The Prudish Few

You weren’t there in Todd Kemp’s apartment in 1998 when he told me, “I’ve been listening to Liz Phair and Pavement and I want to play rock music again.” Despite his idiosyncratic choice of “rock” references, I understood what he meant. At least, I thought I did. I thought he meant music played with guitars and drums in common time.

For nearly twenty years after that moment, Todd pursued rock music. He wrote and played it with The Carter Administration and Century Club, doing concurrent stints with The Clutters and Hands Down Eugene. While he often composed every part of his songs for guitar, bass, and drums, he was mainly seen sitting behind the kit, counting out 4 beats per measure.

But as Century Club was recording their final output, Todd was trying to find a newer voice. And it wasn’t rock music. At least, it isn’t what most of us associate with rock music. Common time--the 4/4 unit that propels the vast majority of rock songs--is nearly absent from The Prudish Few’s pieces. The guitars are there but Kemp plays a 4-string tenor guitar and a 6-string guitar tuned a perfect fourth above standard tuning just as often as he does a traditional instrument.

Anchoring The Prudish Few are drummer Jay Leo Phillips and bassist Mike Shepherd, themselves from Apollo Up, Tower Defense, Shibboleth, Lotushalo and a lengthy pedigree of Nashville post-rock mainstays. Within this trio, chiming guitars and a bevy of keyboard and mallet instruments are accompanied by melodic bass lines and resolute drumming that shifts direction on a dime, leading the listener down unexpected paths.

Within this trio, Todd Kemp has found his voice. The Prudish Few make the unexpected sound familiar, the unusual catchy. Kemp’s singing voice--frequently in tight harmonies with Shepherd’s--is vulnerable and approachable, his lyrics heartbreaking and human. All while pursuing irregular rhythms, unconventional song structures, and occasional absurdity.

You weren’t there when, after a performance from a percussion ensemble, Todd told me “They’re playing rock in the form of chamber music. I’m making chamber music in the form of a rock band.”

But you can be here now for The Prudish Few.