Posted by: Christopher Tisdall in: Entertainment Industry
A local band is making some major waves in the indie music world. Pittsburgh duo 1,2,3 — whose debut album, “New Heaven,” will be officially released at a Friday evening show at Bloomfield’s DIY venue The Shop — is drawing rave reviews and hoping its international success directs eyes and ears to Pittsburgh’s sometimes-under-the-radar music scene.
The group — composed of vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Nic Snyder and percussionist/everything else performer Josh Sickels, both formerly of the Pittsburgh outfit The Takeover UK — incorporates an arcing range of influences and styles into its first compilation, pulling from the classic psychedelia of The Beatles to the more recent ambient confusion of Animal Collective, and mixing washed over, surfy walls of sound with Mr. Snyder’s dreamy but sincere lyrics.
If 1,2,3 is anything, though, it is dynamic and eclectic, as the singer explained in a phone interview while driving between Minneapolis and St. Louis that the band was born out of a desire to expand past Takeover’s louder, more limiting sound.
The track “Heat Lightnin,” he explained, came about when “I was having a conversation with a roommate of mine, and I was kind of strumming on these two chords and I stopped paying attention to what he was telling me and conjured up a melody in my head and started recording it on my little home rig, and after I got about 70 percent done with it, I kind of knew that I had to quit [Takeover] because I knew that it would never work, and I was really excited about it.”
If 1,2,3 has a goal, other than drawing acclaim and growing musically, it is to be unconventional and illusory. Even the name, they said, is meant to give listeners no tip-off of what to expect.
“We wanted something that was kind of ambiguous,” Mr. Sickels said. “With the name 1,2,3, what would be the first thing that pops into your mind, you wouldn’t have anything.”
“New Heaven,” on Frenchkiss Records, certainly achieves that sweeping ambiguity. Slow, fuzzy guitars complement Mr. Snyder’s high-pitched falsetto, as self-doubting lyrics cut through sleepy tracks tinged with the sounds of traditional Asian wind music. The dreamier, more ethereal pieces are juxtaposed against roaring, electric tracks like the standout “Confetti,” where Mr. Snyder’s voice picks up, seguing from subdued to commanding. Even the album’s title itself references confusion, but it is also a nod to taking a chance on heading to a new direction and perhaps finding happiness.
“A lot of the songs have kind of a foundation built on spiritual confusion,” the 27-year-old singer said. “Me and Josh were starting over a bit and trying to do something a little bit new, and it’s been enjoyable really to have no boundaries.”
Several of the tracks themselves, like “Feeling Holy” and “Can’t Bribe God,” clearly highlight the band’s existentialist ponderings, but many of the songs are narrative driven, rather than simply harping on conventional themes like heartbreak or romance.
“Lyrically, we’re definitely a little different,” the 29-year-old percussionist said. “Nick’s influenced by a lot of movies, books, just more concepts, as opposed to just like, ‘you broke my heart.’”
While 1,2,3 has yet to play a Pittsburgh show, they are excited for their The Shop set, backed by Chad Monticue and Mike Yamamoto, and hope their success in more established indie meccas like New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., can help pave the way for other local acts to break out.
“I don’t even want to say it [for fear of sounding pompous], but I’d love 1,2,3 to be the catalyst towards, like, putting Pittsburgh on the map as far as the indie rock scene goes,” Mr. Sickels said. “People want to see shows here.”
And 1,2,3 is trying to bring them here.
“You rarely see a band like us name drop as much as us; [reviewers] mention Pittsburgh, like in the first sentence,” he said.
Listing factors like cheap real estate, attractive but sometimes-dilapidated architecture, the less-discovered nature of Pittsburgh to those from supposedly trendier cities, and, yes, the city’s rather obvious love for cheap beer, the duo thinks the city could be poised for a musical resurgence.
“We’re long overdue for some sort of musical renaissance,” Mr. Snyder said. “I think [Pittsburgh] has a bit of a mythical quality to it; it’s got that post-industrial grime, it’s cloudy all the time, you can get a $2 beer anywhere, there’s young people,” all of which make for a prime recipe for attracting hipsters to a new city, especially as places like San Francisco, Boston and Brooklyn become over-commercialized and less authentic.
“How many bands can come out of Brooklyn or Portland before people stop paying attention?” Mr. Sickels joked. “That’s why it’s cool with [bands] Beach House and Animal Collective coming out of Baltimore; when you come from a [less-discovered] place like that, you appreciate things a lot more.”
Might 1,2,3 help usher in such a new era to the local music scene?
“I think people in Pittsburgh might be waiting for some band to get it started,” Mr. Sickels said, stating that if 1,2,3 found a Pittsburgh-based band they enjoyed playing with, they’d love to tour with them.