Not many high-school bands make it out of the garage — and far fewer can claim a quarter-century legacy. College-circuit legend Law of Nature counts itself among the exceptions.
“I needed something to channel my creative energy into,” explains band co-founder Chapman Welch. “At that time , you kind of had to create your own things to do. I think that’s why there are so many creative people in every little town in Mississippi.”
Formed in Corinth around the talents of 15-year-old Welch as songwriter and guitarist and 14-year-old Jennifer Knight on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Law of Nature made it out of the garage, farther and faster than most.
“The first gig where we got hooked on playing shows was at the Cannery in Nashville — the first time people got up and danced — [when] we were 16,” said Welch. “From that time, we were playing shows in Nashville and Memphis on the weekend.”
Welch’s musical tastes veered between the classical music he played on piano and the bands he listened to at the time — REM, 10,000 Maniacs, Pixies, Sugarcubes, Edie Brickell and Concrete Blonde. He said the band’s early records, made when they were still in high school, sounded like a combination of those influences.
By 1992, Chapman was a student at Mississippi State University and, in 1994, the band recorded its first widely distributed album, Four Points in the Valley. The band drew a following playing Starkville bars like Mulligan’s, Rick’s Café and Dave’s Dark Horse. They followed up with More in 1996.
Recorded at Duck Tape Music by Johnny Sandlin, who previously manned the console for Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers Band, More showed the band stretching out. New percussion and subtle banjo added depth to the band’s songs, which served as melodic vehicles for Knight and tapestries for Welch’s expansive guitar soloing.
Amanda Garriga, a close friend and roommate of Jennifer, joined the band and contributed to the next album, Hot Pants and Pop Rocks. She soon moved to Nashville to pursue songwriting full time, where her talents were cut tragically short after an undiagnosed heart condition caused her death.
“Amanda was one of my dearest friends,” Jennifer said. “At one point in my life, I lived with her, worked two different jobs with her and spent more of my free time with her than anyone. The band became a family, so it was like losing family.”
After growing tight through years on the road, playing gigs across the Southeast and beyond with bands like Widespread Panic, Los Lobos and the Neville Brothers, the members of Law of Nature eventually drifted to other careers. Knight and Welch married and settled in the Houston, Texas, area. Today, their bandmates are scattered around the country, but their creative spark still burns hot. Through it all, the band has kept performing. Recording the band’s latest album, Automagic, released earlier this year, posed logistical challenges, but there was no lack of chemistry. It was a true labor of love.
“Since we live so scattered, recording Automagic was very quick and somewhat effortless on my part,” said bassist Andy Sherman. “Some of the tracks I played on were first takes and the first time I heard them. Chapman was playing the chords on guitar next to me while being recorded.”
Drummer Michael McGrath, meanwhile, wrote his parts at home in Las Vegas from rough guitar tracks, working out different ideas and grooves for the songs, before bringing his drum kit to the studio in Houston.
The album shows the band’s range, from a straight-ahead rocker like “Anything I Want,” propelled by the rhythm section of Sherman and McGrath, to the Dusty Springfield in Memphis-feel of Jennifer’s vocals on “You’re Not Alone,” to a 1970s Laurel Canyon groove on “Tame.”
On Automagic, Welch was also able to indulge his professional life as electro-acoustical music specialist with REMLABS at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.
“I invited a lot of students, real players, from Rice to perform on the album,” he said. “And on the track ‘Into the Fading Light,’ the thing that sounds like an organ is actually my Tele run through some software I created.”
Jennifer said the group’s newest album is their best yet.
“It’s the best thing we’ve done,” she said. “Chapman’s songwriting is amazing, and the arrangements are deeper than any other Law of Nature album.”
The band is currently working on its fifth album in Houston. Sherman and McGrath recently flew in to lay down basic tracks.
“I really do enjoy playing with these guys,” Sherman said. “I wish we could do it five times a week and make a living at it. I think we keep on because we love each other. The band gives us a reason to do that. That’s a lot of history. It shows every time we pick up our instruments.”
Photos by Lauren Wood / © The ‘Sip