Guitarist Frankie Maraldo formed the local indie rock group NIGHTS, a group that featured shoegazer guitars and high-pitched male vocals, back in 2009, but because the band was so unstable, it didn’t play more than a handful of shows. Maraldo was even thinking of pulling the plug. So when he came across Jenna Fournier, a singer, artist and graphic designer, who had just put her indie rock band Sparrows & Arrows to sleep and was trying to sell the band’s van, he thought it might be good to invite her to join the group as a way to jumpstart things.
“We’re both songwriters,” says Fournier one afternoon over pad thai at Phnom Penh, an Ohio City eatery near her and Maraldo’s home (in true DIY spirit, the two filled a beer growler at the nearby Market Garden Brewery before arriving at the BYOB establishment). “It was a good time for everybody. We were in the right mindset to pour ourselves into the project and we got some songs written quickly.”
“I thought instead of getting a guy who could sing like a girl,” adds Maraldo, “we should get a girl who can sing like a girl.”
The band initially started recording its debut, Whisper
, at the locally based Bad Racket Studios. But those sessions didn’t go well and the group ended up discarding them after accumulated what they estimate to be $1000 in recording expenses.
“We started it three times and then scrapped it,” says Maraldo. “This album was four years in the making if you consider the release now to be its official release. The first time we recorded the songs we had difficulty with the studio. It was just an amateurish job.”
So the group teamed up with Jim Stewart, a veteran local producer who’s worked with a slew of local bands. Over the course of a year, they then tracked the songs at Lava, a midtown studio that’s regularly used by both local and national acts. Because the process was so drawn out, there was a lot of “going back and forth.”
“As a result, we ended up with an album that we felt we had compromised on and nobody was happy with,” says Fournier.
Last year, however, the group inked a deal with Tragic Hero Records. The label saw potential in Whisper
and wanted to re-release it, so it enlisted Jim Wirt, a producer who’s worked with national acts such as Incubus and Fiona Apple, to tweak the songs at his Cleveland-based Crushtone Studios.
“Jim is a musician first,” says Maraldo. “He’s able to sweep the technical aspects under the rug bring out the musicality. The label saw the strength of the songs. It had taken almost two years to record this batch of songs and they wanted to bring those to light. There’s a learning curve to anything but he was easy to work with.”
The band cites the Smashing Pumpkins and Cranberries and My Bloody Valentine as influences, and you can hear those influences in the shimmering songs on the disc. Tracks such as the moody “Butterflies” and “Rosebush” certainly sound like the kind of atmospheric alternative rock/pop that could be heard on commercial radio.
“That’s just our age,” says Fournier when asked about the musical influences from the ‘90s.
“I haven’t listened to anything in the last 15 years,” says Maraldo. “Our bassist said our music sounds like if Brian Eno was in a heavy metal band with Tinker Bell singing over the top of it.”
Perhaps the best reference point would be the Cocteau Twins, the artsy Scottish act that was popular on college radio for a spell in the ’80s.
“We get that all the time,” admits Fournier when asked about the Cocteau Twins. “I wasn’t familiar with the Cocteau Twins music but people kept saying that we sounded like them so I had to listen to them. I love them now.”
“Mouthful of Sand,” one of the albums highlights, rocks harder than the rest of the material on the album. A breakup inspired the track.
“I was dating Bradley Hathaway who is a musician and had an album called A Mouth Full of Dust
,” says Fournier. “After we broke up, I wrote that song about him.”
“Butterflies” has a particularly loopy sound to it. It starts with a repetitive guitar riff that’s set to an infinite delay.
“When we recorded that, all I did was play that one part and then walk out of the studio and our drummer and bassist built the rest of it in piecemeal,” says Maraldo. “It’s definitely a more abstract song.”
Maraldo and Fournier say they’ve already started working on tracks for their next album. They’re happy to now have the support of a record label, which they say will make it easier to record.
“One of the benefits of signing with a label is that they have studio connections,” Maraldo says. “They want to pay for us to record the next record. We don’t’ have to think about the money. It’s all part of the deal and that’s something you don’t see that much. Most labels don’t have that in-house connection anymore. I see that as a benefit for sure. We have a home base to go to. ”
NIGHTS, 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, Happy Dog, 5801 Lorain Ave., 216-651-9474. Tickets: $8, happydogcleveland.com.