A common pop-song strategy is to subvert the severity of your lyrics with the lightness (or maybe “lite-ness”) of the music that glides along underneath.
Rarely is it done so well, however, as on the title track of the Guru’s Go Easy, a new album they’ll celebrate with a release party at the Space in Hamden on Nov. 21. “I had some friends and they had to leave — alone” sings Eddie Golden III. “All of these songs, what do they mean to me?” Then, in the form of a chorus, what sounds like a dire call for help: “Does anybody want me? Does anybody need me at all? Does anybody love me? Does anybody know me at all?”
Turns out that’s only Part I of the conceit. Part II — “Troubled waters lie ahead / Travel further, stay in bed / Go easy, Vinny / Live your life, Take your time” — is a second chorus, with a variation on the chord progression of the first, shaping the whole Part I as something spoken by Vinny. (It’s fitting: throughout the song, saxophonist Vincent Ingala, a friend of the band, supplies sweet-lite tenor sax lines that float in and out of view.) Despite the lyrical subterfuge, it’s a catchy-as-hell pop song.
The Guru is one of the most talented bands to come out of Connecticut in a long time, and they’re still so young. The four musicians hail from the Waterbury area, but each now attends college in a different state: singer/drummer Eddie Golden III in Purchase, N.Y., guitarist Kyle McEvoy outside Boston, Mass., bassist Dan George in Vermont and second guitarist Colin Sullivan right here in CT. It could have meant the end of the Guru, if they weren’t all so damned committed. But their time apart has actually allowed them to spread word of the Guru all over the East Coast.
“The best part about it is we’re all in different places, then we’ll all come home and we’ll jam. We’re all still learning,” McEvoy told the Advocate by phone. “When we went to college, we all said we didn’t know how often we’d be able to play shows. But when we got here, we all got pretty antsy and wanted to play more shows. It’s what we know. We don’t want to miss out on a good show.”
Go Easy doesn’t mask their influences: “Indian Day” is sunny, mid-’60s garage surf-pop, “Guacamole” winks at the Doors (Golden growls “Waiting for the sun to go away,” with that same half-step inflection Morrison was known for) and late ’60s Santana (during the percussion-jam coda), “Cow” references early Duran Duran’s restless basslines, and “Tony Waves”’s interweaving guitars calls to mind the Afrobeat-via-Brooklyn sounds of the late aughts. It’s a huge dose of sunny California from a New England band.
Not surprising, however, is the leap in thematic maturity from Native Sun, their debut album, though sonically there’s still much in common. “The one thing about Native Sun was that every song had a similar vibe to it,” McEvoy said. “On Go Easy, we talk about broader subjects. At the end of the summer last year, all four of us were going off to college, so we didn’t know what the future might be. Now we’ve gotten to a level where we’re a little more mature. But we’re still playing on the same topics.”
The new album, like Native Sun, was recorded at Eddie Seville’s Cottage Sound Studios in Middlebury, Conn., using mostly analog and vintage gear. There’s no pitch-correction, auto-tuning or quantizing involved, no sounds other than what comes out of their instruments. And while most bands nowadays will record the drums first, then overdubs bass, guitars and vocals, the Guru believes in live-tracking as much as possible.
“Back in the ’60s and ’70s all the bands were live-tracking,” McEvoy said. “You’re going to lose a little quality, but it gives you more of a live, natural sound. It’s all analog. We used vintage gear. Each track in the mixer has its own tube. It has a really nice, fat sound to it. The only difference was, since we were all away for school and playing shows, working jobs and stuff.”
The recording of Go Easy was spread out over three or four months after Native Sun was released. “We started writing and tracking random ideas here and there,” McEvoy says. “We recorded all the instruments, and then our drummer and singer, Ed, he would take the songs home and record over them at his house and bring them back. Ed likes to work alone. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard his solo stuff, but he’s written thousands and thousands of songs. He loves recording with different recording techniques. He just felt most comfortable bringing the songs home and writing lyrics and recording vocals. It was cool for us, because we’d have no idea what the songs sounded like.” There are also a bunch of different versions of Go Easy songs floating around that the band recorded at their friends’ houses, “just to see what sort of different sounds we could get,” he says.
Part of the what makes the Guru’s sound distinctive is the guitar interplay between McEvoy and Sullivan, who pass arpeggios, counter-melodies, even solos between them. The guitars weave in out, and rarely does either guitarist chunk along on power chords.
“Our guitar playing together is very natural and playful,” McEvoy says. “We keep bouncing ideas off of each other. For the most part, our songs will start off with one of us coming to the table with a catchy riff that has a cool sound to it. As the song builds, as a band we try to eliminate empty space. Or one of us will write a cool riff and say, oh, this has to be in a song somewhere.”
The Guru w/ Tigers Jaw, Brian Stankus, Disco Teen ’66, Nov. 21, 7 p.m., $12-$15, The Space, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden, thespace.tk, manicproductions.org.