Ask Pitty Sing frontman Paul Holmes where his songs come from and he'll admit: he's rather miffed about it. Critics have compared the group's instant classics and experimental sound to such beloved '80s acts as Simple Minds and The Smiths, but Holmes and his young bandmates did not grow up listening to these groups.
Holmes, who was born in Manchester, England but raised in the States, is both baffled by it and in awe of it. Remembering the night after an early rehearsal session, he says, "We had some gig coming up and we were doing these big, epic journeys through pop and electronic, real long and emotional. And I remember we were on the train on the way back home from practicing, and we just went, 'What did we just do? This is fuckin' amazing!' We went back home and listened to the cassette we made during rehearsal, and I was like, 'There's no way just anybody could do this. This must be something special.'"
While the music they made that night was sprawling, the songs comprising the band's new EP, the five-track, demons, you are the stars in cars 'til I die , are much more to the point. The tracks are full of beautiful and strikingly complex melodies, delivered with a tenacity that sets Pitty Sing apart from so many of today's groups.
The songs are music from a parallel dimension that remind you of a time before Britney, Blink-182 and grunge. The band, formed in Boston but now residing in New York, has come up with a sound that is vital, but completely unaffected by the pop music of the current day. It is music that projects a vibe hip enough to help create its own scene and alter the direction of what's ruling the charts.
On songs like "Radio" and "We're on Drugs"-- lush, arrogant, Manchestery Brit-pop full of the invincibility of youth and the spirit of Hollywood sleaze rock--Holmes sounds larger than life in front of keyboardist/guitarist JJ, bassist Andrew and drummer Dave, as they borrow from UK rock heroes young (The Verve, Radiohead, Pulp, Oasis) and old (Paul Young), and pleasingly flashing the influence of late-'80s/early '90s American hard rock and metal.
On the big, fiercely melodic "We're on Drugs," singer/guitarist Holmes sings of a young couple with no money and no prospects who feel nonetheless invincible, thanks to their drug-induced haze. "Their love is really just fabricated, but who cares, because it's so beautiful at the time," he says. On "The Wedding Song," he tells the story of a couple who finds out they've been unknowingly infected with the AIDS virus, crooning, "Get married to me/Now that we're done."
For Holmes, part of making good music is testing the limits: "If you looked at how people were pushing the envelope of pop in past decades, it seemed as though it had no end," he says. "It seemed as though you could just keep pushing it and pushing it, and new things would come and change mainstream pop. But I've felt that for quite a while now, we've given up or we've digressed, or something. And if people try to push it creatively, they end up pushing themselves into another market, into a more experimental thing."
Holmes moved from England to his mother's native Erie, PA in the early '90s, diving headfirst into the colossal grunge music of the era. He soon moved on to the bands then blowing up in his native country: "I remember putting on Dog Man Star [Suede's second album] and thinking, 'I've been so wrong. What have I been doing?' The ambience of that record is unparalleled. It just has this sort of class, this regal brilliance about it. I remember thinking, 'I want to do that.'"
It wasn't long after he moved to Boston that Holmes and the other members of Pitty Sing began making brilliance of their own. Rising independent label Or Music, home to platinum-plus Texas rockers Los Lonely Boys, signed Pitty Sing on the strength of a demo, even though they had only a few shows under their belt. In mid 2003, the band issued a self-titled, three-song demo that received critical acclaim and kick-started a growing local and online buzz.
Pitty Sing takes its name from the Flannery O'Connor story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"--in which a cat called Pitty Sing drives a group of escaped convicts to murder an innocent family. Their music has evolved into something that is positive and uplifting one minute and dark as night the next. To Holmes, that seems totally natural. "Sometimes on the dark songs, I feel so dismal and dark and destructive, but it's like I don't know anybody who's ever really in just one state of mind. I just feel like there's just so many different things I feel in a day. It's like, why shouldn't that be expressed in the music? It's a natural thing for me."
From the very first time they started writing their own songs, Holmes and his bandmates were a bit perplexed by what they came up with: Their music was recalling the best elements of classic '80s bands, even though the four guys comprising Pitty Sing hadn't really delved into their albums.
"If it resembles other things, it's just sort of an accident," Holmes says. "When we write, it's more like a channeling of things, it's more driven by emotion, the creativity comes out of extremes in emotion. It's almost like the songs themselves are stones in the sand, and all we have to do is brush off the sand. We're not really trying to do something, or sound like anybody, we don't even really know that stuff."
If there's a goal, it's to come up with a memorable melody. Holmes, now 21, says, "For some reason, I just remember from being very, very young that melody from [Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's '80s hit] 'Souvenirs.' I haven't listened to it since, but it just stuck with me for some reason. And that's the vibe I want to get in my writing, and where I want to direct the band in the time being. I want a melody like that, a melody that would pierce right through to people and make them feel like their sixth birthday party, back to that innocence."
After scoring the deal with Or Music, Pitty Sing headed to Dallas to lay down its first official recordings. Working at an unknown jingle studio with a series of increasingly befuddled engineers, the band slowly built up the tracks that would end up as their debut album.
demons, you are the stars in cars 'til I die, featuring the first single "Radio", was released October 5, 2004. Pitty Sing, the debut album, will be in stores January 25, 2005.
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