The Gear are Making Tracks in Morgantown
Graffiti: What was it like to have your first album recorded by the legendary Mark Poole? His name has been synonymous with Morgantown rock music for decades.
Ray Cook: It was great. Mark is just really supportive of bands no matter what style of music they play. He will help you along to try and get you the sound you’re looking for, even if you didn’t know what it is. He keeps going; he doesn’t quit. I was nervous about it, because it’s the legendary Mr. Poole. We’ve always went to see Moon.
Jim Connelly: We did the rhythm tracks in two days, Aug. 8 and 9.
Jake Hiles: I’m impressed how it came out. Here we were recording the vocals in his bathroom, and it came out great.
Graffiti: What’s your venue of choice in Morgantown?
Cook: Anyone that will take us [laughs]. I like the 123. They work along with Squirrel Sound, and even the smaller sound system they use for open-mic is really good.
Graffiti: According to your bio online, you guys came together through a mutual appreciation for older bands such as the Kinks. What about that early era of rock ’n roll inspires you?
Cook: The songwriting was simple and direct. British bands were starting to write their own material. They used that American rhythm and blues influence and they just sort of took off.
Connelly: The Kinks, in particular, like Ray Davies, those songs they did in the early ’60s were so eccentric. He was willing to explore a whole bunch of styles, which weren’t rock ’n roll or Motown, it was like dance hall music. And Ray definitely does a lot of that.
Cook: We do “Picture Book.” We’ve experimented with other stuff. We’ll probably do a Kinks cover at this May 10 show. What I like about [Davies] is that he had a cynical edge to him that appears on many songs.
Connelly: The Kinks were always on the outside looking in. That’s sort of how we feel, like misanthropes. If you don’t like what’s going on in the inside, stay on the outside. All three of us actually come from different places musically. Jake’s more Motown inspired. Ray has a whole plethora of influences, like the Stacks. And me, I’m just a straight rock ‘n roll kind of guy.
Graffiti: I saw you guys at Mclafferty’s a few months ago and I thought you were playing covers of ’60s and ’70s bands. It sounded so spot-on.
Connelly: Yeah, the songs do have this catchy thing to them. We’ve absorbed a lot of influences.
Hiles: We struggle more with the songwriting than with the arranging.
Connelly: And with the composing, because we try not to duplicate what we’ve done before.
Cook: But we do it anyway.
Jim: I don’t know. If you think about it, I mean, we rip off other people. But we don’t rip off ourselves too much [laughs].
Graffiti: Your lyrics seem to also mimic early ’60s rock ’n roll. Do you put a lot of emphasis on the construction of lyrics, or does it just come out naturally?
Jim: Lyrics are big for us. Ray writes great lyrics, and I write lyrics. There are some songs in which lyrics aren’t important. “In My Heaven,” for instance, the lyrics were more inspired by the feel of the chords. So it has some dopey “Witchy Woman” type lyrics.
Graffiti: What’s the story behind the song “Just another Girl?”
Cook: I started to write that song when I was still living in Boston. I came up with the chorus in 1999. I used to work in the downtown area and I had to take the bus in town to open up this deli I worked at. It would usually be the same people riding this bus early in the morning. There was this old guy named Eddie who used to go to the worker’s chapel on Devonshire Street every morning, Monday through God knows when. He was a very loyal Catholic type guy. One morning there was this girl on the bus. Eddie was one of those types who would talk to everybody. I guess he talked to her. She got off at a stop and he turned around and said, “She’s from Chelsea.” I was playing around in my apartment a couple months later, and I started singing the chorus line “Just another girl from Chelsea.”
Graffiti: Did you start playing covers or was it straight to originals?
Cook: Jake and I were in a band previously, most notably the Soul Miners. That was Jake’s name. It was an R&B band. We had a singer named Adrian Michaels, and he was a great singer. We miss him. We all loved that old R&B stuff. We liked the music so much that we didn’t really care that it was covers.
Hiles: Adrian could do all the vocal parts to the Temptations’ “Can’t Get Next to You.” He could go from one octave to another.
Cook: So, yeah, Jake and I played in that group. We tried to do some originals, but it just never materialized. Basically, with this band, Jim and I just started writing right off the bat. That’s when Jim and I finished off a song called “Martin.”
Jim: Actually, the title is “Why Do You Call Me Martin When You Know My Name is Jerome.” It was weird. We started writing with fragments and began piecing things together. It’s because we all come from a certain place musically that we’re able to all contribute similarly to songs.
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Graffiti: Did you put out any CDs with any of your other bands?
Graffiti: Would you consider this the most successful incarnation so far?
Cook: In terms of fulfillment of wanting to write original songs and putting a lot of influences together. It actually surprises me how successful it’s been so far.
Graffiti: Have you found yourself developing your vocal style these past couple of years, or have they always been pretty distinctly Bostonian?
Cook: I have no idea about distinct.
Connelly: His vocals are picture perfect. He’s like a Brian Wilson sort of guy. When it’s time to teach the harmonies to me or Jake, he’ll record it, and I’ll record my harmony and we’ll just learn the song that way.
Graffiti: Which songwriters shaped your sense of melody and lyricism the most?
Cook: Ray Davies would be a good example of my sense of melody. His songwriting is sort of diatonic and doesn’t really have a lot of embellishments. It’s like your reading a hymnal and singing the notes. The embellishments come later.
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