It's early Wednesday night at Matinee Cleveland on the edge of Ohio City and Tremont. Other Girls frontman Jonah Oryszak is tending bar. The crowd is just beginning to filter in, and Oryszak, drummer Dave Wincek and Matinee owner Mario Nemr are busy strategizing how to compete with other bars and clubs in a city that's set in its ways and comfortable in its scenes.
"Cleveland, except for here, [is] such a cynical city," says Wincek, holding a Miller High Life bottle. "I don't know how to explain it. When we're out of town, you get so much more respect, being the Guy in the Band."
Granted, the Other Girls show up a little late for soundcheck now and then. But the band, fans and venues should make nice, because the Girls' new CD, Perfect Cities, has everything it takes to qualify them for the indie-rock A-squad — in Northeast Ohio or anywhere else. Or maybe the Cleveland-Akron band will break out of the Midwest before they conquer their hometown. Talk of other clubs doesn't last long.
"We play here [the Matinee], where we can have a fun time, and there are plenty of people," says Oryszak, stocking straws. "I just feel like a lot of people [at other clubs] are stuck in the attitude where if you're pop at all, they're going to ignore you."
Alternately ecstatic and gorgeous, Perfect Cities plays like a lost standout from the '80s Manchester scene, the millennial New York City rock it inspired or maybe even the next underground club classic. Melting from the heat of his interpersonal aspirations, Oryszak leads the band through rave-ups, while guitarist Jay Tousley picks one glorious scattershot note at a time, playing like the Smiths' Johnny Marr — simply strumming his guitar bores him — and the frenetic energy is infectious.
Like bassist Corey Lanigan, Tousley isn't around tonight. The guitarist's family welcomed their second baby yesterday, so he's briefly out of commission. The band members seldom see each other outside of practice. When they get together, they try to make the little time they have as productive as possible. Tight time and a tight budget helped the band create their hooky disc.
"We only had $500 to record our album at first," explains Oryszak as the jukebox segues from Wings to Radiohead. "So we're not going to waste any time on instrumentals or filler. That's what I like anyway — Phil Spector, Tommy James, the Crystals. All our friends hate me because I don't like Animal Collective, because I don't smoke weed so much."
The band's '80s and '90s overtones are coincidental. Wincek prefers progressive emo bands like At the Drive-In. Tousley's style sounds so original because he barely listens to music. Lanigan listens to Howard Stern when he can. Oryszak's mixes and melodies are the only things that give the group a common frame of reference.
The band recorded Perfect Cities at Akron's Tangerine studios, which is co-owned by Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and Ben Vehorn, the album's producer, who rapidly became enamored of the band. Vehorn gave the songs extra sonic polish and helped fill out the tunes by enlisting his friend, guitarist Robin Peringer, who has played with Elliott Smith, Modest Mouse and Band of Horses. By the time Peringer was in the mix, Carney had already decided to release it on his Audio Eagle label.
"It was blowing my mind," says Carney. "Those guys are all nice and talented and hardworking. And they have a good pop sensibility. They keep getting better too."
The Other Girls are looking forward to their CD release shows; they want to get the music out there, but mostly, they're psyched to see the opening band.
"The most special thing is that Drummer's playing," says Wincek.
Adds Oryszak, "I joke that everyone's going to watch them and leave."
Drummer comprises Akron indie-rock all-stars, most of whom were drummers at some point. The Black Keys' Carney plays bass. Jamie Stillman (Harriet the Spy, Party of Helicopters, Teeth of the Hydra) returns to stage playing lead guitar. Houseguest/ex-Beast drummer Steve Clements plays keyboards. Beaten Awake's Jon Finely sings and plays backup guitar. Greg Boyd of Ghostman & Sandman is the drummers' drummer — which, Stillman says, isn't exactly fun.
"Four people get to tell one person exactly what to do all the time," explains Stillman. "I've already sat behind the kit two times — I'm that asshole. Aside from that, it's like any other band I've ever been in. The band does not sound like what I thought it would sound like, or anybody else would. I think it falls somewhere between bands that have been referenced — Dinosaur Jr., My Bloody Valentine, Pavement."
Playing a melodic shoegazer groove, Drummer ooze rhythm. Expect an album this year, followed by a tour. For now, they're an opening act that's worth showing up early. And for once, the headliners will be there on time.