Late one evening a few months ago, a fairly productive practice and recording session was winding down for Pittsburgh retro pop-rock outfit New Shouts. They were in the process of putting the finishing touches on a piece of garage-rock buckshot that would eventually become "Dolly Bird" (on the group's recently released debut album Sing New Shouts) when members Cory Allen, Jonathan Chamberlain, Derek White and Mario White decided they needed to find an organ from 1966.
"We were listening to these Beatles demos before practice, and the demo of ‘Got to Get You Into My Life' had this amazing organ part," says lead singer and songwriter Cory Allen. "We thought ‘Dolly Bird' needed another dimension and I said, ‘I would love to have that organ the Beatles played on that demo.'"
After trying out a few keyboard riffs to no avail, bassist and all-around production whiz-kid Derek White mentioned he had been eyeing a discarded organ in a neighbor's trash heap. Soon the guys piled into White's car and hauled a neglected, 1950s air organ back to their practice space. With a couple pumps to the bellows, a few clouds of dust and some focused faith in mid-century craftsmanship, the organ was replicating the exact sound Allen wanted, filling in the gaps of "Dolly Bird" like precision spackle.
For a band that lives and breathes music from the '60s -- from the British Invasion to Motown to ? and the Mysterians -- the lost-and-found organ episode illustrates well New Shouts' approach to music. It's not about nailing the perfect Beatles or Kinks impression; it's the fact that a song doesn't sound right until it feels right.
"Our sound is old, but it's not necessarily dead-on," says Chamberlain, the band's keyboardist. "We wanted to bring the wholeness of the '60s together, all of those vibes and all of those looks; [we wanted] to stir it up and see what comes out."
And for the songwriter in Allen, nothing about the music that influences him is academic. While working with White to get the production on Sing New Shouts just right, the discussion was more intuitive than technical.
"It's hard for me to describe what I want to Derek," Allen says. "I'll say something like, ‘I want it to sound heartwarming.' And he'll turn the knobs, and look back at me and say, ‘What about this?' and I'll be like, ‘That's it!' It's like he's a painter and I don't paint. I actually hate recording, but having Derek is a blessing. He paints the picture beautifully."
The resulting album is a 19-minute shotgun blast of vintage garage-pop bliss, with a warmer, more analog feel compared to the three slickly produced singles New Shouts have released since last October. Tracks like the tightly wound, rockabilly strut of "Make It Snappy"; the twinkling, blue-eyed soul of "The Reins to Your Heart"; and the snotty mod-pop of "Stop Braggin'" showcase Sing New Shouts as a party-starter first and foremost, without a ballad in sight.
And it's only fitting, considering that Allen and Chamberlain both cut their teeth at the old Soulcialism dance parties held by DJ Juddy at the White Eagle on the South Side beginning in 2003 -- an event that eventually morphed into what is now Shadow Lounge's monthly Title Town Soul and Funk Dance Party.
"At the time, if you didn't want to dance to '80s music or hip hop, you had Soulcialism," says Allen. "Those dance parties exposed me to all kinds of Northern Soul … and the people that went were just really about the music, like holding their hearts when they were dancing because they were so into it."
It's that dance-party element that New Shouts are determined to bring to their live show. The band co-hosts its own Friday Nite Club events (with, in the interest of full disclosure, the help of CP music editor Andy Mulkerin's band, Neighbours) at the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh; it's also planning an upcoming show at Brillobox with DJ Gordy from Title Town, during which, according to Allen, there will be no lulls. ("We'll be setting up while Gordy's spinning, then the record stops and we start to play. When we stop playing, the needle drops again.") New Shouts want to create a "scene" atmosphere around their performances, reminiscent of the old club shows by the High Numbers (The Who before they were The Who), or The Yardbirds' searing performance in Michael Antonioni's Blow Out.
"For me, I love how connected the music was to the culture at that time … being the bar band embedded in pop culture," said Chamberlain, "Just people dressed to the hilt and dancing, being a part of this huge scene."
For Allen, the New Shouts' performance and sound will always trace back to his unabashed love for that era in pop music.
"[The music of the '50s and '60s] has an innocence to it, it triggers me emotionally," he says. "I always like to describe music based on how it makes me feel; for me, that era of music [will always appeal to me] because of its passion."
NEW SHOUTS CD RELEASE with MARIAGE BLANC, DJ JORDAN K. 9 p.m. Sat., Sept. 24. Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $8. 412-682-0177 or www.thunderbirdcafe.net