Monday, 04 December 2006

DATE: 12-04-06

WRITER: Aaron Autrand

It’s one of the more annoying things about writing about music. An album crosses your desk in a little cardboard sleeve or a jewel case with no cover. It’s a band you’ve never heard of, one of twenty or so in the stack you have to listen to that day. Each CD gets about three minutes, usually enough to tell if it warrants another listen or will just go in a box and clutter up your office/bedroom for a month or two. But this one is different. Something about it grabs you, and reminds you of why you spend hours listening to the sheer amounts of horrible—or at least mediocre—music that lands in your mailbox. So you turn it up, unplug your headphones and make everyone around you listen to the entire album. The agreement is total; something about this particular album causes it to immediately stick. This is the kind of album that only comes along a few times a year, if that.

So you take the album home. It sits in your car, playing for all your passengers. You play it for all your friends. You put songs on mixtapes for girls you like, your neighbors, your impressionable cousins. Fifty listens later, and it’s still fresh. You write about them, effectively putting your stamp of approval—and that of your publication—on this record. And…nothing seems to happen. Your friends nod and smile. The girls skip to different tracks. Even your cousin—the one who has looked to you for music since he was twelve—thinks it’s good, but it doesn’t blow his mind.

All you can think is “What the hell?”

This is how I feel about Pela. Actually, this is how all of Ground Control feels about the Brooklyn four-piece. We’ve been obsessed with the band—and yes, I’ll speak in the first person because I’m biased and I don’t care—since their original EP All In Time landed in our inboxes at another publication almost two years ago. Back then, we didn’t even know how to pronounce their name [it’s pronounced PAY-luh, for the record], but were completely enthralled by how sharp and assured this basically-unknown band sounded. The first two EP tracks in particular, “Latitudes” and “Episodes (Diphenhydramine),” were hooky, amazing pop nuggets that spent months on repeat.

“Episodes we finished in the studio,” says bassist Eric Sanderson. “That day we were working on the arrangement. A friend of ours was an intern [at the recording studio]. He snuck us in late night at 12 AM. We went and recorded three songs, and then we had to leave when the sun came up. They had to clean up for the next day’s studio sessions.”

“Billy [vocalist and guitarist Billy McCarthy] actually went back to the studio and he recorded all the vocals in the dark. We couldn’t have the lights on in the studio because somebody would know we were in there.”

The EP was originally recorded so the band could play shows at New York’s Mercury Lounge, which has a policy of only booking bands who have some form of recorded material.

“We were the new band in New York, and we wanted to be like other bands and play the good venues, and Mercury Lounge said ‘You can’t get a show here unless you give us a demo or something, that’s just how it works.’ We went and recorded three songs just to get a gig there, or anywhere in general. Then Brassland came along, liked it and said ‘Can you give us two more songs?’ We did, and they ended up putting it out.”

Pela initially formed when McCarthy, who had been busking around Europe with his friend Chris [an original member of the band who later left] landed in New York and began playing for change in the subway.

“I ran into Chris in a subway as I was taking my guitar to my girlfriend,” says Sanderson, “and we just started playing songs.”

“Later, Chris freaked out and left New York, and my friend Nate [guitarist Nate Martinez] said that he’d like to play with us, so he came in and the sound changed a lot. It went from a folky, Grandaddy thing to more of Nate’s guitar oriented stuff. We went through a couple of drummers, and we finally met Tom [drummer Tomislav Zovich] at B61, the bar where we do our Halloween show. One of the waitresses there recommended him.”

The band has slowly been gaining followers through constant East Coast touring and the power of MySpace, which has enabled them to reach fans far beyond the areas where they tour.

“Being a band in this modern world is pretty special. We have people write us all the time with simple and earnest comments like ‘Hey, I came across your band and I really like what I heard,’” he says. “And then you get the heavier ones like ‘that song’s had a positive impact on my life’ or ‘it means a lot to me and I just had to tell you.’ Before MySpace, we really wouldn’t have gotten something like that unless someone went out of their way to write a personal email.”

“It’s good for us,” he continues, “because now when we go to Boston or Philly, there’s fans and friends that are coming out, we’ve got street team people that want to put up posters and get their friends to come out and see us, and it’s because they are excited about the music.”

The expanding fan base means expanded touring, as the band prepares to support their latest effort Anytown Graffiti, which will be released in April on the Great Society imprint.

“We’re gonna start touring in February. We’ll probably tour up through SXSW, then come back to NY and do a big CD release party, then head back out on tour. We’ll probably head out to the West Coast in April, after we release the record.”

Somewhat sadly for the diehard fans, however, is the fact that as Pela’s popularity grows, the chance of the band doing one of their infamous underwear shows decreases. “We only play in our underwear if there’s less paying members in the audience than members of the band. It excludes bartenders and other bands and other bands’ friends. It’s only happened once officially [ed.- interested parties can find the video here]. We did it as a joke at, because we said it fit our rubric, so we played in our underwear as well.”

“We realized,” Sanderson freely admits, “that people might look at it as a publicity stunt. Most of us are not really the underwear model type, except for Tom. But the rest of us are far from it. So we realized it’s kind of a reverse publicity stunt. If it does work, we’ll never have to do it.”

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