Since the Beagle Brothers released their sophomore album five years ago, the band members’ lives have taken turns akin to characters like the ones in the country songs they play. Two members got divorced. Two got married (one for a second time). Two became parents.
While all of that could be fodder for its new album, the band itself also went through some major transformations. A longtime acoustic group, the players decided to go electric. After years of getting their percussive drive from Kyle Kline’s upright bass, they now have a full-time drummer in Ezra Smith, the blood brother of frontmen Noah and Gabriel Smith. Not only did Kline ditch his upright bass for a bass guitar, he recently left the Steel City for Austin, Texas. (Erin Snyder now plays with the band, but Kline will return for the band’s CD-release show.)
Sitting in its Bloomfield practice space, the band says the new Hearts Go By record was three years in the making. They’ve come a long way from the group of friends learning their favorite country songs over a case of beer.
“We have this long history as a band and, in Pittsburgh, we can fall back on that,” says pedal-steel guitarist Read Connolly. “But in terms of the product we have here — with Ezra [joining], and this new arrangement of instrumentation and the fact that we’re trying to promote this on a national level — in a lot of ways I feel like it’s our first record.”
Kline, who joins the conversation via Skype, agrees. “It’s the first record that we’ve really taken serious from start to finish,” he says.
Noah Smith explains that process was much different this time around. “Prior to this, we’ve never written [songs] with the intention of writing a record,” he says. “This one has been more deliberate, more practiced and workshopped.”
Dino DiStefano, who has recorded all the Beagle Brothers’ albums, began coming to practices to help the band fine-tune its material, occasionally offering harsh criticism if things weren’t clicking. “That was very different for us,” says Noah Smith. “We’re all very self-conscious about bringing songs to practice. It’s already a hard thing, so we had [DiStefano’s] critical ear right out of the gate saying, ‘That sounds like the last song you wrote.’ Which we got used to, but it was tough too.”
Hearts Go By proves the efforts paid off. The arrangements are bolstered by Connolly’s pedal-steel lines, DiStefano’s keyboard contributions and the multi-dimensional lyrics of brothers Noah and Gabriel. Like good country singers, the songs acknowledge the band’s roots (a Gabriel Smith original is boldly titled “I Walk the Line”), discuss troubled relationships (“Loving/Sleeping”) and tug at the heart strings (the title track, with a guest vocal by Kayla Schureman).
Still, renewed work ethic aside, the “Architects of the Bloomfield Sound,” as they have been called, still maintain the self-deprecating quality for good measure. The album “is on the verge of sounding like what I think a real band should sound like,” Noah Smith says.
Without missing a beat, Gabriel Smith, embellishes the thought: “… if only we weren’t in it.”