By Tom Lynch
You’d think it was jazz.
Aloha’s “Some Echoes” begins with a quick-shot, snare-drum hop of a drumbeat, followed by an angular, unpredictable guitar line, in a song called “Brace Your Face.” To say the sound is original would be doing it a grand disservice—a mix of indie rock, jazz, prog rock and strange, atmospheric mood music. Just when you’re used to vocal harmonies, the organ kicks in. And the comprehension has to start all over again.
The journey started a long time ago for the four-piece with its debut EP, “The Great Communicators, The Interpreters, The Nonbelievers,” hitting shelves in 1999, followed by 2000’s full-length “That’s Your Fire” and 2002’s “Sugar,” all on Polyvinyl Records. 2004’s “Here Comes Everyone” is widely hailed as the band’s masterpiece, a fusing of rock elements from the last four decades of music, plus a forceful look to the future, where all sounds converge to make one. That’s where “Some Echoes” comes in. Not only is it its predecessor’s equal, it bests it in certain areas—vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Tony Cavallario’s abstract lyricism takes significant prominence, but the inclusion of heavy keyboard and organ, serving as foundation for many of the album’s ten songs. An unrelenting, unforgettable record, “Some Echoes” proves Aloha’s status as a supreme example of an indie-rock band that’s so much more.
“We realized we were going in a more classic direction,” says Cavallario of the writing process for “Some Echoes.” “I feel when we made our first record we were operating on pure inspiration—we weren’t really thinking about it. We just had cool stuff and the opportunity to do cool things. Nowadays I feel we’re trying to focus our efforts on a song-by-song basis.”
Cavallario feels that this approach to songwriting, and life as a band in general, is best for the group. “I think it’s the only way to go from here,” he says. “You can’t go back to being 20 years old, writing songs blindly. Now we’ve been playing a long time. We’ve become students of music. We listen and think about everything we’re hearing—inevitably that will make us take a more serious approach to song structure. What’s ironic is that when we get together we don’t know what songs we’re to write from moment to moment.”
As soon as you hear “Some Echoes,” it’s abundantly clear that this was a team effort, with creative input from each member. “‘Some Echoes’ was pretty collaborative,” Cavallario says. “I’ll stockpile riffs and progressions and melodies in my head, and I’ll spend a lot of time getting together with Cale [Parks, Aloha’s virtuoso drummer]. Sometimes it takes just a drumbeat and I’ll know where things should go from there.”
A complicated record such as this could easily create problems during its live presentation. “I don’t feel like simplicity is my forte,” Cavallario says. “What’s attractive to me about the music we play is the connection with sixties and seventies music. It’s tremendously elaborate, but naturally played. But I don’t want Aloha with orchestra or anything, not all Steely Dan-style.” Cavallario recognizes the difference between the new record and band’s past releases. “I feel it’s a logical growth we’ve experienced,” he says. “It doesn’t strike me as a drastic difference, though. To me, there’s something cool about it, something I don’t want to say is confidence, but more of a security. When I put it on I don’t feel the same sort of nervousness like with the records before it. In that way it’s more useful to people, it’s more useful in the sense that you can put it on and just get into it.”
After this tour, the band plans to get back to the studio and start working on its new record. Drummer Parks has a solo record due next month, and Cavallario also has solo thoughts in mind. “Not singer-songwriter-ish,” he says, “but with acoustic textures.” How does he feel he’s changed as a songwriter since Aloha’s first EP?
“I really do feel like when I was writing my first song, I had my whole life in big fat notebooks that I could draw from,” he says. “You don’t really think about it that much. Coming to where we are now, I feel I know too much to be able to just let it out. In a way it’s harder, but now I can say with confidence, ‘These are good lyrics. This is what I’d like to hear from other bands.’”
Aloha plays August 20 at Schubas, 3159 North Southport, (773)525-2508, at 9pm. $8-$10.