, whether it's absolute joy or that kind of feeling you can’t quite put your finger on. I love it when a song can take me somewhere, and I think we achieved that on this album more than ever before.”
It’s the honesty and rawness in Flagship’s songwriting that drew Waronker to the band. Waronker says, “They’re powerful and classic, fearless and unpretentious. I love when music affects me on a visceral level, when music draws me in and brings out an emotion, or an array of emotions, which is very difficult to describe.”
Reaching new emotional depths through a few life-changing events over the past year, the 12-track album delivers atmospheric rock with passionate vocals, pop-minded melodies, rapturous orchestral soundscapes, and themes that run the gamut from love and loss to fear and despair to hope and happiness. Several songs, including the album’s title track, were inspired by the death of their close friend and former band member, Grant Harding, in 2015.
“Grant was one of a kind and he just gave you energy. He was electric, thus the song and album title. We tried to make a tasteful song about someone who had died. It's always hard to not sound cheesy. He was an important part of our lives and we miss him and wanted to do something special to honor him,” says Margolnick.
There are also songs about past and future romantic relationships, such as “Mexican Jackpot”, which was written with frequent collaborator Leo Solis. “It’s about two people – the verses are about my imaginary dream girl that I’d like to hang out with, and the chorus is about someone I’m really pissed off at. I like the contrast between the verse and the chorus,” Drake says.
Margolnick’s signature contemplative lyrics and passionate songwriting shine in a new version of “The Ladder,” which was a standout track on the singer’s 2010 solo EP, Taylorsville. “It’s about working your ass off for what you’re passionate about and getting frustrated that it’s taking so long – it’s like something’s gotta give. But, at the same time, it’s about maintaining integrity while climbing that ladder,” he says.
Margolnick gets a lot of his inspiration in the wee hours of the night, as he did on songs like "Midnight" and “Burn It Up.” “‘Midnight’ references going through tough times. I’m a late night guy. It’s when I get inspired. So when midnight comes around, I can feel a sense of purpose and drive and inspiration in the midst of terrible shit. ‘Burn It Up’ is similar. It’s when you’re thinking about what got fucked up, but you decide to burn that shit and move on.”
The Electric Man marks the first full-length Flagship release as a duo. The band’s first full-length album came out when they were a full band featuring the aforementioned Grant Harding (keys), along with Matthew Padgett (guitar) and Chris Comfort (bass). When Harding and Comfort decided to leave the band, Margolnick and Finster made the courageous decision to become a duo and released their first EP, Faded, in 2015, featuring “I Want You,” which reached No. 20 on Hype Machine.
Becoming a duo opened up new avenues of production and collaboration that made the recording process not just easier, but resulted in their most musically adventurous release to date. “It’s just easier being a duo,” admits Finster. “We both play several instruments and it allowed for more creative flexibility. It also opened more doors because were able to use more technology and add electronic stuff, like different synths and vibraphone and samples, which gave it more texture and layers.”
Adds Margolnick, “It’s still us. It’s traditional live sounds, just peppered with the use of more technology. It expanded our sound without really changing it.” Waronker says that the “amazing synergy and creative excitement” in making the record made the process “magical.”
It’s Margolnick and Finster’s shared sense of musical adventure and emphasis on emotionally rich songs that bonded the two musicians when they first met several years ago. At the time, Margolnick was performing as a solo artist after disbanding his band, Flagship Brigade, and Finster was playing in Campbell the Band, in the close-knit Charlotte music scene, which also featured Harding and Padgett. Margolnick sat in with Campbell the Band one night and soon after used the band as his backing band for one of his solo shows. “When I first met Drake, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I love his songwriting abilities’. It actually blew my mind. We connected personally and musically.”
The band released their debut EP, blackbush, on Bright Antenna in 2012 followed by a self-titled full-length in 2013, which was produced by Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Washed Out). “Life Underwater” from Flagship reached No. 17 on Sirius XM AltNation and the Love Thy Brother remix of the song hit No. 10 on Hype Machine Remix and No. 30 on Hype Machine. “Life Underwater” has also garnered nearly 2 million plays on Spotify and 200,000+ views on YouTube.
MTV gave them Buzzworthy nods in 2013, and they’ve been featured in Billboard, Nylon, Filter, American Songwriter, FMBQ, and others. Nylon Guys magazine “fell in love” with the band. Filter called them “immediately captivating and unique, largely due to the impressive vocals by singer/songwriter Drake Margolnick.” EARMILK said they are “quickly establishing themselves as a band with an eloquent and emotionally stirring sound.”
With a live show as captivating as their records, Flagship landed opening slots for Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, The Shins, Iron & Wine, Little Daylight, Terraplane Sun, and The Wombats, and played memorable sets at such festivals as South by Southwest in Austin, Bottle Rock Festival in Napa Valley, and others. The band also garnered hometown praise by being voted Best Local Band for Charlotte magazine’s 2013 Bob Awards.
With The Electric Man, Flagship set out to create a timeless sounding record that would capture the emotions and dynamics of the songs. Another mission accomplished.