Last November, while in the midst of a music residency at the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences in Rabun Gap, Ga., Little Tybee singer and guitarist Brock Scott made the half-hour drive north to take in the bucolic scenery of Tallulah Gorge. While hiking the trails along the 1,000-foot-high cliffs overlooking Tallulah River, he came across a coin-operated viewfinder with the words "for distant viewing" printed on it. It didn't seem like anything special at first; it was the kind of telescopic viewer one would expect to find near any popular tourist destination. But after peering through its lenses for a while, and snapping a few photos of the viewer, he became fascinated with the object itself, and how it plays such an evocative role in peoples' experiences and memories.
For Scott, the viewer embodied a rich metaphor: It was an entry point for both intellectual and existential rumination that he wanted to tap into with the next round of songs he'd been writing with the group. "I love the idea of symbols, especially when they're associated to an album," Scott says. "You can create a unique aesthetic that really places the music in a world of its own."
As the viewer took on more significance for him, it offered not only an expanded view of the surrounding world, but an equally reflective inward gaze, as well. No matter who you are, a coin-operated viewer, such as the one Scott discovered atop Tallulah Gorge, can conjure distinct and deeply personal memories of a time and place. For Scott, it perfectly symbolized what he was after: an accessible, if not inviting, conduit for stirring up nostalgia. As such, Little Tybee's third album, For Distant Viewing (out April 9 via Paper Garden Records, but available in Atlanta at the March 7 release show), arrives as its most seductive and stylistically loaded album yet.
Taking a cue from the group's 2011 sophomore release, Humorous to Bees, an album that conceptually telegraphs a summery feel with images of a honeybee, For Distant Viewing uses the coin-operated viewer as a symbol for travel and self-exploration. From the viewer's placement on the cover to the layers of strings, tastefully precious pop melodies, and myriad musical influences percolating throughout "Hearing Blue," "Herman," and "Left Right," For Distant Viewing is a worldly departure for Little Tybee.
"One of the great things about the Internet is that you can see where people are listening to your music," Scott says. "I entered a code from where someone had signed up for our mailing list and it was in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert. The same thing happened with Vietnam, and it really opens your mind about the accessibility of your music."
Through stylistic manipulations of tone, texture, and mood, Scott's vision was to craft an album that would transcend the tides of Atlanta's music scene, where the group has become something of a string-driven indie-pop darling over the last few years. "A lot of bands are by-products of their hometown music scene, which is a social scene as well," Scott says. "But at a certain point you find that you don't have the social scene as much as you once did — a lot of my friends from the college scene have moved away — so you have to ask: Are we writing music just for fun? Is it a business? What is our purpose for doing this? Writing and recording has always been a part of my life," he adds. "I know that it will always be there and I know that I'd like to live off of this and only this. To do this, you can't just be an Atlanta band."
For Distant Viewing is also the first album that finds Little Tybee writing songs as a group, and pulling from a wider range of musical influences. With a lineup featuring Josh Martin (eight-string guitar), Nirvana Kelly (violin), Ryan Donald (bass), Chris Case (piano), and Pat Brooks (percussion), reining in the group's abilities is just as important as showing them off throughout the space-age bachelor-pad jam "Fantastic Planet," or the exploratory folk-rock lament "A Dog Waits In the Doorway."
Maturity permeates the album, as each song funnels Little Tybee's baroque songwriting into more concise pop forms. What's more, with its two previously released albums, Little Tybee handled its affairs with a homespun DIY approach — recording in-house with whatever gear was available. This time, the group raised the bar by working with engineer Ben Price, who co-produced For Distant Viewing with Scott at Studilaroche, resulting in a more polished sound.
For a more impressionistic take on the band's momentum, look no further than the album's title track. At no point does any part of the song repeat itself, and the accompanying video takes shape as an endearing montage of footage compiled from the last two years of touring the country. "The whole thing documents time spent on the road and having these different experiences each night, and then moving on to the next," Martin offers.
Despite its underlying sense of refinement, For Distant Viewing is both precise and elegant. It maintains all of the fragile and wide-eyed beauty that has come to define Little Tybee's sound, while reconciling the group's place within the scenic vistas of a much larger world.