This week I thought I'd talk about my friends Carla Simmons and Wayne Smith, the dynamic duo that comprise the legendary Pittsburgh-based band Grain.
Now, maybe you've never heard of the band, but plenty of Pittsburgh musicians have. The two have been together creating music for nearly 20 years that runs the gamut from old-school country to loud, bombastic classic rock. The music is smart and creative with a definite personality - just like the old-school rock bands I grew up listening to.
What I love about the band - besides them being my good friends - is how distinctive they sound in an era of rehashed and recycled rock music. You never know what you're going to hear on a Grain record, and sometimes the mix of influences - all fantastic - can be audacious and amusing. Like I said, the band is smart.
I used to play occasional acoustic gigs with the band, and I remember us opening up for country legend George Jones at the Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse years ago. The band has opened for several major bands and toured extensively since but is primarily known for making great records and then disappearing for awhile.
Grain has just released "Echoes in the Air," its third record in the past 12 years. The eight songs on the album span the entire genre of rock, and it's so full of hooks it's really hard to digest all the interesting artifacts going on in the background. What's really cool is the overall vibe reminds of the great records that came out of the late 1960s and early '70s, a great time for rock in general. If you're going to be influenced why not be influenced by the best? And yet, for all the "spot the influence" moments on the record, it's still completely Grain. To me, that's what makes for a great band and fabulous recording.
I asked Carla to give me a few comments on the making of the new record, which was recorded over the past four years at various studios in Pittsburgh and Virginia.
"So, the new record, 'Echo in the Air,' is finally out on CD, vinyl and digital download," she said. "We took time recording the record, partly because of logistics and finances, but also because we took time to write songs that felt right to us at the time. I guess you could say they evolved organically for us. We didn't want to rush anything just to put something out. We wanted to write songs without getting too caught up in formula and structure.
"Although, they do have structure - that just happens - we weren't concerned about time restraints, and some songs are long by today's standards," Simmons continued, adding the band didn't want to fit into any certain mode or stereotype. "Wayne and I love rock and roll and are influenced from many eras of rock -probably more so, the 1970s. We love both the 'classic' rock of that time and the punk rock of that time. For me, I'm still enamored with the mid to late '70s New York art/punk stuff. I never get sick of Patti Smith, Television, the Stooges, etc. Lyrically, the songs are personal to me. But, I hope anyone whose interested in that type of thing, will find something they can relate to in the songs. Now that this record is out we look forward to writing again and not waiting so long to put the next record out!"
The band is making its debut of the new material with two shows Saturday at the Smiling Moose, 1306 E. Carson St., on Pittsburgh's south side.
Two shows will include an early, all-ages performance with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. The opening bands will be Shift Change and the Winter Brave, and admission is $8. The second show is a 21-and-older show with doors opening at 9 p.m. and the show beginning at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $10. The evening opening band will be Brewer's Row.
The band features Carla and Wayne with Dave Z, bass; Gary Matassa, drums; and Adrienne Tolentino Essey on vocals; and special guests Jacob Klein on guitar, keys and vocals; Steve Kraus on sax and probably some others. The band also will be on the WDVE-FM morning show at 9 a.m. Friday.
To listen to the new record online go to grain-echointheair.bandcamp.com; www.cdbaby.com/cd/grain3; iTunes, Spotify, Last.fm, or www.facebook.com/Grain.pa. In Pittsburgh the vinyl and CD are available at Soundcat Records in Bloomfield.
(Miller can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)