COLUMBIA—It’s just a few hours until show time in Columbia, South Carolina, at an unassuming club in the historic Congaree Vista district.  Set back from the road, the club—Headliners— is one of several in the complex. Walking out of the humid, rainy night, through a set of doors and down a wood-paneled hallway, it’s hard to imagine this will be the site of some serious indie rock tonight. Rounding a corner and down yet another hallway, it’s starting to look more like a hotel conference area until the sounds of loud guitars and drum beats become audible. The Walkmen are just starting their sound check on the stage in the cavernous, two-story bar.

The five band members are dressed in a preppy meets New York hipster kind of way, which makes sense because these guys met some 15 years ago while attending prep school in Washington, D.C., and later moved to New York. Three of them still call New York home and the other two (Paul Maroon and Matt Barrick) now live in Philly.

At the end of sound check, guitarist and piano player Maroon gets off the stage and decides he wants to visit the mechanical bull next door. Maroon and bandmate Peter Bauer head into the other bar that has a country-western theme and both jump up on the bull with Bauer sitting in the front.

Eventually, Maroon and Bauer hop down off the bull and begin talking about their summer, which was spent touring and vacationing together in Spain. “Yes, we even vacation together,” Maroon says. “I think we’re probably friendlier than your average band,” Bauer adds.

Being so close seems to be an advantage for The Walkmen, who just put out their third record, A Hundred Miles Off, in May. “We’re not at odds musically. Really, if all five of us can agree on something musically, it’s usually pretty good,” Maroon says.

But all the time they spend together can also be a source of embarrassment, Bauer says.  “Take the gas station earlier.  They were like, ‘Are you guys in a band?’ Cuz if you really think about it, there’s absolutely no reason for five grown men to be walking around by themselves, dressed the same way.”

Perhaps not but they’re by no means the stereotypical band anyway. The guys are at a stage in their lives where they’re also serious about things other than music and being on the road. Bauer has a son and drummer Matt Barrick just had a daughter recently. “He’s gonna start taking some time off.  He’s been on paternity leave—paid I might add (laughs). The Walkmen are pretty progressive,” Bauer says.

As for maintaining a balance between personal and professional life, “It’s a welcome challenge,” Maroon says. “You can’t be like 50 years old and have been in a band your whole life and don’t have any kids and don’t have anything to show for yourself.” In agreement, Bauer adds, “We’re the least band-like band possible.”

The members of that “least band-like band” still tour in a van they own and pay homage to it on their website, giving the van its own section on the site. “It’s the sixth man,” Bauer says. “We just put a lot of stupid things on our website and this is just the latest.  We used to have a thing where band members would morph into animals—like I’d turn into an ostrich.” As long as it’s not a mechanical bull.

With the mention of the sixth and final member of the band, the guys head backstage to prepare for their show that’s about to draw quite a crowd on a lazy, Wednesday night. People begin filtering in as The Specs hit the stage. A mix of long, scraggly-haired hipsters and clean-cut South Carolina preppies begin moving to the tunes of the Charleston-based band. Bobby Bare, Jr., takes the stage next to a more packed crowd. “It’s really groovy to be here—wherever we are,” Bare says and the crowd responds with laughs and cheers.

With his curly mop of hair bouncing around, Bare energetically plows through a 50-minute set of tunes. Dave, a Columbia resident, cheers after Bare plays “Valentine,” saying “I’m digging Bobby Bare but I’m looking forward to The Walkmen. They’re a little harder and I’ve heard they put on a great show.”

Dave doesn’t have to wait much longer. The Walkmen take the stage soon after, sounding like something straight out of the garage. With a guitar slung over his shoulder that appears to be there as much for looks as for playing, frontman Hamilton Leithauser delivers Bob Dylanesque vocals from song to song. Bauer and Walter Martin trade off on the guitar and organ and the boys perform their ode to Beantown, “Lost in Boston.”

The group’s rendition of “Louisiana” (which was written before Hurricane Katrina) adds another element to the show. Maroon switches between guitar and trumpet on the song and Bare’s bari-sax player Deanna Varagona joins in on the Spanish-sounding choruses. It’s a different sound for the band, but they’ve been trying some new things out recently. This fall, they’re releasing a cover album of the 1974 “Pussy Cats” album by Harry Nilsson, which will have a string orchestra on it.

Speaking of covers, The Walkmen bring down the house on their version of Mazarin’s “Another One Goes By.” Starting it off with 50s style guitar chords, the drums come in and hips begin swaying to the melancholy tune. Eyes close and it feels like the kind of song someone could get lost in. It could in fact be the perfect song for a rainy, summer night in South Carolina—or even somewhere a hundred miles off.

AUSTIN—Will Dailey put everything he had into producing his first solo album, including his prized red Honda Civic. Selling the car to finance the album, which was appropriately named Goodbyeredbullet, “added sweetness to that record,” Dailey says from Austin’s Apple Bar, which is being taken over this week by L.A.’s Viper Room for a series of showcases during SXSW.

“I have a lot of friends who are musicians and they’ve never parted with anything they loved,” Dailey says. “I’ve had to sell a guitar and, now, a company just gave me a guitar for free. It’s so bizarre because I don’t need that guitar now. I needed you guys to help me keep my guitar four years ago. But it’s a whole bittersweet process and I think I’m healthier for it.”

From the start of his solo career, Dailey says he’s always been “DIY.” He hit the road to promote his first album, selling more than 10,000 copies of it on his own and garnering a large national following. On the road, sales of those records helped Dailey pay for food and gas. “If I went to a small room and played for five people in a town for the first time and I sold two records, that 20 bucks was food for the next day and what not. There was this kind of circle of survival,” he says.

Now, those kinds of worries are gone for Dailey, who received the 2006 Boston Music Award for Best Male Singer Songwriter. His second album, Backflipping Forward, has been picked up by the newly reborn CBS Records, which is also promoting Dailey’s music on CBS TV shows. Despite the recent success, Dailey is still modest and has an unassuming air as he hangs out in the alley off of Fifth Street where standing puddles are the sole reminder of the bad weather that’s plagued Austin for the last two days.

A few feet away, a set up crew is fast at work prepping a makeshift stage for tonight’s performances, which include Will Dailey; English band Mohair, who channel The Beatles and Queen; and L.A.’s catchy Reeve Carney and the Revolving Band. Dailey is up first tonight, starting off his set with “Bi Polar Baby.” The small covered stage area in back of Apple Bar lends the intimate feel of being at a house party where a friend’s band is playing. Dailey only adds to this as he shuns his footwear, choosing to play the entire set in socks.

He and his band move from the rocking “Bi Polar Baby” into the mellower “Yesterday’s Gone.” Being able to transition from an upbeat song to a slower one is the sort of style Dailey says many contemporary artists lack. “I miss the Elton Johns and the Billy Joels who could write a really upbeat song and have a complete ballad on the next one—and just have different feelings and genres coming through all the music.” In an age where there are so many singer/songwriters, Dailey sets himself apart with the ability to rock out an audience before moving them to the verge of tears.

He continues his set with “Hollywood Hills,” which gets a big response from the crowd that’s packed into the venue. Dailey is winning new fans over tonight, including Jay, an Austin native. “It takes a lot to impress me but this guy has an amazing voice and it looks like he’s working hard up there,” he says.

Hard work isn’t something Dailey has shied away from over the years. He’s interested in longevity in the music world and not in being an overnight sensation. “I think now it’s hip to be like, ‘Oh they’re the new big thing,’” Dailey says of the current music scene. For him, it’s been different. “Someone didn’t hear me all of the sudden. I played many nights over the last four years and have all the road bumps and still have to plug away” despite the CBS Records deal. Now isn’t the time for Dailey to sit back and relax even though the days of financing albums with his car are likely gone. But Dailey isn’t forgetting where he came from either.

SAN ANTONIO—It’s an hour before show time on a warm, summer evening in San Antonio and tonight’s opening band, The Offbeats, are running on nervous energy and excitement. “This is kind of a big thing for us tonight,” says Bryan Foster, lead vocalist and guitar player, as the guys hang out backstage preparing to open for The Stills and Kings of Leon.

Even though Foster admits he’s “anxious” for the show tonight, his band is certainly accustomed to playing live. They’ve been together for more than three years, playing mostly Texas venues. Foster describes their music as “garage rock” and it literally is—the band’s recordings have all been made in his garage, bringing a raw edginess to Foster’s impassioned vocals.

Tonight, in their hometown, just blocks from the Alamo and famed Riverwalk, the four band members are sticking close together before the show. There’s a visible chemistry between all of them and understandably so. Two brothers actually make up one half of the band—Bryan’s brother, Colin, is the bass player. But drummer Mike Griffin says, they all feel a brotherly connection because they spend so much time together and “get on each other’s nerves a lot. It’s kinda like a really bad messed up family,” he says.

It’s not just music keeping this “family” together. It’s also the “embarrassing day jobs” Griffin says they have. “We’re all tennis instructors,” he says. And tennis is in fact the way they all met in high school. “That’s kind of how most rock bands form,” says guitarist Eric Romasanto with a laugh.

Tennis playing garage rockers may not be the norm but nothing about this band or this night is the norm either. The hot Texas afternoon is continuing into the night with an intermittent breeze coming through the outdoor stage area, which is just one part of the sprawling Sunset Station, a railroad station dating back to 1902. The space also incorporates a slew of tables on a large patio behind the stage area. People are already hanging out there while the hardcore music fans are staking out prime space near the stage.

At 8:00, in the shadow of the Alamodome and the Tower of the Americas, The Offbeats take the stage and any evidence of their pre-game jitters is gone. They kick things off with the professionalism and high energy of veteran rock stars. And the crowd knows it, singing along to the catchy song “Carolina Caroline.” Fans shout out requests and the band eventually delivers a crowd favorite, “Switchblade,” which features a rockin’ guitar part and Bryan singing with a pseudo English accent. Griffin’s strong, steady drumming comes through on every song, making “The Offbeats” an ironic name for a band that is anything but offbeat.

As the band closes out their quick 30-minute set, fans cheer for an encore. But the only encore tonight will be in the form of sets from headliners Kings of Leon and The Stills.

Hailing from Montreal, the five members of The Stills are on next and immediately remark on the Texas weather when they take the stage. “We’re Canadians. What are you trying to do to us?” shouts singer Tim Fletcher. The guys from up North cope with the heat, delivering a set packed full of favorites, such as “Helicopters” and “Still In Love.”

After catching upbeat performances from The Offbeats and The Stills, the crowd is pumped up, desperately waiting for its next dose of indie music. Kings of Leon hit the stage to fists pumping in the air and bodies moving to the beat on what’s clearly a very special night for music in San Antonio.

Backstage, The Offbeats are digging the show. “There’s not much of a music scene here. We always have to drive to Austin when we go to a concert,” Bryan Foster says. The other members of The Offbeats agree the music scene in San Antonio is often overshadowed. But tonight, on the eve of Austin City Limits, the biggest thing going on in this part of Texas is right here in San Antonio.

NASHVILLE—Playing in front of a Nashville crowd can be tough—even when the internationally popular band calls the city home. The reason being many of the audience members are also musicians. They study “us like we’re circus freaks or something,” says Caleb Followhill, lead singer and guitarist of Kings of Leon. “Or everybody feels like they know us so they don’t clap,” adds Matthew Followhill, lead guitarist and cousin of the three brothers who make up Kings of Leon.

Before the show starts at Nashville’s relatively new venue City Hall, there are people in the crowd saying they knew Kings of Leon when. But most just seem excited to catch the band on their return to Nashville and many even show up several hours early to wait in line for a good viewing spot in the large, open venue.

Over the past several years, Kings of Leon have spent a lot of time away from Music Row, proving themselves as road warriors, touring with the likes of U2 and The Strokes, and acquiring a large fan base overseas. This year, they’ve been working on a new album. The eldest brother and drummer, Nathan, says the next album will be as different from Aha Shake Heartbreak as that album was from their debut Youth and Young Manhood.

The band is just now hitting the road again. Caleb says going back on the road has been scary because they’re used to being home and they wonder if “the same old demons” they used to have will come back to haunt them. “But we realized we’re doing what we love. We’re making a living. We’re making our family proud,” he says.

Family is an important element for the band. The brothers grew up traveling the country in an Oldsmobile with their father, Leon, who was a Pentecostal preacher. The bond between the brothers (and their cousin) is strong. Nathan shares a house with Caleb off the road and Jared, the youngest brother and bassist, lives next door to Matthew. They also still look to their mother for haircuts (not that they have too many) and for tailoring their clothes. “She’s like our Tina Knowles,” Caleb says, referring to Beyoncé’s mother and stylist.

Caleb credits their steady musical success to the family connection. “Because we’re family, we’ve always had a bond no matter what we do. When we played sports, we’d always win—and not necessarily because we were the best at what we were doing, but once you’d put us all together, we’d win,” he says. It’s the same for them whether it’s music or challenging another band on the road to a friendly softball game, such as the game they won against The Strokes when they toured with them last year.

In addition to being competitive, the guys all share a love for food and make sure to enjoy a good meal and several bottles of wine before they play a gig. “We’re all so skinny and we all sit around watching the Food Network all day long. It’s like we’d rather watch that than porno.”

Tonight, as the band is out enjoying some Nashville cuisine, people are filing into City Hall. In a city full of small, intimate venues, the 10,000 square foot space is unique. Originally a warehouse dating back to the 1920s, the exposed brick, large windows and steel rafters provide the perfect backdrop for tonight’s full house. With a mix of friends of the Followhills, hipsters and both known and unknown musicians in the crowd, Canadian band The Stills take the stage. One of the singers asks the crowd to “Show us you’re the musical town you’re supposed to be” as local musician Bobby Bare, Jr., grabs a beer at the bar and Kelby Ray of Nashville-based Bang Bang Bang wanders through the crowd.

Once The Stills wrap up their set, there are intermittent cheers for Kings of Leon and, finally, the band takes the stage. “It’s good to be home in Nashville, Tennessee,” Caleb shouts while tossing a guitar pick into the crowd. The crowd gets into the music, dances and sings along to new songs and old. Tonight, the Nashville crowd is no longer that overly critical outsider. Tonight, the crowd is the proud parent of their hometown kings.

Photo Credit: Dan Withers

As part of the One Track Find program for Mello Yello, I took photos while working with artists in studio.

Members of Nemes

Members of Nemes

Recording with Nemes

Recording with Nemes

Nemes in a Boston studio

Nemes in a Boston studio

Behind the scenes with Nemes

Behind the scenes with Nemes

Solo artist Casey Jane records vocals in Lancaster, PA.

Solo artist Casey Jane records vocals in Lancaster, PA.

Casey Jane performs for the camera and audio engineer.

Casey Jane performs for the camera and audio engineer.

A view of Casey Jane from an audio booth in Lancaster, PA.

A view of Casey Jane from an audio booth in Lancaster, PA.

North of Mason-Dixon enters a studio in Pittsburgh.

North of Mason-Dixon enters a studio in Pittsburgh.

Recording lead vocals in Pittsburgh with North of Mason-Dixon.

Recording lead vocals in Pittsburgh with North of Mason-Dixon.

Some fiddle action with North of Mason-Dixon.

Some fiddle action with North of Mason-Dixon.