It was a first for the duo that makes up the soulful indie-folk band Frances Luke Accord.
With their guitars in hand, Brian Powers and Nick Gunty stood on the large base step of a staircase located on the first floor of an old house just west of downtown South Bend.
Spread throughout the house were a few dozen folding chairs, a couch and a loveseat, each used by a concertgoer there to watch the band headline the Friday night show of the South Bend house concert festival, Homebody, which took place in early October.
The layout of the house was peculiar for a concert, but it worked just the same, as the audience was spread throughout three different rooms on the first floor of the house. Each room had its own view and thus provided its own unique perspective to watch and listen to the band.
“Every house has its quirks,” Nick says. “I really enjoyed playing in a stairwell. I don’t think we’ve done that before. … The whole house had a great ambiance to it, and our host did a great job putting that together.”
This was the band’s second stop on a 10-day, nine-show tour that included stops in Grand Rapids and other Midwestern towns. The tour was used to help fund the band as it goes through another writing and recording phase, which will culminate in the release of its next EP, “Silver & Gold,” to be released at the end of January 2019.
Currently, Nick lives in Philadelphia and Brian in Chicago, but Frances Luke Accord’s roots are South Bend. The duo grew up in there and attended Notre Dame together, where they became friends and jam partners, before embarking on a professional music venture together and moving to Chicago to spread their wings.
Today, their distance only makes coming home even more special, as Nick and Brian get to reunite with family, friends, fans and each other every time they make a trip to play in South Bend. Thanks to modern technology, working on an album 700 miles apart is much easier than one might expect.
“Even when we were living together in Chicago, we almost never wrote in the same exact room when we were starting a new song,” Nick says. “Once the song sort of has an identity and a thrust, it’s a little bit easier to take it to the other person to put on the table and to sort of offer for critique, but until then it’s really just kind of one or the other person’s idea.”
Their long distance relationship leads to an interesting onstage rapport every time the band gets together, which was on full display at the Homebody festival.
“This is just hearsay. I haven’t actually tasted anything,” Brian said during the show, “but I know you’ve been baking a lot and watch a lot of the Great British… What’s that show called?”
“The Great British Baking Show,” Nick says. “You know what? You clearly don’t know anything about baking.”
“I’m trying to give you a platform in case you try to become a baker,” Brian says.
“You think I should become a baker instead of a musician?” Nick says. “Are you really throwing me under the bus onstage?”
This witty back-and-forth provides the audience with extra entertainment every time they have to tune their guitars between songs.
“We often compare the banter to doing improv comedy,” Nick says. “It kinda obeys the same rules in a way so [our shows] can have this sort of organic, spontaneous kind of flavor to them that makes it still feel genuine. But of course, we also have a predictable show that we have to keep professional.”
After an eventful 2018, the band is hoping that “Silver & Gold” will help take Frances Luke Accord to a new level in 2019. The EP will have a ceremonial kickoff with an album release party at the Unitarian Church in South Bend on Feb. 9.
So far, Nick and Brian aren’t at the point where they can quit their day jobs to focus on music, because pretty much every dollar they make off of the band gets put back into it. Their main cost comes from tour expenses, which ironically is also the best way for the band to turn a profit.
“Ultimately, it comes down to demand: How much are we worth to play a show,” Brian says. “How many people are going to show up at any given city for our show? What’s the volume of our fan base? Because you can make decent money off your recorded music if enough people are listening, but the live shows are where the most money comes from.”
As the music scene in South Bend and the city itself continues to grow, Nick and Bryan feel their band will as well. There are a number of people in South Bend who are invested in the city musically and culturally, such as Jim Ward and Myles Robertson, who organized Homebody. This is part of the reason Frances Luke Accord has been able to have such awesome opportunities here.
It’s also something Nick and Brian have contributed to in their own way.
“I think [in South Bend] there’s a rejuvenated spirit, and everybody can feel it and the people who are willing and able to make a difference are tapping into it and that’s awesome,” Nick says. “It’s been a pleasure to witness and to be a part of in the small way that we have been.”
Photography Jon Gilchrist