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Celebration still navigating a label-less journey for now

Baltimore quintet plays the Metro Gallery on Friday

By Wesley Case, The Baltimore Sun

9:56 AM EDT, June 5, 2013

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Celebration, the veteran, psychedelic indie-rock quintet from Baltimore, is a live-and-learn type of band.

The last time The Baltimore Sun spoke to lead singer Katrina Ford, it was 2011, and she was turning the St. John's Baltimore church into a concert venue that resembled the sky. There were white balloons for clouds, projections of birds and hand-made sculptures. Ford doesn't regret the elaborate design now, but she did learn the cost of such high-concept ideas: The band had no energy left for the performance, which suffered as a result.

"We couldn't really pull it off," Ford, whose band plays the Metro Gallery on Friday, said recently. "After doing more than two days, 15 hours [each], of putting together these sculptures, we just couldn't do it."

Celebration's members — who include multi-instrumentalists David Bergander, Tony Drummond, Walker Teret and Sean Antanaitis, Ford's husband and long-time writing partner — know what it's like for ambitious plans not to work out how they hoped.

In 2005, Celebration signed to the independent label 4AD, current home to indie-rock darlings such as the National and St. Vincent. Although the band released its self-titled debut album in 2006 and the 2007 follow-up "The Modern Tribe," Ford says the relationship soured. In 2008, the band left 4AD.

The words Ford uses to describe the relationship can't be printed here, but it's safe to say the band's organic creative process never meshed with the label's management approach. The label also expected extensive touring that didn't appeal to Celebration.

"We don't do anything more than two weeks [long]," Ford, 40, said, while citing high gas prices and familial obligations as reasons the band doesn't tour for long periods.

Since leaving 4AD, Celebration has taken advantage of operating without a label's constant questions and deadlines. The tracks from "Hello Paradise," the group's nine-song album released in February 2011, were first released online for free. Baltimore's Friends Records enjoyed the material so much, Ford says, that the label approached the band about creating a vinyl version of the record.

"They said, 'We'd like to press this music you've been working on. We don't want to own it. We just want to press it because it needs to be heard,'" Ford said. Celebration is not signed to Friends, but works with the label on a case-by-case basis.

Ford says the band is still learning how to effectively present, and monetize, its music in an evolving industry.

"We are in a position where we own our music, but we're in a position where we're up against every other person online who says, 'Hey, we've got this stuff [to sell],'" she said.

New stuff is on the way. At the end of the summer, Celebration will release a new seven-inch single on Friends called "Tomorrow's Here Today," Ford said. The song was written five years ago as a gift from Ford and Antanaitis to Bergander's then-newborn son, Asa.

"You can give a child a stuffed animal, but the greatest gift is what you have, you know?" she said.

The full-band, re-recorded version sounds different from the original, two-person lullaby, she said. Another new song, "I Got Sol," has Southern classic rock influences. Neither announces a new direction for Celebration; instead the tracks reflect an open-minded approach to songwriting, Ford said.

The band has a double-album's worth of material ready to be recorded, Ford says, and she hopes to have the follow-up to "Hello Paradise" out sometime next year. She's even open to signing with a record label, which would not have been the case a couple years ago. Circumstances would have to be right, but there's a part of Ford that misses the exposure that comes with working with a label.

Ultimately, though, she's going to concentrate on the music and let the rest happen on its own.

"We want everyone to hear what we do," Ford said. "We're trying to figure out how to make that happen but really, you just have to make the music."

If you go

Celebration performs Friday at the Metro Gallery, 1700 N. Charles St. in Station North. Doors open at 8 p.m. Janaka Nabay & the Bubu Gang and DJ Woman will also perform. Tickets are $10. 18+. Call 410-244-0899 or go to themetrogallery.net.