For most bands, making it five years -- let alone a decade -- is an achievement. Shade, in its 13 years of existence, has never gone on a formal hiatus, and the Pittsburgh rock band continues to write and record music. The independence Shade developed over its long history was put to good use on its latest release, Latonka, due out Feb. 19.
What's more, the band's lineup has never changed. The lineup stands as it did a decade ago, with brothers Matt and Craig Stuart on lead vocals/guitar and keyboard respectively, Brad Kiefer on bass, Dave Woods on guitar and Dave Halloran on drums.
"We all started playing together when we were in high school, and I still think that comes across in our music," says Halloran. "We learned how to play together."
Shade's sound points to British influences -- particularly late-'70s post-punk and early-'90s shoegaze, as some have observed. But the band also had local influences: local indie stalwarts Suburban Sect and Low Sunday Ghost Machine. Pulling apart moody post-punk atmospheres with muscular drumming and guitar work, Shade forged its "wall of sound" approach with searing live performances.
"The combination of power-pop melodies with David and Brad's industrial-strength guitar noise, Dave's manic drumming, and Craig's wailing organ engulfed the audience," recalls Csaba Toth, a history professor at Carlow University who attended many of Shade's shows. "Matt was a Kevin Shields, spurred by fighting his inner demons."
The band members met as teens, running into each other at now-defunct venues like Pluto's and Luciano's, and attended the University of Pittsburgh together. They released their debut album in 2002, Forever Now, Nowhere Tomorrow, on local label Psychodaisy Records.
After Forever Now, Shade helped form the nucleus of Pittsburgh-based indie label Lovely Recordings in 2003, along with likeminded local bands Wynkataug Monks and Olympus Mons. (see sidebar, "Lovely Recordings"). As this tight phalanx of bands played Pittsburgh and other cities in the region, Shade's reputation as a live act grew -- and attracted a following.
Making repeated trips to New York City, Shade spent the better part of 2005 playing for showcases populated by A&R reps, and concerts for its growing, loyal fan base outside of Pittsburgh. The band's second release, the Fedra EP, received praise from Spin magazine, and under the tutelage of then-manager Mike Sanders, the band decided to make a push for interest from the big record labels.
The hype was there, but the follow-through was another story.
"We'd have these label people come up to us after showcases and say, 'Oh, you guys were fucking great. ... I really can't do anything for you right now,'" says Halloran, in an apt sketch of the music industry at that time.
Driving back from a weekend of concerts, Sanders was optimistic after a sit-down and proposed deal with New York-based Gigantic Records, known for a moderate hit by the unfortunately named band Cloud Room.
The label went under two weeks later.
"You gotta remember, labels were dying then, being on a big label wasn't helping anybody. Most people were doing it on their own then anyways," says Woods. "Every conversation we had [with label reps] was always the same."
Shade's flirtation with major labels proved fruitless, but the group says it never really thought the brass ring was all there was.
"We don't feel like it never happened, we just liked [touring and playing music together]," says Halloran. "We were never really into that 'Top of the Pops' shit, you know?"
Many bands would probably implode with that sort of back-and-forth progress. Perhaps the experience influenced the band's decision to produce Latonka almost entirely by itself, and to release it through an indie, The Cougar Label.
"This album is very much ours. We tracked it ourselves, we recorded at our space, our houses," says keyboardist Craig Stuart. "This was the record where we wanted to step away from the studio and try different things."
For the first time, Shade's members took the space and time to experiment and build songs during the recording process itself -- a completely different method than on their previous releases. The result is a more restrained album, full of quieter compositions thick with a midnight atmosphere, with fewer outbursts of guitar drone and charging percussion. After 13 years, Latonka shows Shade completely comfortable with one another, making music as five friends who simply enjoy playing together.
"What's different about this album is that we've lost a bit of ego," says Woods. "We've pulled back on the wall of sound and allowed each other to take over songs. We are all on Latonka in our own moments."
Shade CD Release with Olympus Mons and Claire with the Turban. 10 p.m. Sat., Feb. 19 (doors at 9 p.m.). Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $8. 412-621-4900 or www.brillobox.net