Grown Folks Music
Lo Moda Surfaces From Its Daily Grind With The New Replica Watches
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Sipping a beer under bordello-red bar lighting, Lo Moda vocalist Peter Quinn is describing the protracted birth of the band's forthcoming second album. While parenthood and line-up changes have drawn out the recording process, they haven't necessarily slowed the band's songwriting productivity. "We already have half of the next record written," Quinn laughs. That's on top of the two CD-R's containing 23 new (or newly recorded) Lo Moda songs he's already passed along tonight.
"I think if we had our druthers we could release a record at least twice a year, if we were that kind of working band," he says later. "If somebody was paying for us to be in the studio and we were living like musicians, we could easily do a full-length and an EP or two full-lengths a year." And then he punctuates this burst of wishful thinking with another laugh.
Formed in 2005 by folks from beloved local acts both old-school and new--including Candy Machine, Fascist Fascist, Thank You, and others--the mixed-gender Lo Moda has maintained something of a low-key presence during the recent out-of-town hubbub over Baltimore music. While some homegrown acts seem to play the city's circuit of small clubs and warehouse spaces several times a week, whole months can go by without a Lo Moda gig. This is partly because Lo Moda is a band of grown-ups with grown-up concerns: full-time jobs, kids, the whole real-world works. It's a lot easier to endlessly record and tour when your band is comprised of post-collegiates jacked up on a lack of responsibility.
Thus, it's been two years since Lo Moda dropped its debut long-player, Gospel Store Front, a spectral slice of soul-rock minimalism that City Paper named one of the best local albums of 2006. Released by Creative Capitalism--the label/publishing house/art-prank outlet masterminded by Quinn and various associates, including his wife (and Lo Moda keyboard player) Gillian--the album deliciously mixed slo-mo '60s R&B rhythms, Velvets-style avant-garage guitar, and moody washes of viola and keyboard. It was a retro-fresh change from the spazzy electronic noise, jerky math-rock, and quasi-hippie folk that's sprouted in Baltimore's moist underground rock hotspots in the second half of this decade.
While we wanted more of the same immediately, our begrudging patience has finally been rewarded with Lo Moda's recently completed 16 track sophomore release, Replica Watches. On a drizzly night a week before the band's planned record release show at the Windup Space, the affable Quinn took a little time to talk about the band's recent history and immediate future over lagers at a sparsely patronized Club Charles. And it's been a busy couple of weeks. In addition to finalizing the mastering/packaging of Replica Watches, the Windup Space show will be part of a four-day micro-tour that includes stops in New York, Washington, and Virginia.
While a time-crunch meant CP wasn't able to sit down with the whole band, Quinn discusses Lo Moda as a six-person democratic unit where songs develop from individual instrumental voices locking together. "It's a very different situation than any other band I've ever been in," he says. "What we do is [the band] will come over to our house that we're renovating and drink wine and make dinner and play semi-quietly and talk about an aesthetic approach to making music as a group. And that [approach] mainly consisted of keeping things integrated, so that everyone's part became a response to other people's parts. . . it's pretty stripped-down for six people."
You can hear that ego-free, call-and-response compositional style throughout the multi-faceted Replica Watches. On "Anonymous Cats," Lo Moda erects a rock song piece by piece: drummer Scott Braid sets up the initial bouncing rhythm; Antony West answers with a terse bass line; violist Raili Haimila spreads a layer of buzz; Gillian Quinn adds carnivalesque keyboard interjections. By then the band's locked into one of its trademark grooves, complete with handclaps and guitarist Christian Sturgis swooping in for the occasional jagged interruption.
"People hold back," Quinn says of his technically accomplished, sometimes conservatory trained bandmates working in Lo Moda's winnowed-down, not-quite-punk idiom. That restraint is most audible on the languid Once Upon a Time We Dreamt in the Land of Prosperity, seven tracks recorded in the Quinns' living room. The mini-album's highlight is "Routine Day," nine minutes of mournful bowing from Haimila, with Quinn murmuring beatifically in the background. If much of Replica Watches has a jumpy, new wave edge, Once Upon a Timeis a reminder that the band is just as often about keeping things slow and spacey.
And while this double-barrelled burst of Lo Moda activity is a blessing, the band isn't going to be grinding away on the live circuit in support of the new album. "We'd like to play out more, but we're not eager to play in circumstances that are uncomfortable," Quinn says. "We're not really a loud rock band that can transcend a warehouse space or a bad sound system." This understandable pickiness means locals still need to keep their eyes peeled; any time Lo Moda's name shows up on a gig flyer is one of those treats made sweeter by its rarity.