Pittsburgh’s Spectres having success doing more with less | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh’s Spectres having success doing more with less

“I just want to make rock ’n’ roll music that makes people dance.”

Photo caption: The Spectres
Photo caption: The Spectres

The Spectres are a rock ’n’ roll two-piece that fuses a doo-wop sound with garage sensibilities and the ability to make all eight of their limbs count. Dan Spagnolo plays guitar and sings, and James Thompson sings and plays guitar while operating a drum set with his feet.

Thompson and Spagnolo met via Craigslist. Spagnolo was immediately intrigued by Thompson’s recordings as a one-man-band; the two meshed from the start. 

“I’m learning a lot from him,” says Spagnolo. “I’ll bring in a song and he’ll think it’s too pretty, so we work on making them grittier and dirtier. He’s good about pushing me to make better music using fewer chords.” 

The result is a collection of songs with catchy hooks, grimy guitar solos and danceable beats that hone in on the energy of early rock ’n’ roll — the kind that made parents sweat about their kids getting into trouble. There’s a balance between Spagnolo’s strong tenor voice and Thompson’s softer drawl, as the two employ clever doo-wop harmonies.

Thompson and Spagnolo joke that they’re Pittsburgh’s only Greenfield-only band. The two practice in Thompson’s basement, which is also where they recorded their first demo. Their latest tape, Baby, You’re Too Pretty to Rumble, got its name from a conversation the pair heard outside a Greenfield bar. A boyfriend was explaining to his girlfriend why she shouldn’t partake in the bar fight that had broken out inside. “It felt like a line straight out of a movie,” says Spagnolo. “It was too good to pass up.” 

The 10 tracks really exemplify the balance between Thomspon’s and Spagnolo’s musical inclinations, as well as their desire to play with traditional formats. Rather than rely upon thin leads over full rhythm work, the duo likes to play with thick leads and treble-heavy rhythm guitars. 

All of Baby was recorded in live takes to an 8-track. “We did three takes of each song and just picked the best for each song you’ll hear on the cassette,” says Spagnolo.

The charm of the live sound reflects the mission of The Spectres. Says Spagnolo, “James once said, ‘I just want to make rock ’n’ roll music that makes people dance.’” 

With Baby, The Spectres certainly do. 

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