You can ask 100 musicians who their influences are or what they sound like and probably 90 percent of the time you’ll get “no one really” as an answer no matter how many times they’re churning out recycled My Chemical Romance riffs or wearing ironic Strokes haircuts.
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But that’s not Louis Defabrizio. His band, Gasoline Heart, is named after a Paul Westerberg lyric and on an early incarnation of their Web site they don’t mince words: “For fans of Tom Petty, Pearl Jam and The Replacements.”
Which is a pretty big check for any one band to try to cash. And, in fact, Gasoline Heart only bears a passing resemblance to any of the three. What they are, however, is unabashedly heartfelt anthemic rock.
“There are so many bands that tried to sound like Nirvana or Pearl Jam and they copied the vocal style or whatever and they sound like s---. They didn’t copy the vibe,” Defabrizio says. “To me, Pearl Jam just tried to copy the vibe of the Who. And they come up with their own thing. We’re just trying to capture the vibe [of who we listen to].”
And they do. “You Know Who You Are,” their terrific debut album sounds like, if you are inclined toward classic rock or alternative-country or any of the aforementioned bands, the best parts of your music collection reshuffled and stitched into something completely new, yet totally familiar. It’s the record that Ryan Adams should have made a long time ago.
“You Know” is also a remarkably polished (in a good way) debut. Chalk it up to the tons of bands the members have previously been in and big live-sounding production from former Nirvana and Bush producer Steve Albini. The producer, notoriously cranky, isn’t known for such straightforward rock. And he let it be known in the studio.
“He wasn’t into the record at all. He just pretty much pressed record and talked about baseball,” Defabrizio says, chuckling. “I think he helped us in that we could have ended up too polished. Because like me and the bass player (John Fortson) are sort of punk rock in that ‘yeah, it’s cool that it’s a little out of tune or out of key,’ but the other guys are better musicians. Albini just had this presence.”
There are plenty of bittersweet love songs on the album. Which Defabrizio thinks might have been intuition. He and his wife split after the recording of the record.
“I made this record and [we broke up]. But then I listened to the record and I thought ‘Man, my subconscious knew what was going on before I knew what was going on.’”
But it’s not all crying-in-beer material. One of the best uptempo songs is “Cheers (Here’s to Life)” which pretty much sums up it’s vibe in the title. It’s also one of many points on the album that alludes to if not a crisis, a questioning of faith with the lyrics: “I’m starting to fade like a young girl in the back of the church / Who says mom do you really believe all this? / Because I just feel numb.”
Defabrizio, a Christian, elaborates: “I do believe in God. But it’s almost like I don’t want to. I struggle to find a reason not to believe.”
He started the band, which also includes guitarist Joey Bradshaw, drummer Jeff Irizary and organist Andy Simonds, because he was tired of an endless cycle of failed musical projects.
“I actually became a songwriter out of default. Because I was in a band and I was always the bass player. I would be in a band for three years and things would start happening and then the lead singer would freak out and the band would break up. And then we’d start another band and I’d end up getting kicked out. I said ‘f--- this, I’m just going to be the singer.’ That’s kind of what the song ‘All the Way’ is about. It’s me going ‘hey, I’m not a singer, but I can sing in my car.’”
“I hate bands that jump style to style, and I think that we’re just a regular rock and roll band. But in the end, it’s because I’m not a good songwriter. This is all I know how to write about,” he says, later adding “My grammar isn’t good. I barely got out of high school. I’m not a good guitar player. I’m not good but I figured out how to capture how I am feeling.”
Which, anyone listening to his emotional gravely voice or literate songs, will know just isn’t true.
The band has since added another guitar player and Defabrizio tells an interviewer “I’m actually going to go do demos tonight.” He predicts a rougher sound for the next album. And a lot more albums.
“We can make records cheaply,” he says. “This is kind of a mission of the band. I want people, especially if there are any young kids that get into our record, what I hope they’d get into are the bands that we got into.”
Get into Gasoline Heart first.
For more info about Gasoline Heart visit: www.gasolineheart.com.
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