Brite Winter 2016 Artist Spotlight: Bummed Out
If someone asked you to make a Venn diagram of the qualities that you’d look for in other people when forming a band, you’d probably want talent, friendship and not being crazy to intersect. These were traits that Frank Wallis and his co-worker James O’Malley both found they had in common after getting together to play music in their spare time over a year ago.
“James and I went to high school together,” Jeff Mather, their drummer, explains. “That’s the thing—it really fell into place. The hidden element of our band.”
“They have been friends for like ten years, too,” O’Malley points at Wallis and vocalist/bassist, Andrew Jurcak, explaining how everyone ended up joining Bummed Out.
“Frank and I played in most bands that we’ve been in together. It’s just an easy dynamic. I feel like everyone takes criticism pretty well when we’re practicing, we really don’t beat around the bush and nobody gets upset,” Jurcak elaborates over coffee at Loop in Tremont.
With so much history in pairs there could have been some potential to complicate the future, but Bummed Out manage to preserve the qualities that produced results before with a newfound maturity that their previous projects had lacked. “We’re all in our mid-twenties now, we’re all self-sufficient, you know what I mean?” O’Malley poses.
There’s still a glimmer of impatience left over from more immature years, however. Their new EP Happy To Be Here just celebrated its official release at The Happy Dog on January 16th via Jurassic Pop Records (Mather’s co-owned label), but the guys are antsy to start playing newer material. The EP release party saw fans and friends packing the place from wall-to-wall, while the guys belted out five tracks from the EP and five new songs that they’ve written since recording Happy To Be Here in Mather’s basement with Brent Smith (Joyful Noise) this past summer. The EP was limited to 100 silver cassette tapes, the fastest way to make a professional physical release in this day and age (at two weeks compared to the three months it would take to master and press vinyl).
“We were thinking about putting up demos, or even releasing a full album, but I think this is the perfect middle ground. We’re still figuring ourselves out, like any band this early on,” says Mather. “From a band standpoint, I wanted to have it done as soon as possible, because having something online is better than not, but from a Jurassic Pop standpoint I think that you would do yourself a disservice to release it online and then ask someone else to [do it again].”
In true lo-fi fashion, vocals are mixed underneath distorted chords that reverberate to a satisfying sizzle throughout Happy To Be Here. Jurcak’s voice doesn’t compete to be the loudest instrument in the room, something that other bands pigeonholed within one genre have yet to master. Like on a true retro mix tape, the songs fluctuate between the influences that Bummed Out reflect best.
Vocals come off as exploratory and sweet like an early Jimmy Eat World record, with pedal effects and tuning synonymous with shoegaze outfits. “We play everything in this alternate tuning that Frank came up with. You’ll find a lot of the chord sounds can call back to one another, but it has this unique sound to it. We try to write songs that won’t be too repetitive or predictable,” O’Malley explains.
Even when it comes to their writing process, lyrics usually take a back seat to each instrumental part. Jurcak allows melody to guide the mood and it sets up some playful mondegreen to occur organically, otherwise known as the mishearing of lyrics that would change the meaning of a song. Many bands are associated with this, delivering lines in a way that misconstrues what is being said, forcing fans to listen a little harder or dig a little deeper to figure it out.
“We’ve been really lucky,” Mather says thankfully, regarding their inclusion at Brite Winter and the number of shows they’ve booked since starting to play at venues around Cleveland.
“Teenage Grandpa, we wanted to play places, but we only played house shows or Pat’s In The Flats. For whatever reason, this band gets shows. Maybe we’re a lot better, or something,” laughs Jurcak reminiscing about his and Wallis’ old band.
“Better, grown-up a little bit,” O’Malley adds. “Trying to be more professional and entertaining.”
“… Not getting too drunk before shows,” Wallis elaborates on the list.
Jurcak thinks about it, “Yeah, I haven’t ruined one of these shows yet.”
“It sounds lame, but it is what it is,” Mather concludes. “We’re lucky enough that what we’ve built in the past as we’re becoming adults, we’re using it.”