Pop pioneers

I’m guessing that Scott Allen, who plays keyboards and sings for Red Shirt Brigade, beat out most of his senior class when detailing what he did for summer vacation at the start of his final year of high school this fall. That is, if the surprisingly modest — and, even more surprisingly, mature — Allen even brought it up. In late June, he and the rest of the band (which includes his brother Ryan on drums and vocals, Trevor Naud on guitar and vocals, and Dan Clark on bass and vocals) took off in Clark’s parents’ conversion van for a month of touring and recording.

Clark explains, “The purpose of the tour was so that we could go to Seattle to record an album. We played shows every night on the way out there and back.”

They shared the stage with such “legendary” acts as Torn Anus and the Fucktards and learned a lot about the road. In Salt Lake City, “we were looking for a place to sleep and (the Fucktards) offered to let us stay on the concrete floor that was rabies-infested with all these homeless dogs coming in where we had just played,” Clark recalls.

Aside from Scott, everyone else in the band turned 21 this year. One Seattle bar wouldn’t let the underage musician inside until a half-hour before RSB performed. “Scott and I watched The Princess Bride in the van,” Ryan says. “We’ve never run into any problems with him being younger as far as not being able to play places, though. It’s never been an issue. As dumb as this might sound, he’s not your average 17-year-old kid. I think Scott cares a lot more about things than a lot of 17-year-old kids tend to care about right now, which is, like, breaking shit.”

In Seattle, the group hooked up with Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie, who recorded RSB’s new and first full-length record, Home of the Cannon Saints, at the famed Hall of Justice studio, where Jack Endino recorded many of the early Sub Pop albums, including Nirvana’s Bleach. The group had met Walla when they opened up for his band at the Lunch Box in Ann Arbor. He offered to come to Detroit to record them, but plans changed due to time complications and RSB headed out to Seattle.

The first thing you notice about Home of the Cannon Saints is how good it sounds. That may be a blunt description, but it’s hard to get poetic when you’re half-speechless. The seriousness and talent displayed by such young musicians is quite exciting. Last year’s Mock Election and the Post Selection EP, which the Allens’ dad recorded in their basement, showed promise. Delivery arrives in the form of Home.

The melodies, while quite catchy, take an overall fractured punk and angular post-rock approach, with the bass providing a sticky flexibility, the keyboards a jumpy quirk and the vocals a seamless and subtle pop shine. Each song is like an indie-rock aerobics class with lots of leg warmers, high kicks and thick-framed glasses flying around. The band’s live performances are similarly energetic from setup to breakdown.

With 10 days in the studio, however, RSB had a little time to relax. From the outside, it just looked like a typical brown building with a blue door. But inside, the guys were happy to find a massive amount of instruments and equipment at their disposal, just lying around, plus the “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” video game and a couch where “Dan would fall asleep about every four to five hours and we threw chips at him,” Ryan says.

Arborvitae Records, a Champaign, Ill., label and Suburban Sprawl, a label based in Garden City, are putting out the record. Clark explains that Arborvitae is a kind of shrub that gives you welts if you rub up against it.

“And that I think is a perfect analogy for our sound,” Ryan jokes. “Don’t get too close.”

Ryan went to high school with the head of Suburban Sprawl. RSB put out its first EP on the label. The band also started working with Arborvitae after Steve Lamos of DMS gave a copy of the Mock Election EP to his label.

“All I remember is you guys telling me that Eric from Arborvitae records wanted to put something out,” Clark says. “And after much careful deliberation, and the fact that nobody else wanted to put it out …”

Ryan jumps in with just a touch of sarcasm: “We didn’t really try though. I mean I’m sure Capitol would’ve picked up on us before too long …”

They’ve got time. That’s for sure.

Melissa Giannini is the music writer for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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