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Synth City

The Three Former Rockers In Stereograph Discover Their Inner New-Wavers

UNPLUNGERED: Stereograph plugs into Roland Tones on its debut EP.

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By J. Bowers | Posted 4/27/2005

These days it sounds like there’s a formula for hipster radio success. Take four to five skinny guys, slap on some skinny ties, pour them in jeans and button-down shirts (preferably black), and forbid them from listening to anything other than Joy Division, New Order, Depeche Mode, and early Cure records. Add tortured lyrics, driving bass lines, and shimmering synthesizers, grease on some eyeliner, stir well, and voilà—instant radio hit.

Yes, Stereograph—the latest project from singer/guitarist/sequencer Tom LoMacchio, bassist Marc Haseltine (both former members of local ’90s punk powerhouse Plunger), and drummer Dan Rutherford—sounds a hell of a lot like all of the aforementioned ’80s postpunk superpowers got together for a lengthy, synth-saturated jam session. But unlike the long list of Factory Records clones currently clogging the airwaves, the three thirtysomethings in Stereograph actually grew up with the postpunk/new wave sound, and as a result their music is more honest homage than radio-friendly ripoff.

“When you look at bands like the Bravery, the Killers, all the groups that are being lumped into that revival, the pictures in their album sleeves look like fashion shoots,” Haseltine says. “It’s more about imitating that style than the sound. And we’re not really about that.”

“Stereograph just came out of a love of that type of music, the whole ’80s new wave, postpunk type of music,” LoMacchio adds. “We’ve dealt in other genres before, but for me that sound is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I never really knew how until five years ago, when I started working with synthesizers.”

Many of the songs on Stereograph’s self-titled, self-released debut EP were written more than five years ago, while LoMacchio was writing and performing folksy acoustic music. In 2004, he acquired some Roland synthesizers, recruited Haseltine, and coerced Rutherford, a former novelist, to take up the drums. The trio has only played three shows since then, opening for the Fiery Furnaces, Weird War, and Two if by Sea—which might be part of the reason their live show is so puzzling to local scenesters. The band’s onstage behavior—standing stock-still behind their instruments, surrounded by swirling fog and colored lights—feels completely antithetical to their lush, overpoweringly loud sound, which literally forces audiences to stand 10 feet back from the stage.

“I look at our music and I can’t really figure out how to add movement to it without it seeming cheesy or overboard,” LoMacchio admits. “But some of our newer songs lend themselves more to dancing and movement in the crowd, and our CD release is at a dance club, so we’re thinking that it should encourage audience . . . something.”

“If I’m going to see a band, I want to see a performance, I don’t want to just see a band,” says Rutherford, who designs Stereograph’s stage show. “I grew up in the ’80s, so going to clubs was always like a movement inside of you. You go out for the night, and see all the lights and people and music, and when you leave you’re still stuck with that memory of seeing something beyond someone’s face.”

Still, LoMacchio’s confessional, first-person lyrics cut through the cheese factor of Stereograph’s light show, mining the same emotional territory staked out by Morrissey, Robert Smith, and other famous ’80s troubadours. But the singer says that his penchant for melancholy isn’t intentional.

“There have been times when I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, let me sit down and write a pop song,’ but that’s the hardest thing for me,” LoMacchio says. “There’s always stuff to get upset over, and writing is how I deal with it.”

“As much as I like Tom, I almost like it better when he has bad experiences,” Haseltine admits, laughing. “It makes for better songs. I mean, you want him to be happy because he’s your friend, but bad things sometimes lead to better subject matter.”

All its genuine, bleeding-heart passion for new wave aside, Stereograph can’t completely deny its membership in the we-wish-we-were-on-Factory club. It’s all there—from the crisp Martin Hannett-esque snap in the drumbeats to the watery trill of the Rolands. Still, all three members are quick to distance themselves from bands that are trying to “make it,” and happy to discuss future plans, which include more work with sequencing and synthesizers—and further movements away from the rock sound for which Plunger was known.

“If you look at when Plunger broke up until the time when Stereograph started, it’s not really like we’re jumping onto the next big thing,” Haseltine says. “And the fact that Tom has been writing these songs for five or six years, before this revival thing started, that says something. We’re going back to the source material. I listen to the new bands, and I can appreciate their songs, but I think that sound will run its course in a year.”

“I have nothing against rock, I’m just kind of over it,” Rutherford adds. “When new wave came along, I just sunk my claws into it and stayed with that kind of music. Sometimes rock is very dry, and that’s not good enough, I’m sorry. Then again, maybe I’m just sappy and cry a lot at night.”

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