"It's funky, it's heavy, it's mathy. It's passionate. It's nitty-gritty," says Stonechat's newest member, John Beabout, when asked to describe the trio's sound. Beabout joined the band last fall on keyboards, lending a unique range of melodies to guitarist Sean Ballard and drummer Charlie Nehr's spastic rock and pop sound. Tonight, Stonechat will release its first album as a trio, titled BACCO, at Cafe Ventana (3919 West Pine Boulevard; 314-531-7500).
The early-twentysomethings sit on the patio at Ventana over various vices as they recount their origins. Ballard and Nehr are childhood friends from Collinsville, Illinois, while Beabout is a friend from Belleville they picked up on this side of the river. They've collectively spent plenty of time at the midtown cafe in the past year, both behind the barista bar and on the other side of it, hosting and performing at donation-based shows for touring bands of all kinds.
"Stonechat is a bird, and it's also an old English saying for shootin' the shit -- 'throwing around the old stonechat,'" explains Ballard. "The bird's named stonechat because it sounds like crackling pebbles. At the time when I named it, Charlie and I were doing a lot of concept sets with noise and ambience. For some reason, that seemed fitting."
The addition of Beabout, a classically trained pianist, has forced the former duo to really hone in on carefully crafting its compositions as a whole rather than working from a completely blank canvas, says Nehr, who runs his own live music recording service, HiLo Recordings. Songwriting often begins in Ballard's brain, a raw stream of consciousness that gains footing when carefully placed drumming and call-and-response keyboard riffs step in.
With collective influences including everything from Deerhoof and Hi Red Center to Yowie and free jazz, Stonechat jokes that they sound like "the Doors, if they were a punk band." Riffing off cynical and religious themes, the band plays intricate, off-kilter melodies spliced with dissonant chords, impassioned singing yelled from the gut, and slippery rather than straightforward rhythms. Stonechat juxtaposes noisy pop sensibilities and funk with punk and math rock, and the sharp execution of these weirdly overlapping shades makes its songs compelling from beginning to end.
"Sean and I are both intricate and vigorous, and Charlie fills it out and makes it flow," says Beabout. "There are lot of colors in there. Stonechat is just a void, like a black hole or the sun constantly going in and out."
Stonechat releases its self-recorded debut album, BACCO, while performing with Washington, D.C.'s Les Rhinocéros at Cafe Ventana tonight. A mini-series of five comics drawn by local artist Curtis Tinsley will also accompany the release this Saturday, May 2, at Star Clipper's (6392 Delmar Boulevard; 314-725-9110) Free Comic Book Day event.
"I work with adults with mental disabilities, and one of my clients is a really cool, nice guy. He has an obsession with dead batteries. We keep the dead batteries for him.... He calls them 'baccos.' I just latched on to that," says Ballard, explaining the album's name.
Preview the track "Brand On Looks," with album art by Lindsay Weigel, below. Pick up a copy on CD or cassette tape put out by locally based label Float Away Dangling.
We invited Stonechat to fill in the blanks ahead of its album-release show tonight. See what guitarist Sean Ballard had to say after the jump.
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