The contemporary conundrum for independent bands goes something like this: No one buys CDs anymore, but it's tough to sell downloads at a show. (Not to mention, it doesn't feel quite as professional, or accomplished, as having something tangible to sell.) And vinyl — it's great, but it's not cheap to press. So some bands — like locals The Red Western and Grand Piano — are revisiting a practice that's been part of DIY punk for years: the vinyl split.
The two bands are close, of course, which has led to them playing shows together, but the big decision to put out a record as a collective effort came down to more than just friendship.
"Doing a vinyl split is great because you can afford it," explains Red Western singer and guitarist Lauren DeLorenze.
The fact that both bands were recording EPs at once — both with Red Western guitarist Jon Gunnell — helped make the idea happen. "Talking to Jon about recording a new EP, he mentioned that they were doing the same thing," says Grand Piano's Thomas Cipollone. "It all lined up. If you have a full record's worth of material, why not put it on vinyl?"
The Red Western is the more established of the two bands, though both have members who have been floating about the music scene for years. Grand Piano's Cipollone, Zak Kane and Nick DeAngelo all played in thrashy, math-y punk band Red Team Blue Team previously. In 2010, with that band broken up and some of the members playing solo, they joined up with bassist Wesley Conroy and a horn section — saxophone player Ryan Booth and trumpet player Bob Kircher — to create a very different team.
Red Team was a more extreme band, right down to the fact that there were two bass players. "Red Team Blue Team was the kind of band where it was like, ‘Let's play the most-creative, heaviest, most-loud, fast shit that we can, all the time!'" explains DeAngelo.
"We've got more control now," adds Cipollone. It might have a bit to do with age and maturity — they're hitting their mid- to late-20s now.
"I think every kid that starts playing music starts with the idea, "I'm gonna shred, and crush, and rock 'n' roll right away," says Cipollone. "And you do that. My first band was a punk band. Once you get the thrashy stuff out of the way, you can step back and say, ‘Now I want to listen to what I'm doing.'"
Which isn't to say they're lacking energy in Grand Piano. "I think it comes out more in the writing than the execution," says Kane. "We're not louder than every band we play with anymore."
One thing they do have that most rock bands in town lack is horns; wind players who are willing to play rock shows in dingy bars are seemingly at a premium ... and that puts the Grand Piano horns in demand. Do other bands ever try to steal them?
"All the time," says Cipollone. "The Harlan Twins tried to steal them, and succeeded."
"I appreciate when people steal them," says Kane. "They're great dudes and awesome musicians. Go ahead and steal them, and teach them some chord progressions we're not using, so they can bring those back to us and we can take them."
The Grand Piano horns play on The Red Western's side of the split as well. And while the two sides are different, they're also complementary. "We're both rock 'n' roll bands," says Kane, "but we both get to it through different alleyways." Grand Piano is more eclectic, taking influences from old-timey folk, indie rock and even a little jazz here and there. The Red Western, which started out as more of a country-rock band, has settled into a straightforward, folk-inspired rock outfit.
The Red Western began in 2007 when lifelong friends Sean Soisson and Jay Leon began playing with singer and guitarist Lauren DeLorenze (whose main instrument had previously been drums). After a few years of lineup changes, the band finally officially released its first long-player in December of 2011. Putting together this second record took a bit less time.
"I think it was a conscious effort to not repeat the process of taking two years to put out a record," says Soisson. "That last record was done for a year before we released it, which, when you think about it, is crazy!"
It was, of course, partly a matter of establishing a lineup that stuck; the revolving door at the drummer's throne before the arrival of current drummer Sean Finn (Life in Bed, Manifold Splendour) made it hard to make any big moves as a band. (One drummer played one show before leaving town for the West Coast, for example.) Having a bit more permanence makes everything a little less stressful.
"It really seems like writing is so easy now," says Finn. "There hasn't been any one song that we've worked on that hasn't worked out."
Soisson — whose off-the-clock musical interests lie primarily in metal — notes that on its newer material, The Red Western has gotten a bit more rock 'n' roll. "The biggest difference is that [the songs are] louder. We kicked the gain up a bit. It's not as country as the older stuff was."
He begins to explain how the band can't really rightfully be pigeonholed into the country category exactly. "I don't know that any of us are really just listening to Loretta Lynn," he says, and is quickly interrupted.
"I listen to Loretta Lynn," insists DeLorenze. "I don't know what you're talking about."
But they can agree on some things.
"I would say, playing as a band, especially live, there's a lot better energy on stage," says DeLorenze. "I can look back at Finn, and he's having a blast, sweat dripping off his mustache. And I think we just blend together better now."
Both bands released their respective sides of the split as CD EPs; they're also available for download. But they expect the vinyl to last longer.
"Everyone gets CDs and you might listen to it once, then throw it in the back seat of your car, and your friends step on it or whatever," says Cipollone. "With a vinyl record, I think you're more likely to actually keep it and listen to it."
That's certainly the hope — and there's little reason why it shouldn't happen. The split is a good document of two good rock bands, neither clinging too closely to genre, but neither straying too wildly at the same time. And both are happy to complement each other while pursuing their own thing.
"We don't want to sound like other bands," says Cipollone. "We just want to sound like our band. However that turns out, it's good by us."Note: The print edition, and earlier online edition, of this article misidentified two members of The Red Western in the photo caption. We apologize for the mistake.