Cellars By Starlight
IWhen toward the end of last year Loveless played their first batch of shows, some obvious questions arose. Would singer/guitarist Dave Wanamaker, formerly the second banana in Expanding Man, be able to pull off his new role as a frontman? Would guitarist Jen Trynin, with two major-label albums to her credit, be comfortable in her new role as the second banana? Would old fans like what they came up with? And would the new band wind up sounding like both of the old bands rolled into one?
To judge from the group's new Loveless EP on Q Division, the answers are: yes, yes, probably, and not really. You expect a certain level of pop expertise from this crew, but Loveless is really about Wanamaker's finding his own voice as a singer/songwriter. Along with everyone else associated with Q Division, he likes the big pop hooks and the meaty guitar sounds, and there's a general sense of intelligence in the writing. (The other members of Loveless are also part of the Q circuit: former Expanding Man member Peter Armata plays bass; the busy Tom Polce, also of Señor Happy, Crème Brûlée, and Bill Janovitz's Crown Victoria, plays drums; the studio's head honcho, Mike Denneen, produced the disc.) But Wanamaker's songs for Loveless are more direct and less epic-sounding than the ones he wrote for Expanding Man, and the British pop influences are sported more proudly - he even admits to lifting the band's name from the classic My Bloody Valentine album. The CD opens with a guitar-slinging rock anthem, "Go" (about being 16 and going to a rock show), then gradually settles down; its moody closing track, "Natural," is about the peace of mind a friend found after coming out as gay. The emotional range between those two songs - heavy feelings and cheap thrills - fashions a strong frame to hang a band on.
"I always wrote pop songs," Wanamaker explains over beers at the Abbey Lounge in Somerville. "What I really wanted was to combine that direct thing about American pop, to put in that psychedelic British guitar, and have it be something cool that you'd want to play for your friends. The songs in Expanding Man started out as pop, but they kept getting more complicated - they literally expanded. That band was together for so long, and it came down to five people getting together to do every little thing. But these songs came from me sitting down with a guitar and a drum track, deciding I was going to keep it simple. What I like about the people in Loveless is that they all have this intuitive . . . "
" . . . intuitive way of putting up with Dave," Trynin chimes in. Her smart-ass sense of humor notwithstanding, there's an obvious friendship and admiration between Trynin and Wanamaker. And Trynin is adamant about her position in Loveless: she's not the frontwoman, dammit. "If I wanted to do my own music, I'd be doing it. I hadn't played in two years before Dave called me up and asked. Now I get to be the guitar player in a band, so I have all the fun and none of the bad part." Although she didn't sing at all in their earlier gigs, she at least has some prominent back-up parts on the CD. "That's because I finally learned the songs."
Still, it may seem odd that an established solo artist would prefer to be in a band where she doesn't sing lead or write - and since Wanamaker is also a lead-guitarist, she has to share in that department as well. All of which is fine by Trynin. Although a lot of local figures got messed up by major record labels (including Wanamaker, whose second album with Expanding Man got shelved), her aversion was stronger than most. She planned to retire altogether after her second Warner Bros. album ran its course, and she has enough feelings about the industry to fill a book. In fact, she's writing a book on that subject; she read a chapter during the series of spoken-word/acoustic nights she ran recently at the Kendall Café.
"I did my time in pop music, I didn't enjoy it, and now it's over. It didn't sit well with me, and I wasn't that good at it - really, I didn't think I was. And there wasn't enough sense of camaraderie in the way I set my bands up. In this band, Dave bears the brunt of the responsibility, and he's learned a lot about being part of a team. You have to get people to do what you want without them hating you, and that's hard."
But so far, the members of Loveless are still savoring the feeling of putting history aside and being in a new band. The five-song EP will be expanded to a full album next year; Wanamaker says the extra songs will "fill the gaps" between the EP's moody and rocking material. Meanwhile, the band are working on introducing themselves to local audiences. "The first few shows, it was definitely people who liked Expanding Man or Jen's band, and we had to explain how it worked," Wanamaker says. "Now I'm hearing people say, 'Yeah, Loveless, I heard you guys were good,' and that's the best feeling. Because I think it's a pretty cool band to play in."
Wanamaker plays a solo set this Monday, November 26, at the Plough & Stars; Loveless will be at T.T. the Bear's Place with American Hi-Fi on December 12.
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