Buzzbox-Novel idea: Latest album from C'ville transplants far from ordinary

extraordinariesThe Extraordinaires are known for theatrical rock.

Philadelphia-based quartet The Extraordinaires have a special place in their heart for Charlottesville. With three of the four band members local natives, putting C'ville as a stop on their tours isn't much of a stretch– usually they come to visit old friends rather than to just play a gig.

"We came just to visit our friends before we ever thought about Charlottesville being just a stop on a tour," says bassist Matt Gibson. "As long as we know somebody there, we'll always come."

It takes more than just friendships to prop The Extraordinaires to popularity in the local scene. Their bluegrass-tinged rock is attractive to an audience that that has heard Gibson, vocalist Jay Purdy, and guitarist Justin Wolf since the trio were playing in various area high school bands– which is why debuting their third album, Electric and Benevolent, at iS is so appropriate for the Philly musicians.

After growing up in the local music scene, Purdy moved up to Philly with solo aspirations– but playing a show with Gibson reminded the friends why they loved playing together back at Albemarle High School. When friend and Punk Rock Payroll music label head Frede Zimmer heard their acoustic sound, he offered to help put an album out for the fledgling band– and thus The Extraordinaires was born. But the quartet never set out to be just another album-pushing operation: an eccentric, theatrical sound was born and bred with the band's debut, Ribbon of War.

"We are a grassroots kind of operation," says Gibson. "We like to do things the way we do, creating a company for ourselves."

The Extraordinaries' main claim to fame? Their past three albums have all been conceptual, based around a character or a story– hence fans' and critics' frequent references to theater– and all have been distributed not in traditional jewel cases, but in handcrafted books. Electric and Benevolent is ten songs based around the life of a "turn of the century genius" and will come encased as a journal complete with original illustrations, freestyle calligraphy to invoke a handwritten feel, and a silk-screened fabric cover.

"The idea never went through our brain to put out an album in a jewel case– we went from writing and playing music right into figuring out how to make a book," explains Gibson. "It's Jay's little brainchild– he came up with an elaborate, romantic story, and he wanted to make it more special, make a zine out of it."

But in an industry relying more and more on internet sales and buzz, does the somewhat antiquated feel of the book-as-album harm, rather than boost, The Extraordinaires' image as an up-and-coming band? Not so, insists Gibson, who notes that the uniqueness of the album construction is perfect for the person who seeks a little something more from their music. In addition to creating mini-novels for their album casements, the group has toured in the past with full sets, backdrops, props, and costumes, helping to recreate the story each album sets out to tell.

"We like to make the rock show as theatrical as possible, other than just being excited and moving with the music– if that's theater, we succeed every night," Gibson says. "In this moment, we're not doing anything strictly theatrical with this set– we're trying to showcase the music."

For now, the band is continuing to evolve in their sound and define their image– are they rock stars or part of a more traditional theater scene?

Growing up with an acoustic, country background, Gibson and Purdy progressed through a Tom Waits-infatuation, to now seek inspiration from Queen's vocals and instrumentation. While they have no theatrical-styled sets or costumes planned for the release of Electric and Benevolent's release, look for that extra something to spice up the story.

The Extraordinaires release
Electric and Benevolent at iS on 6/20. The doors open at 8:30 pm and tickets are $8.