Friday night at the Charleston Music Hall in downtown Charleston marked the end of an era for a band who has rocked just about every state in the US and many countries around the world. The house was packed as Slow Runner came onstage with some guest band members who have joined them over the past decade. Bass players Johnathan Gray and Donnie Hummel, Nathan Koci and Clay White on horns, Ron Wiltrout on Marimbas and Jack Burg on drums assisted Michael Flynn and Josh Kaler in bringing down the house on many of their popular hits. Songs such as “Auto-Happy” and “Everything Is Exactly What It Seems” got people out of their seats, down the aisles, and in front of the stage in a tightly packed crowd inhaling the pumped up dance songs as if they were catching their last breath. Slow Runner was playing those songs for the last time that evening.
Michael Flynn and Josh Kaler met each other at Berklee College of Music, formed Slow Runner, and soon moved to Charleston. Their focus on providing angst ridden snippets about girls was lyrical genius. Catchy synth tracks remind you of Human League or Radiohead. “Damage Points” catches us with its first hook, “I want to love you but I’m tired as hell” and ends in a powerful punch of future regrets. Another example of their lyrical prowess is “She Wants To Wrap Her Legs Around The World”, where they croon over a drunk girlfriend smelling of gin and cigarettes who comes over for a late night hookup that they simply cannot refuse.
Having worked with many great musicians throughout their existence, Slow Runner found themselves working along with Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, both from Shovels & Rope, to collaborate on a wide variety of projects and leading up to a tight little album called “Mermaids”. Cary Ann Hearst can be heard on the track “Trying To Put Your Life Back Together” as well as a 2012 release of “XXX” (found on iTunes) as well as others. Flynn describes “XXX” as being “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever shared a soundwave with (sic)” in connection to Hearst’s vocals.
Unfortunately for us, Flynn and Kaler are not depressed 20-somethings anymore and have decided to move on with their music separately in opposite directions. Speaking with both, I am able to get a better understanding of where they were and where they are going on their separate journeys. Both musicians have beautiful stories to tell and a magical ability to ensconce their fans in a comfortable and safe haven of remarkably talented narratives, either through masterful lyrics or jamming guitar riffs, vibrating your body into an unwitting dance move.
Kaler readily admits that making the decision to break up the band was extremely difficult for them to do. As he states, “I have such a great community here in Charleston, and I am a big fan of the songwriting scene…I realized that there’s just not enough work for me when I’m in town.” As he’s moving on to the Nashville circuit, Kaler intends to push himself outside of his comfort zone and find new challenges with his new touring partner, Butch Walker. One of the ways he plans to pursue those efforts is with his favorite 1938 Rickenbacher Lap Steel guitar in furthering his growing interest in “sleepy Hawaiian sounds” and incorporating those into a new vibe.
Kaler’s Fender Jazzmaster and Peavey Mantis surely won’t be neglected, as his mad shredding skills were on display Friday night. Josh seemed to want to remind us one more time of what we were going to be missing, as he tore it up on the Mantis throughout the evening. Flynn, on the other hand, sang Slow Runner’s final songs with a deeply rooted emotionally charged sentiment that had his voice cracking and our eyes tearing up toward the end of the evening. Michael Flynn’s love of the music, bandmates and the audience were transparent, but his goals for future prospects are now unlimited and without constraints.
Being a bit rebellious has motivated Flynn from the beginning of his career, and he’s looking forward to exploring a new style that will be more hypnotic and form an electronic base. While he’s been busy writing tracks for video games, something an ex-roommate got him into, he is ready to head into the unknown and write in unchartered waters. As he explains, “I’m still in the ‘Man, this feels WEIRD’ phase of a solo existence,” but says he is “restless and hungry as ever.”
Asking Flynn if he’s ready to put a new band together, he hedges a little bit and says he’d probably prefer to make the record without worrying too much about how it’ll play out live. If and when it is played in concert, he anticipates the live version might be “wildly different; in fact I hope they are.” His correct assumption is that recorded tracks versus live tracks are that they should each be their own living thing and not necessarily a required carbon copy of the other.
While Slow Runner may have played their last show, Kaler and Flynn will continue to provide the world with beautiful music in original ways that, hopefully, we will get to hear sooner rather than later. It’s been a great decade for them, as well as for us as fans. Their songs will never die in our hearts. Sad lovers will continue to listen to their songs and wonder how to mend their broken hearts. We thank you, Michael and Josh, for an exceptional experience and great sendoff. Goodnight, sweethearts. It’s time to go.
A lifetime of music addiction and appreciation has led Stephanie to her passion of live music photography and the entertainment industry. Having a particular interest in exceptional guitar work, she is best known for introducing her kids to Steve Vai’s and Yngwie Malmsteen’s talent in an effort to promote musical discovery to a new generation.