Download the CP exclusive song, "Riding Coach," courtesy of The Takeover UK
For the past two months, a demure, blue-shuttered Penn Hills bungalow has served as the unlikely lair of Pittsburgh rockers The Takeover UK. While the band's fire-breathing debut Running With the Wasters just came out in March on major label Rykodisc, endless delays meant that the album sat in the can for nearly three years. Without new material, the band started to feel "creatively starved," says guitarist and vocalist Nic Snyder.
Now, the members are using that hunger -- and a leave from their grueling touring schedule -- to regroup creatively and re-evaluate their plan of international conquest, from their clubhouse in the 'burbs.
The Takeover UK formed in 2004, and from the beginning showed gumption far beyond that of most local bands. Realizing that the ears they needed to reach with their pop harmonies and slashing guitars probably weren't hanging out at Gooski's, they played long residencies in Los Angeles, which eventually led to signing with Rykodisc and releasing an EP, It's All Happening, in early 2008.
But the full album kept getting pushed back -- a common story these days, when a struggling industry often means "baby bands" like Takeover get pushed aside. And just before the album finally came out, bassist Adam Shash "decided to go the adult route" and keep his day job, says Snyder; Takeover tapped Derek White, who was fronting his own band, Derek White and the Monophobics, and making deliveries for a florist. "Now, I'm one of them," White says with a grin.
The band seems to have survived the ups and downs remarkably well. Drummer Josh Sickels says the group is finalizing a deal to release its album in Japan, where the act has been gaining traction, and has received offers to tour China and Japan in the fall; Russia is also on the horizon. Sirius Radio, Spin and Alternative Press have been good to the band so far; a few high-profile TV placements, on shows like The Hills, have been paying the rent while the group is off the road.
But Takeover's experiences have changed the members, and made them more determined to take matters into their own hands.
"We just want people to hear the diversity of the music," says guitarist and vocalist Mark Solomich, "and we don't want to wait another two years."
In the basement of the Penn Hills house White shares with his girlfriend, White has been recording the band's new songs on ragtag recording gear, amid a mountain of instruments and Beatles paraphernalia. The casual, free setting has allowed band members a luxury of time they lacked when recording Running With the Wasters -- time they've used to experiment. "Derek only charges us like $150 an hour," Nic deadpans.
The band gathers around White's computer, playing back the four new songs it's recorded thus far. "Across the Car" has a blissed-out '70s AM pop feel, with echoing drums and Rundgren-esque guitar -- a conscious attempt at "a breezy, fun summery kind of song," Snyder says. "Golden Age" started out as a Christmas song -- something the band dashes off every year; the soft, gauzy "Black Flowers" was first written by Solomich five or six years ago, while in school in Boston.
"We just recorded all these strange ones first," says Sickels. "I think maybe we were excited to, because we've been playing a certain type of song for a long time. We still love that stuff, but let's try to experiment."
They save the strangest track for the end: "Riding Coach," Snyder's very un-Takeover tale of "hard-luck people in a hard-luck band," with fuzz bass, a vintage drum machine beat and synths. Snyder wrote the song before the label had flown the band anywhere; when it finally happened, "Riding Coach" seemed prescient.
"Of course, we rode coach," says Solomich wryly. "Maybe Nic has a crystal ball and can see into the future," he jokes. "I wonder if the song had been like, riding in a Concorde with champagne, kind of like a hip-hop song, our lives would have been different today!"
Snyder describes the song as "just me struggling with being an adult in a rock 'n' roll band," and touring during the particularly hard period when Wasters was still in limbo. Ironically, that record's theme was about "being Peter Pan and doing the same thing now that I was doing when I was 13, while everyone else has gone on to adult things," Solomich says.
"I'd rather do this than be an adult," he adds. "Honestly, being in a band is a childish thing -- we call ourselves a name, like a kid's gang, and ride around with a bunch of boys."
The Takeover UK with Vesta, Goodnight, States and The Composure. 8 p.m. Fri., July 17 (doors at 7 p.m.). Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave, Millvale. $8. All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com
- Photo: Heather Mull, wardrobe by Richard Parsakian of Eons
- The Takeover UK's Josh Sickels, Mark Solomich, Derek White and Nic Snyder, clockwise from left