- L.A. story: A trip to the coast got the Volta Sound's mojo working.
"I'm really high. I'm not following you. You're getting way too deep," Volta Sound singer-guitarist Mike Cormier says from the living room of his West Side home on a chilly March afternoon. He's talking to bassist Dave Geddes, who's trying to dissect one of the group's songs. A bowl has been passed, and the conversation drifts about haphazardly, formless as the tufts of smoke puffed into the air.
"By the time we get to the end of the answer, I forget the question," Cormier says with a laugh.
It's not that Cormier is your typical stoner, as incapable of coherent thought as he is of turning down the bag of Doritos that's circulating. It's just that breaking down his music is inconsistent with its design. The Volta Sound is a band that's meant to be felt, not over-intellectualized. The group's hazy, sensimilla-scented jams are numbing -- wondrously baked reefer reveries, as deliciously self-indulgent as an afternoon of sunbathing.
All this was on display the night before, when the band opened for Daniel Ash at the Agora. It's hard to imagine a group that plays its instruments more intently. None of the band members made eye contact with each other or offered clues as to when their slowly unfurling, '60s-style pop songs would begin or end.
"I zone out when we're up there playing," Cormier says. "Sometimes I'm thinking about things totally unrelated -- right in the middle of the song -- and I'm thinking about the hills way over yonder. And yet the whole thing is still going on, and you just rock."
In April, the band (rounded out by guitarists Matt Cassidy and Ben Gmetro, organist Todd Vainisi, and drummer Mike Prieto) hopped into a van for its first tour. They spent a week and a half in L.A., where they rubbed elbows with psych-rock greats like the Warlocks and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. They visited the offices of their label -- the hip, nostalgia-obsessed Orange Sky Records -- which recently put out the band's superb second album, My All American Girl.
They got high.
They got lost.
"There were times in L.A. where some of us would just disappear for days," Cormier says. "Just wander off into the city and not come back."
Somehow, they got home.
Over drinks at the Five O'Clock on a recent Friday, Cormier marvels at what the band members learned about each other after three often trying weeks on the road.
"We learned who were the calm ones in stress, who were the ones that missed home the most, which ones get stuff done," Cormier says. "We also figured out that under the most duress is when we work the best as a team. We were in the middle of the desert, and the van just went poof! Done. Shot it. There was no argument, no panic, no nothing. At two o'clock in the afternoon, we were on the side of the road, with just a little bit of water in the middle of the desert, and the cell phone battery was dying. By the end of the night, we were in a nice house with a swimming pool, air conditioning, a brand-new bag of weed, a van for $700, and everything was set. That happened to us all the time."
The experience gave the band a new-found swagger.
"The guys are just cocky-confident. Nothing fazes them now," Cormier says.
"That's one of the cool things that we've found happens when you come back from being on the road. I've always wondered, 'Damn, why is this band so good?'" he says of other musicians. "We do this, but we don't do it as good. That's why -- because that band has probably been driving around for months and months in a van with each other, fighting, laughing, getting high -- doing all the stuff that we don't do when we're here."
In addition to strengthening the bonds between band members, the trip had a profound effect on the direction Cormier wants to take the group. After jamming with musicians he encountered on the street and in record stores, he developed a greater appreciation for impromptu, off-the-cuff songwriting. Upon returning to Cleveland, he wrote 17 songs in three days, and the group's next album is already nearing completion.
"It's an entirely different band," Cormier says. "As soon as we got home, I realized the band transcended this idea of 'Let's practice this song so we get the notes right.' We spent the last two years doing that; now I can tell them, 'I need this feel,' and I can swap musicians from instrument to instrument. I've got a studio set up in my house, and twice a week the cats just come over, and with the sunshine and the kids running outside, I just mix and match, swap them up. It's more about feel now. We'd been concentrating on being precise. Screw all that. Since we played in front of so many strangers and they all dug it, we've got no concern anymore with what the audience thinks."
As if thinking were even necessary.