A tiny liberal arts school in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Bard College has nonetheless left a mark on the music industry as ground zero for Steely Dan: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen began their long-running musical association there as undergraduates.
"There's definitely a certain mythology of ‘The Dan' up at Bard," says Company drummer David Janik. "People always talk about how Chevy Chase used to play drums for them when they were up at Bard, stuff like that."
The four members of Janik's band, Company, also met at Bard and began making music, but don't ask them about making a mark in the music industry -- or jazz-rock. "As you can probably tell from our record, that's not really our world, musically," he says with a laugh.
"Our world" indeed: The songwriting collective's latest album, Old Baby, comes from a different place than most of us live in today, sharing more in ethos and feel with The Band and Dylan's Basement Tapes than with the contemporary music scene. And in their decentralized, refreshingly sane approach to making music, they have little in common with the ambitious grind that drives so many bands.
After forming around a shared folk-rock aesthetic at Bard, Janik, Christopher Teret, Stephanie Rabins and Adam Davison all ended up in Brooklyn, and began playing under the name Company in 2001. "We played mainly smaller clubs so we could play more regularly," says Janik. "There are three songwriters in Company, so we liked places where we could try out new songs, and just have a low-key atmosphere and lots of friends and whatever come out to see us."
But in 2004, life events began pushing the members further and further apart, geographically. Teret, an electrician, lives in Portland, Maine, while Janik lives in Los Angeles, working in music editing for television and graphic design. Davison lives in Queens with his young family, and teaches English in the Brooklyn schools; Rabins, also a photographer, helped start a music program at a school for kids with learning disabilities. But every six months or so, these scattered musicians reconvene, Voltron-style, to play live shows and record as Company.
While having a lineup scattered to the four winds would be the end of most bands, the funny thing is, Company has seen greater developments since the split. Chief among those is its relationship with Brah Records, which has released Company's last two albums. Brah, an imprint of Jagjaguwar, is essentially a vehicle for the band Oneida to release music by their "brahs," including spazz-rockers Pterodactyl and Pittsburghers The Dirty Faces.
"That all happened after we were a regular playing-a-lot-of-shows kinda band," says Janik. Old Baby was recorded over a few weekends, where the band would convene with producer Kid Millions of Oneida. The resulting recording sounds like something cut in the late 1960s, when folk and country got a fuel-injection from rock 'n' roll -- all booming, rolling rhythms, barbed-wire tangles of electric guitars, literate, conversational lyrics and the occasional fiddle. The Byrds are certainly a touchstone, as are Buffalo Springfield and The Band, influences tastefully integrated into Company's old-shoes-comfortable songs.
Speaking of comfort, the band is currently in the midst of a brief East Coast tour promoting Old Baby, which will bring it to 31st Street Pub on Sat., Feb. 23 -- but it's a different sort of undertaking than the usual get-in-the-van grind.
"It's kind of a treat in a way, to be able to still get together and do it," says Janik, "and have new material and new songs and kinda catch up with where each other has been and what they've been working on for however many months." He adds, "It was more about the community and seeing people and spending time and enjoying music together than it ever was about trying to follow some trend or make a popular record or something like that."
Or perhaps, as one of the songs on Old Baby goes: "So many ways to get along / So many ways to get it wrong / All I want, it's not a lot."
Company with Anita Fix, Bambam and The Bumps. 10 p.m. Sat., Feb. 23. 31st Street Pub, 3101 Penn Ave., Strip District. $5. 412-391-8334 or www.31stpub.com