Wilco's Bennett helps West of Rome find its sound
Milwaukee bands are getting awfully friendly with Jay Bennett, formerly of Wilco. Last year, Michelle Anthony released her Bennett-produced disc, and now her friends West of Rome follow suit.
"Drunk Tank Decoy" (Slothrop Music) is a 14-song disc loaded with low-key Americana-influenced rock that calls to mind The Band, Neil Young and Jay Farrar's Son Volt.
Calling itself a Milwaukee and Chicago Americana collective, West of Rome has been together for about five years in its current incarnation: drummer Andrew Beaumont (a former rodeo clown!), keyboardist Marc Alberts, bassist Tom Cox and guitarist Chris DeMay. This lineup also released the disc, "Cranberry Sauce."
"We wanted to form a band to focus on the things we liked best about good rock music; melody, song structure and harmony vocals," says DeMay. "We like to claim both Milwaukee and Chicago as hometowns for WOR. The basic lineup of me, Marc, Tom and Andy is the core of WOR, but we love to involve our friends and other musicians in our music to fleshout the sound both live and in the studio."
Fleshing out West of Rome's sound in the studio was made especially easy this time around, thanks to Bennett's collection of vintage instruments and recording gear, DeMay says.
"We used as much of Jay's vintage gear as possible. The basic tracks were all recorded to two-inch tape, with several songs later mixed back down to tape. We tried to make DTD as analog as possible -- which was part of why we wanted to work with Jay in the first place. As far as instruments, I would say 75 percent of the instruments used on DTD are Jay's. We wanted a real vintage feel on the record, so you'll hear Hammond B3 and C3 organs, Wurlitzer electric piano, 60-year-old Martin guitars, Farfisa, pump organ.
"Working with Jay was a great experience for WOR. He couldn't have been more supportive of our music or more accommodating to what we were trying to achieve in the studio. He really threw himself into the project and became like a fifth member of the band."
It was during the recording of "Drunk Tank Decoy" that Anthony hooked up with Bennett, despite the fact that her disc was released earlier. Anthony had been invited down to the Illinois studio to sing on a handful of the disc's tunes, according to DeMay.
Those -- and all of the band's tunes, says DeMay -- are collaborative affairs, although he and Alberts are the driving force behind most of the songwriting.
"Marc and I do all the songwriting, but because he lives in Chicago and me in Milwaukee we rarely get to write together. So we each bring songs to rehearsal and the band works out the arrangements together. We'll each add little parts to the other's songs rather than sitting in a room building a song from the ground up."
That distance between the main protagonists contributes to the fact that things seem to happen for West of Rome in fits and starts. Although the band plays a release show Saturday, Feb. 19 at Linneman's Riverwest Inn, 1001 E. Locust St. (Anthony, Gregory Borden of No Kiss For New Year's and The Mighty Deer Lick also perform), they'll take some time off afterward.
"Marc and his wife are having a baby in March, so we plan to release the CD and play a few shows then take a break and tour later in the spring and summer. I'm making demos of some of my material for a possible solo record with Jay for later this year. And WOR will record later this year for the follow-up to "Drunk Tank Decoy."
West of Rome's Web site is westofrome.com.
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