Dave Vicini, Will Kerr, and Julian Cassanetti of the Lot Six are in a parked van on Stanton Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, talking about Gwylo and Animals, the two albums they’ve put out this year on Espo Records. It’s 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, two hours before the Boston artpunks are scheduled to perform at the nearby club Arlene Grocery. Halfway through our conversation, Cassanetti notices a street fair going on a few blocks away.
"We should go get drunk and get on the whirligig," he suggests.
"Yeah, puke on that thing," enthuses Vicini.
"Fuck that, dude," retorts Kerr.
The band were also sitting in a parked car when they came up with the unorthodox idea of releasing two albums from the same recording session. In July 2001, they spent a week with engineer Jon Lammi at Big Sound Recording Studios in Portland, Maine, and emerged with a whopping 28 tracks. "The last night, we burned a CD and took it out to Jon’s car to listen to it," Kerr recalls. "I just remember sitting in his car and smoking butts, and by the time we finished listening to it, the sun had risen. We had done such a variety of songs, and every song sounded so good."
"That’s when it hit us," adds Vicini. "It was like, ‘Whoa, dude, we just did two records worth of shit in a week.’ "
The Lot Six put out Gwylo in June, and they’re celebrating the release of Animals this Saturday at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Central Square. The two albums describe an outfit that’s rooted in punk and indie rock but eager to stretch both genres to the outer limits. Vicini specializes in dark introspection and wacky narratives, and the band cover the spectrum from jagged noise outbursts reminiscent of big-name kindred spirits At the Drive-In to straight-faced country-rock shuffles.
"Sometimes people think it’s weird that we have a song that’s not your typical rock song," says Cassanetti. "Like, ‘Whoa, man, it’s some merengue, salsa thing with horns.’ You shouldn’t ever feel limited to what kind of drumbeat you can have, or if you can put horns on your album."
"So many records, it’s like the same thing, song after song after song," adds Vicini. "It doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s one good song, and then a bunch that try to sound like it that aren’t as good."
It’s that kind of frustration with the rock-and-roll status quo that led to the formation of the Lot Six in the summer of ’99. Vicini and Kerr were in the local pop-punk band Boxer, the first outfit ever signed to Vagrant Records — yes, the same Vagrant Records that’s currently enjoying huge crossover success with Dashboard Confessional. Boxer made one album produced by Face to Face frontman Trever Keith and promptly broke up. Looking for more of a challenge, Vicini and Kerr got some friends together and started jamming.
"We didn’t play a show for the first year," says Kerr of the band’s casual beginnings. "We kept it in the practice space. It started off as something to do after we all smoked some weed together, you know?"
"There was a mass exodus of quitting bands between a bunch of people that happened to be friends," Cassanetti elaborates. Bassist Dan Burke and drummer Aaron Sinclair round out the line-up; at one point, most of the band worked together at the Other Side Café on Newbury Street. "I think we all felt unhappy with where we were before in one way or another. Everyone’s first band, I don’t care who they were, you play it for them 10 years later and they kinda put their eyes underneath their wrist. You gotta learn what doesn’t work."
The Lot Six were barely out of the practice space when they hooked up with Espo Records, the small local punk label run by the ubiquitous Boston rock personality Shred. Their first releases, a seven-inch vinyl single and an EP called The Code Mode, are more pop-oriented than their recent work but still engagingly warped. "After we did The Code Mode with Shred, he sent us to Big Sound to record," says Kerr. "We knew we needed a van to get out there, so we went to him and said, ‘If you buy us a van, we promise we’ll give you a couple of records.’ He gave us a couple thousand dollars for a van. We got a piece of shit, used it to build up some steam, and then went in and recorded some songs."
As the striking layout they designed for Animals attests, the Lot Six believe in putting a lot of thought into every aspect of their endeavor, not just the music. They’ve established an album tradition of revisiting songs from previous releases. "This Is Coincidence," a standout pop move from The Code Mode, appears on Gwylo in radically deconstructed form as "Coincidence Reprise." And "The Tiny Tin," a static dirge from Gwylo that could be the band’s "Dazed and Confused," shows up on Animals as an after-hours piano-bar lament called "The Tiniest Tin."
Gwylo, the shorter and more straightforward of the two new discs, opens with two of the band’s best songs: a spastic take on the bass line from Weezer’s "Only in Dreams" called "Anita De," and the jangly retro-pop anthem "Styler/Stylee." Animals, their most ambitious effort to date, reveals a decided roots-rock influence. "Deviltown" is the tawdry tale of a hard-luck drunk tripping his way through the city, with an upbeat country lilt that defies the angst that fuels more punked-up tracks like "All So Nice To Know" and "Freezin’ Scene."
"Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you feel like a country song," explains Cassanetti. "I think of ‘Deviltown’ as someone waking up one day after living in the city for a while and he’s like, ‘Shit, dude, this is hectic.’ " According to Vicini, the dichotomy between city and country is a theme that extends to the whole album, as the painting of farm animals in front of a city skyline on the cover suggests. "We really want to leave it open to interpretation. It could be a concept record about animals in a city environment. The lyrics and melodies remind me of that, but that’s just me."
THE FIRST SONG CAVE IN ever recorded for Hydra Head Records was "Crossbearer," a screamo masterpiece that the band retired from their set list when they started moving away from hardcore — much to the chagrin of a significant portion of their fan base. The song was released on a seven-inch vinyl single in ’97, when they were still in their teens. This week, Cave In are putting a record out on Hydra Head for the last time before they make the major-label jump to RCA — and you don’t have to look much farther than the acoustic-guitar backing track on the first song, "Come into Your Own," to see how much they’ve grown in the five years since "Crossbearer."
Recorded in Boston with producer Andrew Schneider, Cave In’s Tides of Tomorrow EP features five new tunes and a song by the obscure Kansas City band Giants Chair. The prog-metal firestorm of their previous album, Jupiter (Hydra Head), has expanded to include more acoustic guitar than ever before, and surf-rock hallmarks like heavy reverb and cascading drumbeats also sneak into the din. "Going into the EP, we all had an idea that we wanted it to be a bit like Guns N’ Roses’ GN’R Lies or Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies," explains guitarist Adam McGrath. "Two records that are departures for both bands but show a really interesting and new side of their sound."
Cave In’s stadium-rock ambitions are well-founded: they spent most of August on the international rock-festival circuit, sharing a few bills with Guns N’ Roses themselves. Next month they’re opening for Foo Fighters in Great Britain, and their major-label debut will be out in 2003. In the meantime, Tides of Tomorrow finds them polishing their songwriting skills and trying out some new tricks. The drums on "Come into Your Own" almost sound like house beats, but the song’s placid chorus and noise-guitar embellishments cover more-familiar ground. The biggest surprise is "The Calypso," an uplifting space-pop anthem written by bassist Caleb Scofield, the group’s unofficial heavy-metal conscience.
Cave In frontman Stephen Brodsky has always had an ear for killer left-field indie-rock covers, as past recordings of songs by Failure and Eugenius attest. The Giants Chair track, "The Callus," is his latest prize: the monster riff at the end of the song provides the disc with its big rock moment. The title track’s jazz experimentation does take the laid-back acoustic theme too far, erring on the side of easy listening. But the band are playing with the rock gods again on the finale, "Everest," which on their Web site, www.cavein.net, they call out as a homage to Led Zeppelin’s "The Battle of Evermore." The song’s relaxed tempo and exotic melodies suit them well. Now they’re off to make their own myths.
The Lot Six perform this Saturday, October 12, at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Central Square. Call (617) 492-BEAR.