Memphis Pencils

It’s not every year an experimental indie-pop band from Northwest Arkansas travels to New York and plays Austin’s annual music festival extravaganza, South by Southwest. But then again, the NWA music scene is just starting to notice the diversity, swagger and songwriting sensibilities of Fayetteville’s Memphis Pencils. 

Memphis Pencils began a few years back when identical twins Jim and Gary Sloan took their love (and genetics) for any musical instrument they could get their hands on and put it to use. In the Pencils this includes the guitar, saxophone, piano, glockenspiel, banjo, trombone and other various percussion instruments. Eventually the twins enlisted vocalist and keyboardist Martin Bemberg, bassist Reed Faitak and drummer Drew Wallis to fill out the line up. The band’s sound, however, is a bit harder to fill out because of the many different instruments and influences it encompasses. 

“Our influences depend on which one of us you ask,” Bemberg said. “I know for a while Reed’s biggest thing, at least for a little while, was Motown bass lines … I always try to channel Paul McCartney. We have unique influences as far as your typical indie-rock band.”

Though the Beatles-style songwriting comes through a bit in the sound, as well as some ‘60s and ‘70s pop-rock, the Memphis Pencils also indulge the pop-indie spectrum of The Shins and a bit of the mellowed-out acoustic done by Sufjan Stephens. 

The band will take their unique blend of sounds and instruments to one of the nation’s biggest music showcases, South by Southwest later this month. 

“South by Southwest is top of the agenda right now and we are really excited about it,” Bemberg said. “Because we played CMJ in New York they asked us to play South by Southwest because apparently we appear legit,” Bemberg said jokingly. 

“We played a show in Springfield and played with one of the guys who was friends with 8088 and got us to come to Austin to play a couple of shows on our Texas tour,” Wallis said. “That’s how we got the opportunity to play South by Southwest.”

This is not the first time the band has had the chance to shine on a national stage. Last year, the Pencils had the opportunity to travel to New York where they played a showcase for the CMJ Music Marathon, which led to the band being picked to record a track for the 8088 Record Collective feature with other emerging artists from around the nation. The Pencils had to play the New York showcase without the two founding members of the bands. Both Gary and Jim were pursuing academic endeavors and studying abroad when the band traveled to New York. However, even with a new line-up, the band said they showed their stuff and gave their usual, high-energy performance even though nerves played a bit of a factor before the show. Now, the twins are back, and although the band has received a few opportunities to take their sound to the national stage, they are not moving ahead of themselves. In fact, they are even slowing down in the Fayetteville music scene. The Pencils were one of the showcase bands at last year’s Northwest Arkansas Music Awards.

“Not to bad mouth the scene, but we are in Fayetteville, so we are a little bit limited and don’t want to take our fan base for granted,” Bemberg said. “We try not to play too many shows around here. In the future we’ve got a CD release for the 8088 compilation.”

Final Thought: It is phenomenal that two Fayetteville bands, the Memphis Pencils and A Good Fight are traveling to Austin this month to play South by Southwest. But what would be even more amazing is the emergence of a music festival in Northwest Arkansas to rival that of South by Southwest and other festivals featuring underground and successful indie and alternative bands. It would not only flourish here, but also would give the local economy a bit of a boost … and we all know it can use a bit of that right now.

Categories: LIVE! In NWA