The most famous bands that emerged from Athens, Ga., in the 1970s and 1980s defied the conventions of Southern rock.
Then again, influential members of the B-52's and R.E.M. didn't grow up in the South. The B-52's' Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson grew up in New Jersey. R.E.M.'s Peter Buck was originally from California. Even Michael Stipe, who was born in Decatur, Ga., spent his childhood traveling the world with his military family.
You can't say the same for the Modern Skirts. The latest Athens band rising to national prominence is made up of four guys from small-town Georgia.
Guitarist Jay Gulley and keyboard player JoJo Glidewell grew up in Elberton, "the granite capital of the world," in northeastern Georgia near the South Carolina state line. Fewer than 5,000 people live there. Drummer John Swint and bass player Phil Brantley grew up 100 miles south of Elberton in Sandersville, another small mining town known for a clay substance called kaolin.
With the rise of the Modern Skirts, these towns now have a claim to fame in the indie rock world. The band formed in Athens in 2004 and gained popularity playing fraternity and house shows at the University of Georgia.
Earlier this year, the Modern Skirts released their second full-length album, All of Us in Our Night. On tracks like "Radio Breaks," they sound like an easygoing piano rock band akin to Ben Folds Five. "Like Lunatics" trades piano for synth and a more esoteric electronic sound. "Face Down" amps up with electric guitar rock.
Athens' most famous band, R.E.M., have embraced the Modern Skirts. The groups toured Europe together in 2008, and All of Us in Our Night includes a track produced by R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills. Mills adds vocals to the track, called "Motorcade."
Other national bands have bridged the musical decades since the day when Athens was best known for the B-52's. Of Montreal has been Athens' psychedelic contribution to the Elephant 6 pop collective. But even Of Montreal's lead singer, Kevin Barnes, was born in Ohio.
The Modern Skirts aren't just an Athens band. They're from the heart of Georgia.