Same's debut album was five years in the making, and it shows | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Same's debut album was five years in the making, and it shows

click to enlarge PHOTO: ERIC STEVENS
Photo: Eric Stevens
Just a few weeks before alt-rock band Same was scheduled for studio time at The Bunk in the Poconos, guitarist and backing vocalist Jake Stern broke his wrist skateboarding. Stern, and the rest of the group Jesse Caggiano (bass guitar, lead vocals), Jamie Gruzinski (drums), and Tom Higgins (guitar) were headed to their friend Matt Schimelfenig's studio to work on their long-awaited debut album, Plastic Western.

"We had to push the recording date back, and in that gap of extra time, we actually wrote several of the songs on the record," says Higgins. "We had always talked about adding synth/keyboards to our music but had never gotten around to it. Since [Stern] only had one arm to play with, he started doing that and we were able to add that to some songs and even wrote song songs based around that."

That accident completely changed the sound of the record, one that Same planned to put out as its first release five years ago when the band formed. Plastic Western, however, just dropped on Fri., May 8.

"We wanted [an album] to be the first thing anyone heard from us," says Higgins. "We wrote a lot of songs in the first year we were a band, before we even played a show."

Instead, first came Weird as Hell in 2016, a gritty, finely-tuned 4-track EP that showed the band's potential.

"I think we had all been in bands before where you write and record and release music as fast as you can," says Higgins. "For [Same], we all wanted to try something different. Take our time, no pressure, see what we can make. As we got more comfortable writing together, we felt our sound developing and wanted to move past that first batch of songs. So we did an EP to mark that period, and kept writing toward that LP."

Then, as Same started to get an idea of what the debut album might sound like, they realized they had a few songs that they liked and wanted to release, which fit well together but that they couldn't see on the LP. So in 2018, the band's second EP Forgot to Say 'Action' was born.

"Then after the second EP, we really honed in on the sound and buckled down and did the LP," says Higgins. "The process of mixing/mastering and finding a way to release it took much longer than I expected also. That was a learning process for me. I (naively) thought the album would be out in Summer 2019, that was the original goal. It wasn't intentional to wait so long, but I am glad it worked out the way it did."

Leading with the buoyant "It's Lonely in Doggy Hell," Plastic Western is hypnotic ("Make It So"), hazy and measured ("Cherry Pull 'N Peel"), breezy ("Bluish"), and has an unhurried, leisurely energy  just like the formation of the album. It's clear Same took the time on this clean and polished creation.

Below, City Paper chatted with the band to find out more about Plastic Western.

Same formed five years ago but Plastic Western is the band's first album. How do you feel this benefited or took away from the band?
Higgins: We probably could've released several records over the last few years but the way it happened, we refined a sound and got comfortable playing with each other over a period of years before showing the world our first record. I think most bands go through some change and development in their first few years and records. We did that too, just not in the public eye.

The biggest benefit is that I think we made an original sounding record with a refined sound. The drawback is that it took a very long time. I wouldn't call it a detriment because I'm happy with the record, but if it takes that long again I don't know how happy I'll be. Personally, for our next record, I would like to try and tinker with the songs less and just let them be what they are. There's value in that as well. And I think since we are more experienced with our writing process and recording now, we should be able to move faster this time.

How do you feel Same has evolved since its creation?
Gruzinski: Same started out as a band with the very typical goals of writing and releasing music. We have always strived to write songs that are tasteful and interesting, but in the beginning, we were feeling out how to make that happen. By the time we were working on Plastic Western, we figured out how to make that happen. The writing process was in-depth and at times almost tedious, but we always found ways to keep it all organic. In a sense, it was what the album required in order for us to be happy with the end result. Every detail of each song was decided upon which translated into an album that sounds intentional and well thought out. What we learned from our time together as a band is that in order to write music that is tasteful and interesting, we will continue to experiment and never let ourselves become tied down to our current sound. With this in mind, we will continue to evolve.

Where did the album title come from?
Stern: We had actually settled on taking photos of some sort of plastic figurine for the album art already, but we still needed a title. We were kinda struggling to come up with a good one, so we did a little brainstorming activity where we each took a chunk of songs from the album, wrote the lyrics out, and circled words or phrases that we thought sounded cool. I was going through "Osho Tapes" and I circled the line “plastic yellow western omelet,” and from there just narrowed it down to Plastic Western. Everyone else in the band thought it was a really cool title, and we already had the little plastic cowboy, so we decided to just lean into the theme and go with that title and the cowboy for the cover. 

Tell me about the process of creating the album.
Higgins: As [previously mentioned], we spent a lot of time writing it. Once we felt ready, we booked time at a studio called The Bunk in the Poconos, which belongs to our friend Matt Schimelfenig. We met [Schimelfenig] through playing shows with his bands over the years, and I got to know him a little better when I was briefly living in Philly, where he also lives. He recorded some records that we loved from Philly bands and once we found out about his studio it made natural sense to work with him.

As for the recording process, the studio was in a barn in the middle of the woods. No cell service or Wi-Fi in the studio itself, and it was the middle of winter. It was eight days of waking up and working on the record for 12-14 hours. The studio itself didn't have heat either. We had to use a propane heater between takes to try and warm things up. The house we stayed in was cozy though and we did have a lot of fun with each other. It felt intense at times, but ultimately the setting helped us focus on the record. Matt was very involved and had some unique recording techniques and special ideas for the songs also. He put his own touch on the songs and helped us bring them to life. Even in the studio, we were making little changes to the songs inspired by the setting and still finishing up some lyrics. We don't stop tweaking things until the "stop recording" button was pressed.

What song changed the most from start to finish? What song are you most proud of?
Higgins: For me it is a tie between "Bluish" and "Osho Tapes." Those are two songs that were in the writing process for years each, and were abandoned and brought back to life several times. We saw major changes with these songs with vocal melodies and structure. They both sounded like different songs at some point. Personally I am most proud of "Osho Tapes" because now that the record is out, that song is getting a lot of positive feedback from people and that feels really amazing after knowing all the hard work and personal energy that went into creating it! I'm glad we didn't give up on it.

How does it feel releasing an album amid a pandemic?
Higgins: It's not ideal but we are focusing on the positive. We are disappointed that we worked on this record for all these years and couldn't do the release show/party we had planned, along with the tour we had booked. It feels anticlimactic after this long journey. On the other hand, I think people are seeking out more new music online now. I am personally listening to more new music than I ever have and seeking out different stuff every day, so I hope that could lead more people to discover us and discover the record. But not being able to play live shows when you're so excited about your new music ... it doesn't feel good, no way around it.

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