Breaking into New Musical Shoes and Effect Pedals?: A Chat with Charleston Alternative/Shoegaze Duo Overlay

Just over a month ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Charleston’s burgeoning alternative/shoegaze project, Overlay. February’s CisternYard Media Bell South Sessions boasted an impressive lineup of local musical acts LimeWire, Chase Heffron and company (aka Fathurday), and of course Overlay. After immersing my senses in the enveloping, ethereal sound of Overlay, we closed the night with a brief chat with Jeff McGee, the singer and guitarist, and Oliver Pierce, the drummer, who shared about themselves and their recent music. 

I probed them with a few initial questions about their debut in Charleston’s alternative rock scene. McGee answered that Overlay actually started a year ago in his bedroom, and it was literally just him and his Macbook against the world. He then talked to Pierce, and they jammed for a while. They didn’t actually start playing shows til October. After eight shows now, the duo are settling into a nice performance groove. Their gazing shoes have gotten broken into, perhaps. Reminiscing on the period before their debut, McGee commented that he didn’t think they would get here so fast, since it was definitely nerve-racking. A small but mighty two piece.

Looking back on the first show, McGee and Pierce note that it was a blast, but it was not the crowd that they were expecting. Then, shifting gears to venues like Bridge to Nowhere with Show Me Mary, the whole alternative crowd showed up. They nostalgically mention how people from punks to goths came out in droves. That’s what they wanted, and the love for the music was so strong. And so from that point on it’s just been the same sort of people. They’re so glad that people are sticking by and are saying like, oh, we gotta go to Overlay. 

I compliment the two on their rocking debut at Nowhere (Ask a Punk) and Stu’s House for the New Curious City curated lineup in early February alongside other rocking acts Gods and Newgrounds Death Rugby. Curious to hear about the logic behind their song choices for both gigs, I see McGee and Pierce grow increasingly animated, their internal musical cogs spinning at rapid speed. McGee confesses that the songs they graced CisternYard Media with that very evening in Bell South were the same they played last Saturday at rustic, moshing house venue, Stu’s house. 

I had to ask about their cover songs which they chose for their various shows. McGee said they chose “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” by Deftones for one of their first shows because the people who know it…know it. Around the Fur is such a hallmark album. The two share a love for The Smashing Pumpkins although Pierce has worked in versatile genres of jazz and funk for his other project  Ollie’s Alright. They try to embrace the alternative moniker to not be pigeonholed in the shoegaze genre. After playing with Abrevity, they drew comparisons to noise rock group Hum. One of their more refreshing covers was “Bound for the Floor” by Local H. McGee explains that “It’s catchy and it’s easily accessible for people, but it’s also not one of those songs where it’s like a platinum record.”

I had to inquire after admiring McGee’s clever pedal work: What shoes do you wear when you gaze? McGee said he just wears Reebox, and he wears them like all the time. Pierce is a little different since he’s a drummer as he sports some slightly dirty Nike Air Forces, mucked up from the last Tin Roof show they played. No white shoes in these parts. McGee admitted that for time’s sake he didn’t do the typical get on the ground thing and play with a bunch of knobs, things that people add for theatrical flourish. 

Don’t fret; you can see this fancy pedal work in the flesh at future shows at Tin Roof, Stu’s house, and Bridge to Nowhere (depending on its status). 

Shortly before our chat, McGee and Pierce gave me a sneak peak of some of the lyrics they’ve been crafting. McGee admitted that he wrote their track “Let Me Stay” on the spot like he does with most of his songs. He described it as a very ambient sound but an overwhelmingly touching song because it’s about his long-distance girlfriend.  He admits that the lyrics can be a bit repetitive, but, once they throw in all the distortion, it all comes together into undulating waves that wash many emotions over you.  

Song “I’m Alive” was one of the first songs the duo created. McGee admitted that Pierce was one of the first drummers he worked with. He created a riff, and Pierce filled in with drums. They liked the range and then they sprinkled in the lyrics. McGee insisted that the song was something that everybody could relate to especially in terms of relationship issues and a weird, untrusting feeling. He describes, 

“You know somebody has a secret. But you know what that secret is. And it’s all different, a lot of emotions and like I’m alive. I’m sinking. So it’s like you have this feeling where you’re alright, but you’re not alright.”

I admit that reading over the lyrics allowed me to absorb the deeper meaning and gave me a new appreciation, but I still enjoyed hearing it accentuated with the distortion. McGee admits that it is hard to hear the singing with all the effects. Something his relatives never fail to mention. 

I thank Overlay very much for joining in dialogue with CisternYard Media this evening and urge all readers to make sure to check out their recent release on streaming platforms like Apple Music and Spotify. Also most importantly, keep your eyes peeled for Overplay playing near you. 

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