Same is made up of vocalist and bassist Jesse Caggiano, guitarists Jake Stern and Tom Higgins, and drummer Jamie Gruzinski. The four spend a lot of time together, both as bandmates and as friends. Their chemistry shows in their ability to make each other laugh.
During a recent conversation with Caggiano, Stern and Higgins at a coffee shop, they riffed about how much time they invest in the band. During the day, Higgins is busy with substitute teaching; Stern and Caggiano do illustration work; and Gruzinski works for Tree Pittsburgh, a local environmental nonprofit. On top of that, the band writes several times a week, plays shows, designs artwork, and still finds time just to hang out.
“Maybe we’re downplaying how much time we put into this band,” Stern said with a chuckle. As evidenced in its music and album artwork, a tremendous amount of thought accompanies every step in the creative process. When planning the cover art for Weird as Hell, Caggiano envisioned a carefully composed photograph capturing objects falling into paint. The band members then spent the next few weeks looking around their houses and exploring shops in Pittsburgh looking for the perfect objects to drop into the paint.
“I found this small snow globe of Pittsburgh, so I smashed it and kept the little skyline,” said Higgins. “We dropped that in there, and it turned out nicely.”
The band spent hours dropping objects into paint at Heredwelling Studio. As a result, the band has a catalog of photos styled in the same way as the Weird cover for future use. The cassettes and CDs being sold through Head2Wall Records will feature some of this artwork.
This patient and deliberate approach to art-making is also reflected in the band’s writing process. The foursome first started writing together in 2015, but didn’t release anything for a year. In that span, the band wrote nearly a dozen songs, only four of which ended up making the cut.
“We feel, let’s write whatever we want, it doesn’t mean we have to play it,” Caggiano said.
Adds Stern: “I can safely say we’re writing songs of a type that I’ve never been involved in writing. And that’s a really cool feeling.”
The composition and arrangement process is all about experimentation. The finished songs rarely, if ever, sound the way they did when Caggiano brought the original idea to the rest of the group.
“It would be really boring if it were just what I brought to practice,” said Caggiano, “They bring it to life and make it exciting.”
This period of musical fermentation and editing is the longest part of the process. It could be easy for the group to get frustrated, but they try to keep it in perspective.
“At a certain point, we are definitely over-analyzing,” Stern said.
“[Our writing process] takes time, and you have to be really patient with how things evolve,” according to Caggiano.
“We’ve been spinning our wheels in the mud for the past few weeks working on new material,” said Higgins, “But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We purposefully move very slowly.”
All of that patience pays off in the end. The four songs on Weird as Hell are cohesive, but each brings something unique to the table. The tracks are well produced without sounding tormented or over-done. Producer and engineer Matt Very’s mixing and mastering gives each riff, drum fill and solo its own showcase. Each element comes together to create a fine-tuned indie-rock earworm. The pace of these songs is slow, but driving and full of texture: Each harmony, overdubbed vocal movement and riff has been thoughtfully woven into the mix. The chorus of “Weird as Hell” epitomizes the group’s affinity for catchy hooks, before leading into a modest melodic solo that highlights Stern’s and Higgins’ guitar skills.
Gruzinski’s drumming style is crisp and functional, providing an ideal rhythmic backbone to shimmery indie riffs, or to open, distorted guitar work, as on “Blurry Legs.” The catchy title track “Weird as Hell,” balances well with the longer, twinkly voyage of “Badventures,” a mesmerizing six-and-a-half-minute highlight that opens with feedback and ambience before building to a brooding song about quiet loneliness.
Bottom line: Same doesn’t sound like anything else happening in Pittsburgh right now.
“The fact we’re writing music that doesn’t exactly fit into one of the Pittsburgh subcategories means we get tossed on a lot of gigs that don’t exactly match our genre,” says Stern. “It’s ultimately a good thing, because we get to reach and meet a lot of new people.”
The band also sets up shows, which often include a variety of bands working other genres. At its next gig, Same will be joined by grunge duo Hearken, YRS and Swampwalk, an experimental electronic-pop musician who uses a Game Boy as an instrument.
In April, Same will embark on a nine-day tour. Before and after that, the band will spend its time writing material for an album. Until then, Weird as Hell’s four tracks serve as a promising indicator of what’s to come.