Michael LoPresti had just returned to Cleveland in the winter of 2008 after attending college in Florida, where he studied literature and theology at Southeastern University. Inspired by Herman Melville's classic man-vs.-sea novel Moby Dick, he called his new band the Lighthouse and the Whaler, and headed into the studio and started recording songs with violinist Aaron Smith. Later that spring, the two got together in a field near Chardon for what they thought was their first photo shoot.
"We started playing some music, and while we were playing, people stopped on the side of the road to check it out," recalls LoPresti, while sitting at the Phoenix Coffeehouse on Coventry near his home with his drummer brother Matthew and guitarist Mark Poro. "It was pretty cool. A video of that performance still exists somewhere on YouTube."
Things started to snowball for the Lighthouse and the Whaler after the 2008 EP A Whisper, A Clamor, which caught the attention of an editor at the hipster-approved music magazine Paste. A track from that record eventually showed up on a sampler CD that the magazine released in 2009. "That's the moment when we decided to take the band seriously and start doing it for real," says Michael.
The band followed the EP a year later with their self-titled debut album, which generated even more buzz, but also led to some lineup changes. "We became more serious," says LoPresti. "We found people who couldn't do it and had to find people who were really dedicated to the cause." (The band now includes bassist Steve Diaz, in addition to the LoPresti brothers and Poro.)
The Lighthouse and the Whaler are now posed to be Cleveland's next big indie-rock thing. Hopefully, the group's just-released new album, This Is an Adventure, will find its way onto the playlists of anyone who listens to bands like the Shins and the Decemberists. The band will play a CD-release show at the Grog Shop this weekend. They also have a cross-country tour lined up this fall in support of the album.
To record This Is an Adventure, the quartet raised $10,000 from a Kickstarter campaign and rented out Bear Creek Studios, a recording facility just outside of Seattle. They holed up there for a month with producer Ryan Hadlock (who's worked with the Lumineers, the Gossip, and Ra Ra Riot), pooling their money from "other resources" to pay for the studio time that the Kickstarter funds didn't cover.
"It was pretty awe-inspiring to be in that space, where people have made some amazing records," Michael says of the studio where Fleet Foxes recorded their early records. "We lived and worked in the studio 24-7. It was a pretty cool experience."
But those working conditions proved to have some challenges. "You woke up in the morning and started recording, and then recorded up until time you went to sleep," recalls Matthew. "We only took a few days off for the entire month. I had never been that focused for an extended period of time on one project. But it built our resolve when it came to songwriting. We learned to make it through struggles to come up with something good."
Hadlock guided the band, leading the other guys away from their folksy roots and into something more textured and pop-influenced. "Our first full-length was very Decemberists-like, but the music now is really ethereal, because the big room at the studio produces that kind of sound," notes Michael. "Recording at that studio helped bring the songs to life."
You can hear the band's varied influences throughout the album, which features vibrant pop melodies that complement Michael's falsetto. Modern indie-rock bands like the National and Sigur Rós are definite influences, but the guys are also Beatles fans.
One of the reasons This Is an Adventure sounds so sharp is because songs like "Venice" were written and perfected a full year before the band entered the studio. But as sharp as the LP sounds, everyone thinks the next album will be even better.
"We learned so many lessons that next time we can make better music, now that we have this experience under our belts," says Michael. "We spent a lot of time in the studio figuring out how to make the songs sound full. In my opinion, it's all about the melody. As long as everything is supporting the melody, the sky's the limit."