IT IT is the kind of band that lives in online obscurity. The band’s Facebook page features just one photo of the musicians. If you want to find its music online, it’s necessary to use quotes around the name; otherwise it’s impossible to locate in the depths of the internet. Although the name is not terribly SEO-friendly, the band’s sound has turned heads both locally and elsewhere. When City Paper recently spoke with members of Baltimore-based Wildhoney about Pittsburgh’s music scene, IT IT was one of the bands that guitarist Joe Trainor raved about.
On a cloudy, slightly chilly late-spring afternoon, CP caught up with IT IT at Allegheny Cemetery. We set up shop on the steps of a mausoleum with sphinx statues on each side of its stairs. The cemetery is pretty quiet, save for the occasional medical helicopter flying overhead or the whisper of the wind. At one point, we stop talking to make eye contact with a doe about 30 feet away, as if it’s a totally normal thing to do. The four band members seem comfortable, as if this particular mausoleum is a usual haunt.
Since its inception in 2015, IT IT has been a band that builds experimental pop music driven by found sound and samples with just a pinch of rock. The four-piece, composed of JF, Tyler, Eric and Patrick (these are first-name only artists), lives and creates music together in Garfield. They practice in the basement, fleshing out songs as a democratic unit in the comfort of their own home.
“Since Tyler moved to Pittsburgh and has started writing with us, I feel like the process is truly democratically collaborative,” says Eric, “None of us know what the song is going to be when we get in the room together.”
The band’s forthcoming album, Formal Odors, has a sound that’s hard to connect to pre-existing art. One could try to grasp at tangential influences, but it would bear little fruit for explaining the band’s sound to others. The band collectively admires groups like The Books and Deerhoof, and Tyler is inspired by Women’s guitar work, but IT IT sounds like none of those bands.
“JF’s parts usually start the collaborative process,” says Patrick. “He has a collection of sounds that we usually build on with the live instrumentation.”
“He’s always collecting sound and samples regardless, so he has all these pre-structured found-sound samples that we’re excited about,” Eric says. “Then we get into a room with them and add the live instruments, and it grows exponentially from there.”
Used carefully, as if from a treasure chest of random percussive instruments, JF’s samples light a spark throughout IT IT’s compositions that keeps listeners on their toes. Woven around the catchy samples is the kind of percussion work that commands your limbs and strong, angular guitar riffs that defy the convention of indie guitar rock. The melodies have a pop catchiness, so the entire composition challenges your brain while worming into your ear.
A prime example of this is “Dawn Ever,” the second song on the album. The saccharine, falsetto hook sings over funky samples and is bookended by beeping, twinkling synths and bassy tones.
The nine songs that make up Formal Odors have more consistent structure than those on the self-titled EP released in 2016.
“There’s less open space on this release,” says Patrick.
“It’s got a more driving quality, and more grooves,” adds Eric.
Songs like “Jath,” “Spring Break” and “Tears in the Rain” show off this more tailored, driving structure while still playing with holds and open sonic space.
Although there is less of the drifting structure floated around samples, it’s still the sampling and experimental elements of Formal Odors that make IT IT stand out. The monologue at the end of “Tears in the Rain” is so artfully crafted that it feels as if it was born to live alongside the guitars.
In addition to taking a more refined structural pattern, the audio quality on this release is also much more pristine in the hands of Nate Campisi, who recorded and mixed Formal Odors.
Wild Kindness is putting out the album for IT IT on gray-colored cassettes. This release adds to its already strong roster of some of Pittsburgh’s finest rock bands across the genre spectrum.
But if you don’t have a tape deck handy to enjoy IT IT’s first full-length, don’t fret. There is a green alternative. For Formal Odors, Tyler made the paper for the album’s download codes to be printed on. It’s biodegradable and also includes broccoli seeds, so if you place the paper in water and give it some sun, edible broccoli sprouts grow from it.
“It’s making homemade paper and putting broccoli sprout seeds in it, and making it so that you can grow the paper on your counter, and in a week or so, it’ll grow into a broccoli-sprout patch that you can eat,” explains Tyler. “Making tapes or CDs or whatever is cool, but it does put more plastic into the world.”
It’s all about the little details, like homemade broccoli-sprout paper, or obscure samples peeking through inventive guitars and tight percussion, or the adventurous internet dive required to find its music, or the notion that IT IT has favorite mausoleums to hang out at in Allegheny Cemetery. The band’s art and air of unpretentious mystery create a formula that brings listeners back over and over again.