By Tyson Lynn
The Norfolk & Western Railway was a unique and short-lived railroad in Virginia. Before 1964, it was a small and financially sound coal hauler operating some of the finest steam powered trains. After 1964, Norfolk & Western decided to lease, merge with, or purchase several other railroads to expand its operation. Their growth plan was its own demise; Norfolk & Western’s death came at the hands of a merger in 1998.
Adam Selzer, frontman for the band Norfolk & Western, playing January 25 at the Comet Tavern, didn’t know any of this when he picked the name.
“We had the first album done and we still didn’t have a name,” said Selzer by phone. “I had picked a cover and on it was a picture of a train with the Norfolk & Western logo. I figured since it was on the album, it should be our name.”
Begun in 1998 as a personal recording project, the band blossomedinto a full fledged four piece. Selzer, in addition to writing the songs, also owns and operates Type Foundry Recording Studio where he has engineered and recorded every Norfolk & Western album. Rachel Blumberg plays drums, and in addition to a variety of other instruments lends her breathy voice on occasion. She was also a full-time member of the Decemberists. Dave Depper took on bass duties, adding a new sense of effortless melody to the low-end.
The resulting albums—recorded in Selzer’s studio—have an intimacy and willingness to experiment more common to home recordings. Free-floating instrumentals, random recorded snippets, and subtle backgrounds mark each album.
The Unsung Colony, their most recent release, features lush guitar, organ, banjo, piano, and countless other instruments played by friends Cory Gray, Amanda Lawrence, and Tony Moreno. The result is a fully fleshed folk album, atmospheric and melodic in equal measure.
“Sometimes recording songs tends to be more of an exercise, especially if you have a strong vision of how you want it to sound,” said Selzer. “You’re not really surprising yourself, which, if the vision is good, that’s the way to do it. But I like to not really know what I’m getting into – just have a rough idea and start throwing things down.”
Live, they’ve thrown down all along the coast and done stints with Sparklehorse in Europe. Look for
them to bring the hushed immediacy of their recorded work when they appear in the intimate confines of the Comet. It’ll be like sitting outside on a warm starry night; only because it’s Seattle, it’ll be overcast and cold. And since it’s the Comet, it might also be loud and drunken.
But the music, as ever, will be great.