One of the most exhilarating phenomena that Rock & Roll has coughed up in its long, spotty history is the three-piece band. Some might call it a combo or, better yet, a power trio, but no matter what your chosen signifier for three people on a stage with a guitar, a bass and a drum set, one thing's for certain: They’re working their asses off up there. Because with only three people kicking up a tightly-woven, carefully-constructed racket, there’s little margin for error.
State Song is a band that seems to like it that way, so much so that it would probably be unable to exist with extraneous members. Or at least the threesome wouldn’t be having as much fun.
Its successful operation is based on its particular triad, the idea of three members who feed off one another’s chemistry, energy and intensity. What makes the band sound bigger than life, however, is the members’ willingness to burn slowly, to embrace dynamics, to use a sampler and a keyboard. To maximize the sonic potential is the main goal.
Lead singer and guitarist Scot Torres lays it out plainly: “We’re always pushing the envelope to try to get as many sounds as we can out of a three-piece at all times, but we don’t do anything in the studio that we can’t do live.”
Torres played competitive classical piano as a kid until a finger injury sidelined him. He recovered and switched to guitar. He cut his Rock teeth playing in thrash bands on the basement circuit and spent six years fronting Indie river-dredgers The Invitational until that band’s dissolution last year.
By the end of 2008, Torres’ cousin Matt Hemingway, who had toured as a drummer with Punk and Pop-informed Punk bands like The Dopamines and Black Tie Bombers, found himself similarly band-less.
Hemingway had recently sold his drum set and bought a bass rig instead, and he recruited his old high school friend and fellow Punk drummer George Jesse to jam with Torres. After one preliminary session, they decided to call it a band.
What does it sound like? Imagine an ultra-dynamic, highly flammable distillation of all that pre-State Song work.
Torres’ bipolar guitars pluck and lilt gently along verses until working themselves into a hell-bent and distorted frenzy for grand choruses. Jesse’s drums provide a solid thud and Hemingway’s basslines sustain a hummable melody. Things still get hard and loud, but State Song — unlike potentially comparable local peers like Caterpillar Tracks or Arms Exploding — doesn’t hold out the heaviness for whole songs.
“We have to make it varied, because none of us can quite shred,” Hemingway says.
And there’s certainly an accomplished Pop undercurrent to allay the noisier elements. Listening to State Song, though, is no emotionally measured experience. It’s more like riding a boat through calm waters and suddenly being swept up in a tsunami — or being gently smothered with a pillow.
“At certain points in certain songs, I’d definitely like to be strangling you, but at certain points, I’d definitely like to be caressing you asleep with a knife to your throat,” Torres confirms. “It’s all dark, but it’s not like I’m whining in my own pool of I-peed-on-myself-and-everything-sucks-and-my-wife-left-me. I’m more interested in the average person’s daily life and how to make that into a short film that I would care about than any grand scheme or politicking.”
This cinematic approach is evident both lyrically and in the State Song sound. These guys really are just suckers for drama, for “rising swells, huge, blaring chords and a smattering of sounds,” Torres says. He goes on to cite influences as wide-ranging as Cursive, DJ Shadow, The National and the Samuel-Barber-penned, Leonard-Bernstein-conducted “Adagio for Strings” from the Platoon score.
This is also the first time he’s sat down at the ivories (well, keyboard keys) in the context of a Rock band. There’s little doubt that one particular touchstone group may have played a role in that decision — both Torres and Hemingway mention Radiohead as a central inspiration.
But you might hear something completely different.
“After the first show we ever played, from the people that came up and talked to us, I heard us compared to Dinosaur Jr. and Neil Young. I was excited to hear different people like us for those different reasons,” Hemingway says. “But probably our biggest influences are each other.”
That’s a good thing for a three-piece.
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