Keep Your Defenses Up
new group Stare Across comes with major heaviness
The bar is milling with people out on a warm, mid-May Tuesday night, so we (bassist Jackson McMahon, guitarist Rich Till, and drummer Joseph Gunderson) follow Tony Stamm (vocals) across the length of an adjacent room, past pool tables and the one couple oblivious to our entrance. Their eyes are furtively dancing between beer glasses and each other as we move to a corner tucked between a dart-board, which bleeps when bumped, and the emergency exit, a spot conducive not for an interview, but rather for instinct.
“When you walk into a room,” states Stamm, “find a corner to back into, so you can protect yourself, and stare across the room.” This piece of paranoiac advice, to “stare across,” to know what is coming for you, was passed on to Stamm by his father and eventually became the name of the new band he is fronting.
It also speaks to the vulnerability of opening oneself to a world without edges, which, as any artist who has dwelled within a creative box can attest, is daunting. “Things worked with No Loving Place,” says Stamm. “I didn’t know that I wanted to be in another band, that I needed to challenge myself.”
McMahon interjects, “Rich was adamant we get Tony.”
“I knew Tony’s potential,” adds Till, “that this music could bring something new out of him.”
And Stamm’s voice sounds fantastic in Stare Across, exhibiting more range than in the past, the plaintive tones more fragile, the savage bellows more serrated.
Then there is scene veteran Joseph Gunderson, who needed no courting, whose kit work is clean, precise, and – together with McMahon’s low-end rumble – provides a palpable pulse.
“We wondered if Joey was gonna want yet another gig,” says McMahon.
“If it was even his cup of tea,” adds Stamm.
Gunderson remarks, “That’s what made it interesting for me: The heaviness of the music.”
That heaviness is primarily attributable to founding member Till’s catchy riff-craft (see the note-bending, chord-chugging “Ghost,” the heavier-than-a-hangover “The Cave,” or the minimalist and mesmeric tribal stomp of “The Sleepers” for proof).
“When I write a riff,” explains Till, “I’m trying to tell a story of a moment we all may be familiar with.”
With a sound irrevocably linked to the 1990s, a time when these dudes came of age, musically, it’s nice to hear an element oft-overlooked by bands from those days … the guitar solo (see “Fall Time” for example). Till grins, “If the song calls for a solo, I’ll put one in. Mostly, though, I come up with a riff, we beat it up, if it lives another day, great. Or Tony brings in a melody or a lyric, and we write around it.”
This ease of collaboration has resulted in a real stunner: Navigate, the group’s bristling debut, a 10-track album recorded at April Base by Jaime Hansen and due for release this summer.
At first blush, the cover art could be mistaken for a coaster at the Joynt. However, closer inspection reveals a more ominous portrait: A person at a Ouija board and a disembodied head whispering in his (or her) ear – but is it the proverbial angel or devil on the shoulder? As the main lyric writer, Stamm elaborates on Navigate’s theme: “We navigate through life and make choices, both light and dark. I often lean to the darker side, but I find that more interesting. When I was a kid, the first thing I fell in love with were songs about darker stuff. You know, love is happiness. But it’s also hate. And sorrow. It’s not one emotion. Today’s music is so … artificially sweet.”
At this moment, as if perfectly cued, the saccharine beats of the house music we have been shielded from in this part of the bar suddenly pump from the speakers overhead and we can no longer be heard. Stamm is smirking, nodding, as if to say, “See? Stare across. We should have seen that one coming.”