Jared Bashant, Bryan Shortell, Mateo Vosganian,
Matt Ippolito, Jared Bashant
band Around the World and Back take their amped-up lullabies
to the underground
you find yourself traveling the subways in New York, Philadelphia
or Boston this winter—say around January—you may run into
a group of dapper young musicians playing a particularly
driven brand of indie-rock propelled by unique blasts
of percussion, a manic bassist and two dueling singer-guitarists
with a Brit-rock flair. If this happens to you, you have
almost certainly just encountered Albany’s Around the
World and Back.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that the band have hit hard
times. They aren’t slumming it; they are living out a
dream. A tour of East Coast subways is just part of the
band’s master plan, grown out of a period of extreme creativity
that has helped them define their sound.
A few more days in the studio and their new, currently
untitled album will be complete: 10 songs the band whittled
down from 25 they had written. “Whenever we’re about to
release something, I am usually thinking about what we
are going to do next,” says singer-guitarist Brian Shortell,
as he and the rest of the band sit in a corner of McGeary’s
in downtown Albany. “This time I just can’t wait for the
record to come out. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
The rest of the joint is in the thrall of Sunday football—people
shouting, glasses clanging. But it is impossible to distract
the band or dampen the group’s enthusiasm for their new
material, their new direction.
The band’s influences include Oasis, Nirvana, Neil Young
and—even though they don’t actually want to see it in
print because of how “cliché” it is to name-drop—the Beatles.
The subway idea actually came from the way Oasis promoted
one of their recent releases: paying street performers
in New York to learn the band’s songs and play them for
Shortell says that sorting through 25 songs has helped
Around the World and Back determine exactly what they
do want to sound like—which is very different from
what they used to sound like. Fans of the band’s dreamy,
folksy EP Songs to Sleep To show up to gigs and
are taken aback by the new, driving sound. Their new music
roars and clangs, accentuated by the propulsive drumming
of Jared Bashant; the thunderous bass playing of Matt
Ippolito lays melodies underneath the shimmering, cascading
guitar work of the group’s songwriters, Shortell and Marco
Testa. The two trade lines, entwining melodies lifted
by rest of the band until they are nearly shouting, choking
on emotion and smashing cymbals in unison. Alternative
percussionist Matteo Vosganian, a new addition, adds texture
to the smashing. These are not songs to sleep to.
really studied what I think it is that makes songs timeless,
what makes them last for generations,” says Shortell as
a pitcher of beer arrives at the table. Shortell isn’t
saying he has written those songs yet, but it is about
aspiration, the distillation of what makes songs work,
how music makes people feel certain things. “We used to
aspire to sound like these bands who just totally flopped,”
says Testa. Now, he says, they are looking for a more
direct way into the hearts of music fans. He says his
father, who attends all of the band’s shows, is proud
that his son has discovered more classic rock: bands like
Cream, with classic hooks and wide appeal. Around the
World and Back are still indie; they just have big ideas
and a big sound.
It has been difficult for the band to market themselves
on their new sound and their devastating live performances,
when their last record was such a pensive collection of
lullabies and they have no new recordings to give promoters.
“It’s kind of hard for a promoter to go to another band
and say ‘Here, I think these guys fit, they’ve got this
kind of sound’ when they can’t show them what we sound
like now,” says Testa.
It was some sort of odd luck that landed the band a recent
opening spot for popular indie-electronic act Sleigh Bells.
It wasn’t what the band considered a perfect fit. “We
weren’t sure anyone would show up,” says Shortell. “We
almost turned it down.” The band worried that the Sleigh
Bells crowd would not dig them. But they took the spot
and turned heads with a gutsy performance in an absolutely
packed house. The band got four show offers from that
The band’s confidence has grown with each release. Their
sound has matured, they have the right pieces in place
and they’re ready to fulfill a dream. “Really,” says Shortell,
“I used to dream of playing Valentine’s when I was a kid.”
done that now,” says Testa, who also has lived his rock-and-roll
dream of having audience members sing along with his lyrics.
“Someone told me you are going to have to get used to
people singing along to your songs. I never thought it
would happen, but at [the Sleigh Bells show], there were
two people and their mouths were moving along to my lyrics.
It was an amazing experience.”
Shortell and Testa have spent time in other groups, though
not as songwriters. But after exchanging song ideas, they
decided it was time to start their own project. Bashant
was an obvious go-to as they had worked with him before.
Ippolito auditioned for the band after they were established—they
needed a bassist, but he played guitar. The story goes
that he showed up with a shitty Fender Squier bass having
learned one of the band’s songs. It didn’t go well. But
they gave him a chance, and now Ippolito’s bass performances
are one of the defining features of the band.
The new album will be self-released; Ippolito and Testa
both work in T-shirt printing and they produce the band’s
shirts. Not only do they plan on touring the East Coast
via subway gigs, but they plan to start going directly
where the action is: a few shows in Hartford, Brooklyn,
Philadelphia and Boston each month.
There is no denying that Around the World and Back are
high on themselves at the moment, and what band wouldn’t
be? They’ve grown into their own skin and have a sound
they think will put them on track to grab the attention
of a national audience. “There is no ego in this band,”
hasn’t been yelled at by Marco yet,” someone jokes. But
Vogsanian is sincere.
In January, Shortell will likely get to live another dream:
playing songs from the album he is so proud of in front
of scores of commuters in busy, dingy, wet subway stations.
The band decided long ago they wanted to work hard and
slow to win the race. But there is something in the air—the
band’s confidence, the buzz that has followed their recent
shows—that suggests that their next album will help them
realize their rock & roll dreams a lot faster than
they may have planned.