Although their name was randomly chosen from among the magnetic poetry snippets covering a refrigerator door, the inspirations which have driven the members of Life in Bed remain unmistakable. Though the Pittsburgh-based band spurns any use of the word "emo"; its melancholic, twin-guitar-line rock clearly points toward immersion in the genre's mid-'90s second-wavers on labels like Jade Tree and Polyvinyl. And it's not something the band members are trying to hide -- clearly they're proud to have played on bills with the likes of The Promise Ring, Hey Mercedes and Appleseed Cast.
Since the band's 2001 inception, a fairly wide appeal combined with solid musicianship has allowed Life in Bed to easily inhabit the various nooks and crannies of Pittsburgh's music community. "The nice thing about this band is that we can pretty much fit on a wide range of bills," says drummer Sean Finn. "We have a lot of friends in different areas and don't fit into one specific scene."
Life in Bed was originally composed of four-fifths of the members of '90s band Manifold Splendor, a female-fronted shimmer-pop outfit that was Pittsburgh's answer to The Sundays or The Cranberries. The common denominator between then and now? Another proto-emo idol -- The Smiths. And Morrissey is a force Life in Bed frontman/guitarist Bill Merante is more than happy to acknowledge from the days of WXXP. "The Smiths are the only band I listened to from my youth that had real staying power," he says. "I think that there's no doubt that what I take away from their music is their well-written songs."
And on Life in Bed's latest release, Passed and Presents, "we definitely got away from what I consider our previous M.O. in songwriting," says Finn. "Doing the clean verse and then, all of a sudden -- bam! -- a big chorus with distortion."
Merante emphasizes that the band has eschewed the dichotomy of a band like Slint for a more even-keeled, cleanly played sound showcasing the interlocking melodies of two guitars. "I'm trying to escape my math-rock influences and look back more towards the '60s, when a song was a song," says Merante. "Back then, you weren't writing a guitar part to impress someone or showcase your talent -- you would play a riff because it fits."; The puzzle-piece method by which the bright, effect-laden guitar lines interact definitely shows a comfort level between Merante and second guitarist Stephen McMillen (formerly of Voice in the Wire), who replaced original member Craig Svitek a year ago.
But it's not just the songs and style that are changing with the new album. Life in Bed's stepping up its hustle and looking to tour the region from Baltimore to Chicago to support Passed and Presents. It'll be two years in August that Finn has the booker for the live Thursdays at the South Side's Lava Lounge. He's flexed that position into a formidable Rolodex the band has used to expand into places like New York City, where the group has graced such well-known venues as North Six, Piano's and Galapagos.
Part of the excitement of hitting the road is that the band recognizes the inherent limitations of its hometown. Sure, Pittsburgh has a cheap cost of living, and it's not that hard to get a decent practice space. But based on his experience as a musician and promoter, Finn claims that the actual number of people interested in hearing original local music is as miniscule as ever. So Life in Bed is not pinning its hopes on emerging as a local icon.
"There's an established core of people who go out, and enough good bands in the city worth spending five dollars on," he says. But "if there are four or five decent shows on a Saturday night, then you're pulling from that same small group of people and somebody's going to suffer because of it."
"With the fact that there are so many college students here, you wouldn't think it would be so difficult," adds Merante. "But the average person -- even someone in their 20s -- would rather go to a bar, listen to the same music they hear all day on the radio, and see the same people they see every weekend. Traditionally, it hasn't changed much over the years."
Life in Bed CD release show, with Shade. 10 p.m. Sat., March 10. Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. $5. 412-681-1658