Pittsburgh rockers The Park Plan deliver more than straight-up power pop | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh rockers The Park Plan deliver more than straight-up power pop

“There are a lot of different intentions that go into the writing.”

Collective Soul: The Park Plan
Collective Soul: The Park Plan
On first blush, The Park Plan could be considered a pop band in the classic sense. The band’s 2015 debut, Junior Achievement, featured layers of clean, twangy guitars banging out infectious riffs over a rhythm section that elevated the music with extra melody and swing. A quick look at the lyric sheet, though, reveals a sharp, political undercurrent. In “Gender Gap” and “Good Guy With a Gun,” guitarist Adam Jannon-Fischer sang about the dangers women face when going out in public alone, and gun violence, respectively.

Bassist Jenn Jannon-Fischer, Adam’s wife and the co-author of many songs, tells City Paper the band pulls between two sides. “Are we playing power-pop, or are we playing something that’s a little harder? Are we playing something surfy?” she asks, rhetorically. “There are a lot of different intentions that go into the writing. All the songs end up being a little different based on who’s the most dominant [member] in shaping the songs.”

The latest EP, Last Looks, finds the members working with a bigger sound. The pop foundation remains, but the band’s keen sense of arrangement (melodic basslines, sharp drum accents) gets a further boost from extensive layers of guitars and vocal harmonies.

The Jannon-Fischers started the band in 2014 with drummer Ian White. Jenn had never played bass but proved to be a quick study. “I was a dancer and I did a lot of tap dancing,” she says, “I think tap dancing lends itself to either being a great drummer or a great bassist.”

From the start, they were interested in socially conscious lyrics, without the hard-edged approach of a band like Fugazi. “We try to do it in a way that you don’t feel like you’re listening to a band that’s doing a message. We want the music to be good, but also have [it deliver] a message,” she says.

When Joe Tarowsky replaced original second guitarist Eric Gorman just prior to Junior Achievement, the songwriting process became even more egalitarian. He contributed “I’m Not in This Business to Make Friends,” a moody track on the new EP, replete with vocal harmonies reminiscent of Queen. White contributed “Memoria,” which starts out sounding like a Sebadoh song, until Adam’s tenor is replaced by Jenn’s John Lydon-esque wail on the chorus. The other three tracks took shape collaboratively, at band practices.

Although most of the lyrics deal more with the ups and downs of interpersonal relationships, the closing “Us, You and Them” was written last year during the Republican primary. “We were thinking about what it would be like if you sat down and had a drink with Ted Cruz,” Jenn Jannon-Fischer says. “And it’s kind of about there’s an ‘us,’ there’s a ‘them,’ and then there’s this ‘you’ character, the Ted Cruz character, that’s on the outside. It could really fit for Donald Trump also.”

In one particularly telling verse, Adam sings to the person in question: “Can’t forget what you told me last night / About the way that fairness fills you with spite / I can’t forgive what you will say when you’re on a roll / A horror untold.” While the words hit hard, they rest easily under a four-on-the-floor drum beat and jangly guitars, which rise in the final moments to a roar that’s normally heard by a group like Dinosaur Jr.

The band recorded Last Looks at various spaces around town, with assistance from Bengt Alexander of the band Action Camp (which includes Tarowsky on drums). As Jenn Jannon-Fischer and Tarowsky talk about recording their EP, they recall Alexander’s keen ear and “nods to classic productions,” such as getting the band to nail three-part vocal harmonies. “All these stories point to the fact that Bengt creative-directed this whole album,” Jenn Jannon-Fischer says. “He was the one that had all the ideas and made the songs actually sound a lot better than when we started.”

The disc marks the first release coming from a new collective of bands known as the Duquesne Light Orchestra. Between sharing band members and similar political concerns, a casual unity has started to come together between The Park Plan, Action Camp and a few others.

“We have been trying to think about, in 2017, if we can do more as a collective,” Jenn Jannon-Fischer says. “We all share concern about where the country is headed. We’re also really thinking about how we can build more diversity at local shows and try to bring in other types of genres. I guess the other thing is the bands [are concerned with] gender diversity.”

Tarowsky agrees, adding that now is the time for more people to get up and express themselves. The idea is in keeping with the Park Plan’s ability to keep moving forward. “I see this [release] as a snapshot of where we were this past year,” he says. “So this’ll be available [this week], then we’ll be thinking about the next thing to do.”

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