Geographically scattered, Aloha releases Home Acres | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Geographically scattered, Aloha releases Home Acres

click to enlarge Peak marimba: Aloha
Peak marimba: Aloha

Aloha's Tony Cavallario stops mid-sentence to make an observation: "Whoa, that's a huge rebel flag!" 

On the phone from the band's van somewhere in the South, he apologizes for the interjection. "I forget that things like that exist," he explains. "I wouldn't have said anything, but it was really huge."

Geographic culture shock is nothing new to Aloha, the indie pop band that just released its sixth full-length, Home Acres, on Polyvinyl Records. "We don't like to be away from home long," notes Cavallario, the band's main songwriter. Even if, to Aloha, "home" is a rather nebulous idea.

After stints in Bowling Green, Ohio, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Rochester, N.Y., Cavallario now lives in Boston with his wife and son. Keyboardist T.J. Lipple (another Pittsburgh ex-pat), who also plays percussion with Mary Timony, calls Washington, D.C., home. Cale Parks, most recently of the band BRAHMS, resides in Brooklyn, while bassist and original member Matthew Gengler holds it down in Cleveland, playing with The Buried Wires.

How, then, does the band collaborate?

"For Home Acres, I set up a password-protected blog," says Cavallario. "Every night, I would go up into my studio and knock out an idea and post it. That way, [the other members] could come and keep track of what they thought about the song and where they thought it was going." 

For the record, none of the band members started flame wars in the blog's comments section. "I think if they could've figured a way to log in anonymously, they would have done that," Cavallario adds.

After more than 10 years and seven releases, one would think playing in Aloha could be growing tiresome: To use a famous yardstick, the band has already lasted longer than The Beatles did. But Cavallario says the spark is still there.

"One of the things is that we have a really committed fan base," he says. "I can go months at a time without even thinking of myself as a musician; I can grow distant from that when we're not on tour or making records. But when someone sends you an e-mail saying that your song helped them through a hard time -- or, even better, sends a picture of an Aloha tattoo on their leg or something -- you realize these people would probably be stoked if we kept playing music!"

On the new record, Aloha introduces subtle stylistic changes that satisfy the desire for evolution without too abrupt an overhaul. The lead track of Home Acres kicks off with a persistent, percussive bass line that suggests a departure -- in fact, the entire song, "Building a Fire," eschews the pop-song structure typical of most of the band's work. In essence, it's one elongated build: Beyond the pounding rhythm section, only the faintest guitar and vibraphone phrases ebb and flow around singer Cavallario's elongated phrases. 

Cavallario recognizes that Home Acres' songs are something of a break with the past. "They're sort of built on a less delicate frame," he says. "It's easier to write a song that's coming on top of music that's sort of monolithic, where everything's going together." 

Hence the driving rhythm section that colors much of the music on the new album -- as if Aloha, the indie-pop band with so many laid-back beats and marimba breakdowns, had sharpened its teeth prior to digging in. "I really like to write music that can be quieter," Cavallario notes. "But I also like the contrast when a record has a couple of quiet moments, and not so much the whole thing."

Cavallario (a notably mature lyricist since the band's inception) admits that the inspiration came largely from darker spaces. "I tend to go to sort of a dark place when I write lyrics," he says. "No matter what's going on in my life or in the music. It's a chance for me to reach out to parts of me that I don't spend as much time with now, being a guy in my 30s who's relatively stable and relatively happy.

"During the course of writing for Home Acres, my mind was sort of spiraling from what was going on economically in this country, and getting into a space where everything that we take for granted in an American lifestyle -- I was trying to strip that away with the imagery. There's not too much of that, but in the lyrics there are references to crude tools and weather and sustenance. Not because I'm obsessed with peak-oil theory, but because I think -- what if there is a limit to growth? What if we do go backward?"


Aloha with The Buried Wires and Pomegranates. 9 p.m. Sun., April 25. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $10. 412-621-4900 or

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