By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
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"When I was a little kid, my friends were listening to Guns N' Roses," says Jon Reine, frontman for ambitious local band Greycoats. "I was listening to Elvis and trying to grow the perfect pompadour. I literally wanted to live in a different era. I've always been out of touch with what's cool."
That trend continues in the music he creates today with Greycoats. Unless highly textured art-rock albums inspired by the 1939 World's Fair and sung by theatrically inclined tenors suddenly come into vogue, it's a bit of a stretch to call this quartet's epic, erudite, and engaging music trendy. Their forthcoming sophomore album, World of Tomorrow, encompasses both the sort of obtuse wide-lens anthems that have turned Coldplay into world-beaters ("The Chemic Drop"), and moody detours into progressive rock's outer reaches (Krautrock freakout "Leviathan"). It's the work of a band bent on boldness and with an appetite for the unusual.
"All culture is borrowed from somewhere," offers Reine excitedly when asked about his lyrics' multiple allusions to recent real-life history and ancient mythology. "I grew up making cut-and-paste zines with my friends. We would just mash up all these things and re-contextualize them to create something new. I'm still trying to do that now in my songs. If I come across real stories or mythology that grips me, I'm going to use them. I like that people can bring their own experiences to the album and have it mean something different to them. Sometimes I think it would be cool to have a website that sort of spells out all the references and links them up. But then I think that might ruin the mystique."
play an EP-release show for Helicline
with Small Cities and Wishbook
on Thursday, June 28,
at the Kitty Cat Klub; 612.331.9800
It has been nearly four years since the band released their well-received debut, Setting Fire to the Great Unknown. For that, they did a World War I-styled photo shoot, and their press photos showed band members running through a field and holding up flags. Taking inspiration from North Korean media, they created a website that was intentionally strange and cultish with all sorts of doublespeak. "We're acquiescing a little bit and trying to be more accessible now, but there's still that theatrical aspect," Reine says. "To me that's the whole point of being in a band. I'm just trying to create something bigger than myself and get out from being trapped inside my own head."
Greycoats have opted to excise four of World's catchiest tracks and release them as a precursor EP, Helicline, in advance of World dropping later this fall. "We decided to put out the EP first just because we had been absent for so long in the studio," says Reine, a comment that elicits knowing nods from bandmates Titus Decker (keys) and Matt Patrick (bass/producer). "It felt like a smaller-scale way to reintroduce ourselves. We wanted to hit people first with the ear candy."
The four-track EP makes good on Reine's goal, providing a giddy condensation of the album's catchiest moments by featuring tracks such as the handclap-happy and propulsive "Prometheus, Glow!" and swoon-worthy space-age torch ballad "The Lions and the Swans." The EP and its parent album find Greycoats still favoring the sort of grandly cinematic gestures that can lead to payday television placements — a song from their debut scored some of Gossip Girl's high school melodramatics — even though that wasn't their original intent.
"We set out wanting to do something quick and dirty," explains Reine of the recording sessions for World. "Then we got Jeremy [Ylvisaker, guitarist/producer for Andrew Bird] involved to help produce and he really encouraged us to keep adding things. He would grab a Phillips head screwdriver and play guitar with it, and instantly create an amazing sound that became essential to a song."
With Ylvisaker now aboard as an honorary member performing with the band when his schedule allows, Greycoats will soon invite the world at large in on their grand years-in-the-making vision — even as they prepare for some listeners to lump them in with the lightweight Brit-rock crowd on the basis of no commonality beyond Reine's pristine windpipes.
"It's one thing to be compared to Coldplay, but then it becomes Keane, which becomes Snow Patrol, and it's like, 'Wow, wow, wow, we're not that!'" says Reine about some of the press comparisons Greycoats' first album elicited, cracking his bandmates up moments before they exit our barroom interview. "I'd like to think we're more ambitious than some of those bands, so you do wince a little, but I understand it because of my voice."