Again, I have to thank Nicky at Two Side Moon/SLW Promotions for turning me on to a band ... this time, though, it's not a group from Sweden, Germany or Italy, this power trio -- Melodrome -- (made up of Robby Baier on lead vocals and guitar, Jesko Stahl on bass and Justin Guip on studio drums -- with Kali Baba on drums when they play live) is based right here in the US of A (Housatonic, Mass., to be exact) and these guys can R-O-C-K!! (It is interesting to note, though, that Baier and Stahl are originally from Berlin, Germany, where they were in a band called Pearls At Swine.) They had me about five seconds into "I Wanna Run" (the album's opening salvo) with their hook-laden melodies, classic rock roots, and Baier's muscular voice with its Mick Jagger-swagger and cockiness (especially on "Time On My Hands").
There is not one dud of the 11 tracks, and there are enough catchy time-changes and variety to hold your attention easily for the entire 41 minutes that make up "Flood," their fourth album (following "The Sidewalk Ends," "Play America" and "Happens While You Blink"). If you're into such acts as AC/DC, Mott the Hoople and the Stones, you really need to check out Melodrome. I'll be using it to sound-check the system at dances this year. I know they snub their collective noses at the major labels in "Complacent" ("We're not in it for the dough/we just wanna to play rock 'n' roll!") but if they could find a way to get national exposure, they would rule.
Melodrome's new album is a jolt to the system Published in Berkshire Eagle, 1/28/10
PITTSFIELD—There's something to be said for turning up the amps and just rocking.
Housatonic-based band Melodrome already had three albums of well-received, richly textured pop-rock under its belt when founding members Robby Baier (guitarist, lead vocals, lyricist) and Jesko Stahl (bassist) decided to strip away some layers.
"We just wanted to go into the practice room, turn up the amps, maybe have a margarita or two, and have fun," Baier recalls in a telephone interview, after a rehearsal session at his Substation Studio in the old Housatonic railroad station.
The result is Flood, a straight-ahead rock record chock full of bombastic riffs and big beats. Set for release in March, it's sure to be a jolt to the systems of listeners accustomed to the band's more moody, nuanced work. Fans can likely expect an unofficial live debut of much of the new record when Melodrome (complete with drummer Kali Baba McConnell) plays a co-bill with Tony Lee Thomas on Saturday night at Flavours on North Street.
"Where you're trying to work out a detailed pop arrangement, it's different than when you're in a room and you're rocking a riff. There's nothing to argue about when you're just rocking a riff," Baier explains.
"When you do the pop arrangements you stop, you think, you stop, you try this, you record, you bring it back to the band. There's much more room for...people to feel their ideas aren't being heard, and arguments and band meetings," he continues. "We were both really not interested in that process anymore."
"Flood" is a grab-bag of classic rock-sounding riffs and lyrical paeans to savoring life and just generally having fun. Yet, with references to global warming and the false promise of big record deals, it’s informed by a subtle but underlying road-weariness, one that makes it clear this perspective is a hard-won choice, not an all-smiles easy answer. The opening track declares: “I want to be who I am, not what I’ve become…I want to feel life is good, not like it’s almost done.”
At times recalling bands from the Kinks to the Rolling Stones to The Specials, the record is almost punkish in its energy (though necessarily not in its tempos) and unassuming in its intentions.
"Complacent," from Melodrome's Flood
Though “Flood” turns the tough trick of making something really good sound easy, the record in fact suffered a hard birth. With new studio drummer and collaborator Justin Guid on board, the band recorded some tracks in Levon Helm’s studio near Woodstock, but ironically the well-appointed barn studio seemed the wrong vibe for the raw rock of the record.
Seeking the proper mood, Melodrome started again in more of a garage setting, and were happy with the results—but lost all the recorded work when both the main hard drive and its backup fell off a table. Next, they recorded a demo for the nascent Los Angeles-based record label of the late LeRoi Moore, Dave Mathews Band saxophonist. The label gave them some funding to record the basic tracks (again), and though it folded with the death of Moore in 2008, the band kept the tracks and geared up to release the record independently, on Baier’s Substation Records.
The independent route is a natural fit for this band. Baier, whose family moved from Stuttgart to the Berkshires when he was 15, has been playing musical instruments since age six (first instrument: ukulele) and has been working as a professional musician for about 20 years. He created Substation Studio, where he records and produces other musicians’ projects as well as his own.
The producer hat fits nicely on Baier, who says his experience with music has always been linked with the experience of recording it.
“I had a tape recorder from day one,” he explains. “The fun thing for me, the whole impetus, was turning on the tape recorder and coming up with stuff and capturing it and then listening back to it. It was about inventing something and then having it saved on the tape recorder.”
He is a self-taught musician, having decided after exactly one music lesson (at about age nine or ten) that formal instruction was not for him.
“They tried to teach me ‘When The Saints Go Marching In,’ and I hated it,” he says with a laugh. “That's not what music is for me. Music for me was always about inventing.”
His professional time is split between studio work and writing and recording music for films and television programs. His work has been heard on Walker: Texas Ranger, The Young and the Restless, JAG, and films including Drowning Mona, The Brutal Truth, and Academy Award-nominated short Ferry Tales. He’s also provided music for a sultry Chanel ad, and he successfully placed one of Melodrome’s harder rocking songs on a national Miller commercial.
“I really feel outside of that culture, I don't really take part in it,” he says of the television world. “So if they want one of my songs, I don't even know what they do with it anyways—go ahead!”
One track from “Flood” (“With My Friends”) has already been licensed to appear in a film—during a college party scene, appropriately enough.
With the knowledge that one can have a successful career writing and performing music without being a rock star, part of Melodrome’s new ethos is to focus more on the joy of the experience and less on the stresses and pressures of trying to turn the band into a full-time occupation.
Baier and Stahl have already been down the major label route—their former band, Pearls at Swine, was signed to BMG’s European wing when Baier was splitting his time for a spell between the Berkshires and Berlin—and they are committed to staying independent, unless they find a quality indie label “where you walk into the office and you know the five dudes running the label,” as Baier puts it.
The Flavours gig will be followed by a smattering of local gigs: Saturday night, plus February 20 at the Brick House Pub in Housatonic, and the official record release party at the Dream Away Lodge in Becket on March 16. Baier is also playing a solo show at Sheffield’s Dewey Hall on March 6.
“Let's have fun and put out this record, and make money by licensing it to film and television,” he says of his current motivations, “and let's play local gigs that are really fun and close and our friends can hang out and we can play rock and roll.”
All text and photo galleries copyright @2008-09, Jeremy D. Goodwin
MAKING TRACKS: Melodrome
Written by Seth Rogovoy
Robby Baier and Jesko Stahl celebrate a decade together as core members of the Housatonic, Mass.-based power trio Melodr
With roots going back to their days in Berlin with major-label group Pearls at Swine, Robby Baier and Jesko Stahl celebrate a decade together as core members of the Housatonic, Mass.-based power trio Melodrome with Flood, released on Baier’s own Soultube Music label. The group’s fourth album features a new batch of its signature riff-based rockers and ballads that hark back to the Rolling Stones and the Kinks in the 1960s and AC/DC and Cheap Trick in the 1970s. While most of the guitar-bass-drums- based songs tackle themes typical of the ones to which this kind of music usually refers—girls, sex, partying— occasionally a more lofty or pointed expression jumps out at a listener, such as a clever play on words using the name of Joe Biden’s predecessor. Drummer Justin Guip rounds out the trio on the recording (Kali Baba McConnell typically serves as the group’s live drummer), and Baier sounds as swaggering and soulful as ever on numbers that also nod to U2 and some of the more recent New York City-based guitar rock. Catch them live in their hometown at the Brick House Pub on June 19 at 9.
Happens While You Blink
"Fucking great brit pop lushness mixed with a mid-period U2. Crunchy"
Melodrome - Happens While You Blink
Engineered by Justin Gulp at SubStation
Mixed by Justin Gulp at Gulp Studio
Mastered by Chris Gehringer at Sterling Sound
Many bands purport to be “straight ahead rock,” yet when the chips are down, most crumple for one reason or another. Some all but fall over themselves to display the proper bad attitude, while others make a show out of being so bizarre, attention is all but guaranteed.
Melodrome play undiluted, unmixed rock music, with an occasional hit from a ‘70s funk inhaler. Melodrome employs the classic drums, bass, guitars, and keyboard format on Happens While You Blink. The sound quality of this record is flawless in an age of cut corners, home studios, and high prices. Further unquestionable are the arrangement skills of Melodrome: every background vocal/guitar/keyboard part is well-timed and well-played - and not just on the record as a result of the whim of the vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist’s need to hear themselves make sound on the big, fancy speakers.
Melodrome breaks from the standard program every so often, giving the record some pleasing range. The head-wagging falsetto funk of “Jagged Love” is a switch from the prevalent drive of the record, while the plaintive strumming and breathy lead vocals of “Love Happens” show the listener that Melodrome are not just a bunch of big bad rockers, they may possess souls as well. For the record, “Love Keeps Me Alive” is a strong example of the band’s energy, with pseudo new-wave punctuation mixed with a more modern chorus. For a band that sings so much of love, they have a surprisingly low emo quotient; which is a very, very good thing. Melodrome score some serious points for a hand-sewn (yes, sewn) CD cover. Melodrome comes from a more mature place than most rock bands, and it shows on Happens While You Blink. (self-released)
Happens While You Blink (Soultube Music)
Housatonic, Mass.-based trio Melodrome’s third release is a wondrous combination of the literate, the sublime, and nerve-tearing rawness. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Robby Baier somehow combines the piss of Stiv Bator, the swagger of Jagger, and the majesty of say, Leonard Cohen and Johnette Napolitano into perfect exploding pop-rock bombs that say what needs to be said and move on. Familiar pop conventions and sounds are introduced, chopped, combined, and pasted, resulting in 12 songs that are at once easy on the ears and challenging on the first listen, and stay that way through the 20th. Bassist Jesko Stahl and drummer Matt Sloan play minimally and within the often deceptively nonlinear songs, and throw in backing vocals that recall Philly soul, Lennon and McCartney and (I’ll be damned!) even N*Sync. The result is the sound of a thinking, organic, fire-breathing band who are way more than the sum of their parts, which is rare these days, and virtually unheard of on a local recording. Every song swings for the fences, and whether railing about a lost lover (the jarringly persona1 “North Dakota”) or wooing a new one (“The Making Of”), every song hits its mark.
The first thousand copies of Happens While You Blink are packaged in hand-sewn recycled LP jackets. Mine’s a Mantovani. This disc stands up against any rock record you’ll hear anywhere. In other words, if this had come out a month ago on a major label, with a video placed on Fuse, and the usual half-a-mil spent on indie promo, it would be platinum right now. It’ll take something awfully bodacious to knock this off my best-record-of-2005 pick.
‘Melodrome’s junior effort rises their staus to maximum top of mind awareness. Finding their stride this passionate record titled ‘happens while you blink’ is not only a musical leap forward, but rather a perfect and endless journey with the top down... amazing.’ - Eric Wilens
Thursday, March 31, 2005 -
GREAT BARRINGTON -- On Melodrome's brand new record, "Happens While You Blink," the band decided to de-emphasize the roll and accentuate the rock.
After "Play America," their previous politically inclined release, songwriter Robby Baier felt like taking a break from the seriousness.
"One day I picked up my crappy Silvertone guitar, plugged it into a no-name amp I had bought at a tag sale, turned everything up to 11 and started rocking, writing some riffs," said Housatonic's Baier in an e-mail exchange.
Those riffs turned into power-popping tracks from the new independently released CD. The rollicking "What More," the funky and profane "Jagged Love" and the rough-and-tumble "Rumors" all sprang from the Silvertone session and will be part of the setlist at Saturday night's CD-release show at Club Helsinki.
Bassist Jesko Stahl attributed the band's tougher tone to the vibe in the studio along with the work of producer, Justin Guip.
"A couple of songs really only came together in the studio where we came up with the arrangement and everybody figured out their parts. But I love this way of recording. Decisions are made on the fly. It gives the album a rawer sound."
The band's passion and punchier sound is evident throughout the dozen tracks. Drummer Matt Sloan acknowledged the wish to move to a more aggressive approach.
"I think we were ready to move in a totally different direction. We always had an edgier side, that I think never really came out on the previous albums. It just felt like the right time to lash out and say "Here's the Rock."
Baier turned his attention away from global affairs for "Happens While You Blink" to the politics of the heart.
"Lyrically I turned back to a time when I was not so lucky in love, a time where I was going through a major break-up," he said. " 'What More,' 'North Dakota,' and 'Jagged Love' all talk about love gone sour and being really pissed about it."
The record includes makeup songs ("Crying Is Done"), straight-out love songs ("The Making Of"), and a song about traveling in time with your lover ("Yesterday"). Other compositions deal with more existential matters.
"There are the songs that are about self-realization and consciousness, like 'All the Same' and 'High Noon Breakdown,' " Baier explained. "These songs offer both sides of the story, one is about the confusion of life, one about being one with everything."
The Berkshires-based band remains committed to social causes and participating in a sustainable future. Their eco-friendly attitude is evidenced by an innovative approach Melodrome took toward packaging the new album. Mystery Train Records donated 250 recycled, 12-inch vinyl album covers to the band, who then had them cut down and sewn together to create jackets for the new CDs.
The band will be releasing the first 1,000 copies with "one-of-a-kind" album artwork where no two jackets will be identical. Said Baier, "Doing this cover is a small thing that we as a band can do to say to folks: 'Check it out. We tried to come up with a different, less harmful way to do what we do."
Sloan talked about the theme behind the CD's title. " 'Happens While You Blink' is a reference to all the subtle things that happen in your life day to day," the drummer said. "One moment everything is beautiful and perfect and the next thing you know everything is going down the drain. In a rock band you experience this stuff pretty regularly!"
Baier added, "For me, the title has more to do with my philosophical approach to life. Life happens while you blink, all the time, non-stop and it is silly to hope for something in the future that is somehow going to make your life better.
"Our brains are constantly searching, looking, judging ... 'Happens While You Blink' reminds me to take a breath and be present to life in every moment, in every word I write, just writing and being."
Melodrome is fired up for their Helsinki gig, armed with a new batch of songs and a stripped-down sound (the group is now a trio after the departure of guitarist, Darren Todd).
"We love Helsinki and look forward to celebrate our second release party there," said Baier.
"We also love our friends and look forward to blowing their socks off!!"
Stahl concurred. "Playing a local gig at a Club like Helsinki is definitely the most fun to play," he said. "Only Madison Square Garden can top that."
Dave Madeloni can be reached at email@example.com
i just wanted to say--that gig was really really really really good.
really nice new stuff and i
love the album
and it's not cause i'm a big fan already
you guys are a really excellent pop ROCK band
you all have something special...
love love happens
thanks for a show that cheered me the hell up and makes me excited about MUSIC
not doing music, just excited about music itself
ps and you can tell that to the boys
The Sidewalk Ends
I bought this CD after hearing the band at a small gig in New York City, and now every time I hear a hot new CD, like those by the Wrens or Beulah, I think they're not as good as these guys, who rival any major band out there--U2, R.E.M, Coldplay--with consistently compelling songs (not a dud on the CD), great melodies, lyrics, and a rocking edge. I liked the CD immediately and after playing it just one or two times, the songs were going around in my head, not just one or two, but all of them; it was eerie. Then I just couldn't stop playing it. It they come to your town, go now. When these guys catch on, it'll be hard to get tickets.
Best record I have bought since the first Coldplay record
Always great when you can buy something before it hits the mainstream and feel like you were a part of it when it was just starting out. This record is destined to be a classic if not on a global scale then on the scale of ....like a Nick Drake or some other artist that we look back on and go....why were they never big. I'm beginning to like it when artists only get to be a certain level of famous. Robby Baier as a solo artist is being called the male version of Ani Difranco, this new band of his solidifies his place in my eyes as a unique talent and one that will be giving us great songs to listen to for years to come. It doesn't hurt that he lives in Western, MA my home town. At any rate the record is pretty darn cool for something that isn't a major label release, self produced and doesn't have ClearChannel giving away Rolex's to DJ's for playing it, buy it, you'll like it I promise.