By Tom Lynch
What was once a series of sculptures that Scott Masson constructed while studying abroad in London eventually morphed into Office, the band, inspired by nine-to-five jobs that kill all creativity and prevent an artist from doing his art. “Q & A” is the local band’s new, self-released, self-recorded record, a deliriously rousing set of songs that find their base in dance-inducing, semi-electronic pop. A recent month-long residency at Schubas, plus the countless downloads of the single “Wound Up” on iTunes, where it was chosen as the “Single of the Week” just a few weeks ago, have gotten the four-piece bundles of attention and glowing praise from critics all over the city.
“I’m originally from Detroit, but I knew that place wasn’t for me,” Masson, the band’s singer, principal songwriter and engineer says. “I knew garage rock was pretty big there, but I saw it as a dead end, a little bit too retro. I moved to Chicago—I felt it was more conducive to writing pop songs, doing something a little more experimental.”
The move paid off—it was here where Masson met both the original lineup of Office—which released a record in 2002—and the current staff. Does the band ever jump into the back catalogue during live sets? It does not seem essential, since the Office of 2002 is basically a different band from the Office of 2006. “Sometimes we play the old songs,” Masson says. “but those songs have tired themselves on me. What we do is we take them into new light. The new members [of the band] can look at them with a different perspective than me.”
The dangerous part of making the music Office creates—multi-layered synths, vocals, strings, drum beats, guitars, pianos—is that, with only four members, the live sound isn’t an accurate portrayal of how the band sounds on the record. That’s especially problematic for a new band, still unsigned to any label, trying to impress audiences with its inventive sound.
“It’s really, really impossible to emulate this stuff live,” Masson says. “There are so many parts involved [in each song on the record], a lot of these parts have three instruments, some have upwards of twenty-to-thirty instruments. What we try to do in a live situation is stay as true to the songs as possible, strip them down a little bit. As long as the song is delivered in a way of verse-chorus-verse, we feel we’ve done our job. Anybody coming to the show to hear the record should really just stay home.”
Masson says that Office songs begin very, very basic, perhaps just acoustic guitar and voice, or piano and voice, and then the band constructs each track from that foundation. “I feel that songwriting is our number one focus,” he says. “‘Q & A’ is a collection of folk songs—it just doesn’t sound like folk music. It’s written that way—on acoustic guitar or piano—and the band builds up parts, or I add parts in the studio. The basis of it is folk music. Lyrics are the most important part of what we do.”
For some bands, having a definitive leader like Masson, who touches every aspect of the music including the recording, would be tough to handle for the other members. “The band totally understands the process,” Masson says. “They know that I’ve been in studios since the early nineties, recording punk bands in Detroit in the late nineties. There’s a performance and mood and atmosphere that you try to capture with a live band. They understand that they are my songs, but I give them plenty of creative input, and now it’s becoming more and more a collaborative project. Before I was kind of a control freak, but once [the band] got comfortable with each other, we started working better together. I’m always amazed what they can add to a piece of music. It’s good to go into a musical situation and not know what the outcome will be. It’s just more fun to be in a band.”
And yet, Office is still unsigned, though Masson reports a deal may be on its way in the near future. “It seems we’re getting a lot of attention without a label,” he says. “That’s unheard of. That’s something to be said for pop music. It will cut through, if it’s done with a lot of care. We feel we’ll find a home sooner or later. We’re leaning towards indie labels, because we want production control. We don’t have the desire for deli trays.”
Office plays June 16 at Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, at 10pm. $8.