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(l-r) Jared Bashant, Bryan Shortell, Mateo Vosganian, Matt Ippolito, Jared Bashant

Photo: Joe Putrock

Chasing Sound

Albany band Around the World and Back take their amped-up lullabies to the underground

By David King

If 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 commuters.

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.

“I’ve 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 gig.

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.”

“We’ve 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,” says Vogsanian.

“He 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.


ROUGH MIX

After the Fall

PUNCHING OUT All good things must come to an end, it seems. The Brian Patneaude Quartet will end their weekly residency at Albany nightclub Justin’s this Sunday, after a most impressive eight-and-a-half-year run. Saxophonist and composer Patneaude says “having a weekly forum to perform jazz music is an incredibly rare occurrence these days,” and that he feels “incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity for so long.” While Patneaude will continue to maintain his busy performance schedule around the region, this Sunday is your last chance to catch the group—who will become a quintet for this occasion—in their soon-to-be former habitat. Visit justinsonlark.com for more on the club’s jazz programming.

HOLIDAY ROAD You might remember the fine young men of After the Fall from the diary of their European exploits that ran in last November’s Local Music Issue. The trio who never sleep are in the middle of another busy fall: Their new album Eradication dropped earlier this month; they’ll celebrate with a release party this Saturday at Valentine’s. Next week, they’ll return to Gainesville, Fla., for the massive punk-themed Fest 9. That’s followed in November by some Canadian dates, then shows in Central America in December. Keep up, if you can, at myspace.com/afterthefall518.

The 2010 Local Music Issue hits newsstands Nov. 4.

PEACE JAM For those who like to have politics with their guitar music from time to time, Women Against War will present singer-songwriter David Rovics tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 22) at the Delmar Reformed Church. Rovics is an internationally recognized performer whose songs have been featured on Democracy Now!, the BBC, and Al-Jazzeera. He’s also an essayist whose work has been published on TruthOut and CounterPunch. He’ll perform at 7 PM Friday to benefit WAW’s Afghan Well Project; a potluck dinner will precede the show. Contact Sybil Stock at 489-3245 for more information.

LONG TIME COMING If you’re a music fan, there are no two ways about it: You have got to like Sam Cooke. And thus, you should enjoy what the Sanctuary for Independent Media has planned for next weekend (Oct. 29-30). Sam Cooke: Where You Been Baby? is a one-act play, by Kingston-based dramatist Michael Monasterial, that follows the great soul voice from his early days in Mississippi through his work in the Civil Rights Movement and his untimely death. The show is gearing up for a run in New York City, so this is your chance to say you beat the hipsters and tourists to the punch. Visit mediasanctuary.org for more on the production.

—John Brodeur

Let us know about local-music news and happenings for inclusion in Rough Mix: E-mail tips and information to tigerpop1@yahoo.com or metroland @metroland.net



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