Well hi there, dear readers.
Didn’t notice you there. I was just sitting here at my computer in Happy Valley, PA, USA, getting ready to turn some people on to three music projects from State College worth checking out. Sure, you can stay. Sit down, let me grab you some coffee.
Now where was I? Oh, great local music. So I’ve been telling you for a while now, about State College’s music scene–about the saturation of musical talent here, and the great bands that have sprung from the fertile soil of middle Pennsylvania. From time to time, I’d like to share some of those bands with you. Today is one of those times.
There are quite a few bands worth listening to from Happy Valley, but I only have room to tell you about three. Four would be too many, and two is right out. So Let’s meet Atlas Soundtrack, Thai Honeymoon and Dutch Nuns.
Atlas Soundtrack – “Bad Seed” Live
Playing original music in State College is tough. Playing originals and getting booked in local bars? Very tough. Playing original hip-hop/reggae and getting booked? Nearly impossible. Yet Atlas Soundtrack is doing just that. Matt Savereno (guitar/vocals) and Drew ‘Dubb’ Jackson (MC) have their fusion of hip-hop, reggae and rock playing live at the biggest bars in the region, a domain usually dominated by cover bands. On St. Patrick’s Day, a huge drinking/bar day in town, they will be the featured band at Cafe 210, one of the few local bars with a large stage and dance area. This would be a big deal for any local band. For Atlas Soundtrack, it’s just another step in a plan to break out of the local scene and into the national scene with a combination of hard work, persistence, and a constantly evolving sound forged from the band’s disparate influences.
Atlas Soundtrack – “What’s Up” Live
Not content with their remarkable local success, the band has been reaching out to other original bands to do gig swaps, inviting bands to play shows with them at State College venues, then traveling to the invited band’s locale and doing the same thing there. It’s a great way for bands to get heard in new markets, and establish small tours.
All this is in support of Atlas Soundtrack‘s latest album, The Garden. Released in March of last year, The Garden has gotten airplay on college radio here and elsewhere, an album created over the course of two years’ worth of playing shows and practicing together. It’s a solid, funky album showcasing the band’s diverse influences and driving rhythm.
They’re not just in it for fun and free nachos; the band carries a message with the music. The name The Garden was chosen to represent the environment Atlas Soundtrack believes we live in. The Garden is a bed for growth and prosperity, just like the band itself is a garden where its members can create new vibrant musical crops together. Atlas Soundtrack wants to help heal the world with its music, and the world can surely use the help.
Thai Honeymoon – “Fozzie Bear”
I’ll start by admitting I’m really biased about Thai Honeymoon. The power trio of members (Geoff Vasile on vocals/bass, Ben Wentz on guitar/keys and Dan Bhutta on drums) all happen to be friends of mine. I met Vasile when we were both training to be crisis counselors. Wentz I met through other local kids I knew, and we were roommates for a while. Bhutta? Well, everyone knows Bhutta.
All three had bounced around in different bands during their time in town, finally coming together last year to play some shows as Thai Honeymoon and record Sweet Tooth, released last August. Sweet Tooth is lead singer Geoff Vasile’s love letter/middle finger to the town he played so many shows in, drank so many beers in–but ultimately a town that left him with mixed feelings. The album is about the love for the good friends he has made, and his stink-eye for the bro culture and stagnant atmosphere of a number-one party school.
“Thunder and Intrigue” is about the bros Vasile had to deal with while living in State College. “Fozzie Bear,” a track about intolerance and lack of control, showcases the skills of Thai Honeymoon’s power trio: Wentz’s vibrant, textured guitar work meshing with Bhutta’s thunderous, precise machine gun drumming and Vasile’s powerful singing and rock-solid bass. Vasile has an amazing voice, a good thing to have in one of the only bands he’s ever been in where no one else wanted to sing.
If you like the warm, full sound of album, blame guitarist Ben Wentz, who recorded it in his home studio, an audiophile’s Valhalla full of both analog and digital equipment as well as devices Wentz builds himself. The man is arguably the most versatile musician in town, playing in (as well as recording/producing) so many bands I’m convinced he’s been cloning himself. (I’ll tell you a bit more about Ben in a future article.)
Hanging over the guys’ heads while making the album was the matter of their imminent dispersal. Not too long after the album was finally done, the trio had to split up. Vasile, a k a “El Jefe” moved to go to school in San Antonio, Bhuttha moved to Pittsburgh, and now Wentz is the sole band member still planted in State College. With no current plans to play together as Thai Honeymoon, we’re forced to wonder how the band would have evolved if given more time to play and write together. And I can tell you that as good as the recording is, seeing these guys play live was even better.
I recently caught up with Vasile on the popular social networking site, Facebook. These are some of the things we said at each other:
Me: What was recording the album like?
V: Well recording with Ben is always fun, but it was pretty bittersweet for me since I was leaving the area and that was going to be the last hurrah with Wentz, at least for quite some time.
How did you feel about the music on the album? Were you happy with it?
Absolutely. Those songs were mostly about my time in State College, and I was able to record with great musicians who also happened to be great friends. For all the shitty parts about playing music in State College, I met some of the best players ive ever gelled with there and saw them turn into my best friends.
A couple of those songs were pretty old. You even named the song “Thunder and Intrigue.”
I remember. It was great listening to you guys play. You always came back to the “Thunder and Intrigue” riff. (Vasile used to play one particular riff all the time. He finally put it into “Thunder and Intrigue.”)
Yeah so I had that thing lying around in my head, and finally finished it with lyrics and shit and of course you had to speak on it for it to be complete.
Do you ever plan to record/play with Thai Honeymoon again, or is it more like a one-off project?
It would be awesome to do so, but it’s not really on the horizon.
Geoff Vasile also sent me a sample of a new project he just finished up…a new project very different from the sounds of Thai Honeymoon. Cool Hand Uke is essentially a collection of ukulele covers that Vasile released just two days ago. Highlights include Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” and Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes.”
Dutch Nuns is musician Jason Britten’s mutant baby, born from long years in the State College Music scene. Jason is a musical MVP, able to play all the main positions in a band: drums, guitar, bass, vocals, keys. His versatility has led to him playing in multiple State College bands (the list includes: the Warmingtons, Full Roaming Vapor, Ego Machines, Peacefeather, The Melodic Plague, Pet Set, and about 20 more I can’t remember). He’s also released a number of solo musical projects under a variety of names (Slippers, The Amazing) encompassing everything from indie rock to tight instrumental beats to classic covers twisted and skewed until they fit perfectly into Britten’s own world.
Consider Dutch Nuns to be a holding tank for Britten’s creative flow. Always making new music, and needing somewhere to put it all, the musician burns every song he finishes, letting it drift into Soundcloud so everyone else can check it out. It’s like a living album, mutating every few days, adding a new tail or a fifth arm.
The songs are all over the place, like “Dark Blue Noodlin’,” an fuzzed-out sonic journey through slow-as-Slint reverb. The track “The Reasons I’m Awesome,” features catchy hooks and a classic, unfinished indie instrumental sound. He also has tweaked covers like “Proud Mary” and “Big Bird”–both worth a listen before jumping off to electronic tracks like “Too long” and “Messin around” or the creative windows of “Sounds from…”: a series of songs that highlight his songwriting process. The best track on Britten’s Soundcloud is the song “The First Time,” a laid-back bedroom track that adds layers of experimental sound and high Prince-like vocals.
Listening to the body of work Britten‘s put out under Dutch Nuns, it’s obvious that he has great potential. I often wonder when he’ll get discovered by some bigshot and get swept out of this town in a golden helicopter. Till then, we’re lucky to have him. If you like what you heard, be sure to check his page for news about the new Everything In Spades EP, coming soon from Dutch Nuns.
Well, there are my three samples of sound from State College for you to stuff directly into your earholes. Let’s hope one, or all of them get signed to labels and get money thrown at them so they can make music full time. Tune in next issue, when I endeavor to turn the knob all the way to eleven.