The Boys On Top Of The Piano

The title of Spiraling's album, "Transmitter," indicates a sort of optimism that radiates from the band's sound on their self-produced release. Transmitter, transmitting sounds over a radio, transmitting a message to the people, transmitting a band into greater success and popularity. All worthwhile goals that have come to fruition more than the band probably imagined it could.

Spiraling, led by keyboardist Tom Brislin, evolved from an earlier Brislin project, You Were Spiraling, which recorded and performed successfully in the early 90s. Seeking a fresh start, Brislin shortened the name and refined his musical direction. The band has gone through the usual line-up shifts and changes that many fledging bands must work through, finally coalescing around Marty O'Kane on guitar, Bob Hart on bass and Paul Wells on drums, supporting Brislin's legendary keyboard work and strong lead vocals.

While using such a mighty term as "legendary" for a member of a largely-still-local band in their 20s might sound like rock journalistic pomp; it's not far from the truth. Brislin has toured with progressive-rock legends Yes, as well as behind the operatic-rock of Meatloaf, holding his own with these music veterans and gaining acceptance from both acts' devoted followings. More recently, Brislin re-joined Glen Burtnik, formerly of Styx, in the New Glen Burtnik Band, which has started touring locally to support Burtnik's upcoming CD release.

"Transmitter," released in 2002 at the legendary Stone Pony rock club in Asbury Park, New Jersey, has earned raves and accolades from music press and fans alike, helping to expand Spiraling's popularity. Ending up on numerous "best of" lists for 2002, "Transmitter's" twelve tracks pulsate with pop and rock vibes, alternating with the ringing hooks of Brislin's keyboard and O'Kane's guitar and the deep grooves of Hart's bass and Wells' drumming.

The band is currently planning to expand their touring schedule in the summer, and is beginning to work on their much-anticipated follow-up to "Transmitter". Chorus and Verse interviewed Brislin, O'Kane and Hart about the past couple of years since "Transmitter" was released, and just how far this thriving band's music will be transmitted in the years ahead.

You've recently come off a tour with OK GO. How were those gigs, and did you enjoy touring with them? When you're doing a tour like that with another band, do you find yourself hanging out and doing rock and roll backstage stuff, or do you start to get tired of it after a while?

Marty: The tour was really great because we got to connect with a lot of new people. OK Go is great to tour with, and their audience is pretty open-minded towards new bands.

Tom: The tour was great. We like playing every night. We didn't bring our own road crew, so most of our time offstage was spent pushing gear, driving, and occasionally sleeping.

On the topic of tours, you've probably gotten the most attention for your slot supporting They Might Be Giants. Can you share the story of how the band became acquainted with John Flansburgh, and how his support helped the band's early development?

Bob: Our manager passed a tape of our music to John Flansburgh, and he eventually asked us to open for They Might Be Giants on a few shows. He later released one of our CDs on his label. Since then we toured nationwide with them.

Besides They Might Be Giants, Spiraling has toured with music vets the Violent Femmes, and Tom has had high-profile gigs with Yes and Meat Loaf. Has working with these established acts given you any insight into what Spiraling needs to do in order to achieve long-term success, and are there any qualities you feel successful musicians have in common?

Tom: It's funny, because all the acts you just mentioned are pretty different stylistically. If there's any common thread, it would probably be that each group placed the highest priority on the live show. They're not on the radio like they used to be, so their long-term success is directly related to their reputation regarding how they are in concert. Being a part of that definitely inspired me to want to bring our live show to a higher level.

Many articles on the band talk about how tight and professional everyone is, and how important the contribution of each member of the band is to the overall sound. Give us a little background in your time away from the stage. How often do you rehearse or get together to go over new material? What routines do you go through to keep ready to perform and what enables everyone to keep things so tight?

Bob: We rehearse often, whether or not we're touring. We spend time warming up vocals before each show. We're pretty tight as friends also, so maybe that connection makes it easier to play tighter as a group.

Spiraling has evolved from an earlier group, "You Were Spiraling" and has gone through some line-up changes before settling into your current configuration. How did each member come to join the band and did anyone know each other previously?

Tom: I met Bob at a jam session, when he was playing more guitar than bass. He came to a few of our first shows, and when he had started playing bass full-time, I asked him to join the band.

I went to college with Paul, and later I ran into him on the street in New York City on the way to a You Were Spiraling gig. I invited him to check out the show, and a few months later asked him to join.

I knew Marty from the local New Brunswick music scene. Our bands would play shows together, and he had become available right around the time we had some shows with TMBG booked. He jumped on for those shows, and has been with us since.

Let's turn to your current album, "Transmitter". One review stated that it marries "styles whose fans love to hate each other," and your bio highlights the diversity of your audience. Have you made a conscious effort to try and draw upon different genres when writing and composing? As you continue to develop new material, do you have any worries that your audience might not respond well to new directions that you might want to pursue with your music?

Tom: There's no conscious effort to draw upon different genres when I write songs. It would get too calculated, or corny, in my opinion. It's just an input-output cycle, for me. We all listen to a ton of music, from a lot of styles, and if aspects of different genres happen to manifest themselves in the music we make, then so be it. I just write.

As far as worrying about what the audience might think if we do something different? It's a dubious train of thought to get wrapped up in. We're always changing, even if it's subtle. Every recording. It's just the thing about us. And all along, I think the band's personality stays intact. We have to be ourselves.

When you're touring nationally, especially as an opening act supporting a recently-released album, most crowds won't know a lot about you, and will be killing time waiting for the headliner. Does the band go out to try and win over those fans when you hit the stage, and does going through that sort of trial by fire help the band get better in the long run?

Marty: On those gigs, we're always conscious of the fact that a lot of people are seeing us for the first time, and we do our best to make a good first impression. However, we've also found that if you get too wrapped up in the way an audience is responding to you, it can affect your performance. So we strive to deliver the best performance possible, regardless of whether it's a roomful of strangers or a hometown crowd. So in that sense, yes, those type of gigs have helped us develop a certain resiliency that comes in handy on longer tours.

Have any plans been made to start working on a follow-up album to "Transmitter"? Have you been writing and performing new material that crowds have responded well to that you feel would be included on a next record, and is there anything you can share about when new music might be available to fans to get their hands on?

Tom: We're demoing new tracks now. We've been playing some of the songs live, which I think is good for developing the arrangements. On the last tour we did with OK Go, we included new songs every night.

One of the shows was recorded for eMusic live, so you can download live versions of new tracks at http://www.emusic.com/cd/10813/10813584.html.

With so much praise being given to "Transmitter," including slots on "best of" lists, not to mention how many articles and reviews use terms like "this is my favorite band," what will the pressure be like for the next album? Does the fact that the next CD will be highly-anticipated by a growing and loyal following make the process more exciting, since you know that whatever you come up with will definitely be heard?

Bob: We've been extremely appreciative of any praise given to "Transmitter". We're just eager to release something new soon.

Tom: The past couple of years was a pretty prolific time. A lot of bands will spend a large block of time making the album, then go into tour mode. We're constantly going back and forth between the recording and touring worlds, which is what a lot of independent bands have to do just to stay on the fans' radar.

Do you intend to continue to self-release and self-produce your material, or would you consider working with a larger indie label or pursue an opportunity with a major? Did you enjoy retaining so much creative control over "Transmitter"?

Bob: We'll always want the music to be released the way we intend it to, and if that's possible with a major label, then we're open to it.

Tom: Even though recording has become more affordable recently, it's still not cheap to make albums, at least not the way we'd like to make them. So finances tend to be a factor. But we've seen so many instances of bands getting signed, only to have their album taken over by producers who completely change the band's sound, in hopes that it'll fit on a certain radio format. We're not interested in that.

So, yes, I enjoyed producing "Transmitter". But I'm open to the right situation with a label, as long as it's good for the band and good for the music.

Do you think the trend of bands retaining more control over the creative and business aspects of making music will continue? There's a lot of talk in the music business about the waning importance of the large record labels, especially in light of digital music distribution. How far do you think a band can go without the support of a corporation behind them?

Tom: I think in many cases, the bands are taking care of their own affairs because they have to. The labels aren't offering deals like they used to. Like I said, I love having creative control. But isn't that the way it should be?

What the corporations can offer is the front-end money. It's expensive to tour, until you're very successful. It's expensive to get on radio. So the majors can still help a band make that happen. Sometimes. I'm very curious how the next few years will play out. It's either the best time or the worst time to be in the rock and roll business.

[ Website: www.spiraling.net ]

Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing. www.imprtech.com