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Restorations: Grown Up Punks Gaining Buzz.

May 30, 2012

Text by Beth Ann Downey. Image by G.W. Miller III.

Jon Loudon doesn’t really know what kind of day it’s going to be.

He sits outside of the Rocket Cat Café in Fishtown, eating a tomato, avocado and veggie cream cheese sandwich, which he had to wait way too long for. But there was little else within walking distance of Miner Street Studios, where Loudon’s Philly-based indie rock band Restorations is in the process of recording a new 7-inch album, titled A/B.

Slow food is a small price to pay to record in one of the most well-known studios in the city. Loudon and the other band members are quick to mention how much they’ve enjoyed it, and that Sufjan Stevens had just been there just a few days before.

“This will be the fun day,” Loudon suggests, noting that the more laborious task of tracking drums and many of the lead guitar parts had been done the day before.

Today is devoted mostly to vocals. In fact, Loudon just finished a 30-minute vocal warm-up. He had never prepared for recording like that before.

After the sandwich, he’ll be ready.

Loudon has a right to be optimistic about a lot of things these days. What started as a “casual band” for him and his Restorations bandmates – guitarist Dave Klyman, guitarist/keyboardist Ben Pierce, bassist Dan Zimmerman and drummer Carlin Brown – has turned into something a little more serious, thanks to the warm reception of their debut self-titled LP, which was released last year. The metal-tinged, 90s-bred indie rock that the album put forth blended elements of shoegaze and Americana, and was dubbed as music for grown up punks.

A buzzed-about performance at Fest 10 in Gainesville, Florida last October didn’t hurt either. Among other accolades, Restorations was given the title of “Best Debut” at the hardcore festival by Alternative Press Magazine. Klyman likened the press reaction to the after that show to the jerk movement of the zombies in the “Thriller” video.

Buzz is a welcomed noise for this collection of long-time musicians, all of whom were in other serious bands before or still have other projects. Restorations was started by Loudon and Klyman as an escape from their former post-hardcore band, Jena Berlin, after recording and touring a lot but cashing in very little.

“This band really let us dial down, just chill out for a bit and really enjoy what we were doing for a while,” Loudon says. “Not having any real expectations on it really helped us write. It changed everything, our whole approach. It’s a much happier environment for sure, hence the name of the project.”

But even with the 7-inch release, a forthcoming sophomore LP, a newly-minted fan base, label involvement and opportunities to tour that could be taken if the band were to go full-time, Loudon says that things are even easier now.

“We got really good at just sort of learning how to make music without having to worry about any level of success or support or anything,” Loudon says with a laugh. “It’s just been so long with us, you know, playing small shows and doing it ourselves. So now it’s a bit of a surprise that it’s connected. But there’s always pressure, especially when, you know, people are sort of paying attention.”

A barefooted Jon Low gives Loudon tips while he tracks vocals. Low, who has worked with Dr. Dog, Kurt Vile and Sharon Van Etten and is known for his involvement with the XPN/Miner Street recording project Shaking Through, is producing the Restorations 7-inch. Having also mixed their LP, his excitement to be working with their material again is palpable.

“It’s nice because this is the kind of music I grew up listening to,” Low says. “I don’t get to work on loud music that much. So it’s kind of refreshing. It’s very refreshing.”

Low wants Loudon to fake strum his guitar in the live room so that he can get his timing down. Loudon requests a capo, a clamp that goes on the fretboard and makes the guitar pitch higher.

“Excuse me, I’m Jon Loudon and I need a capo to play air guitar,” jokes Pierce from behind the deck.

They do whatever Loudon needs to get that third-generation Billy Joel sound (the second-generation being Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon, whom Loudon admits he sounds like). It’s a tone almost unexpected from Loudon, who talks in a somewhat high-pitched, rushed manner, but projects a low, raspy singing voice when performing scream-o vocals.

“Hey kid, in time they’ll forget you, just do what you’ve gotta do,” croons Loudon on the album’s track “A” as Low continues offering instructions.

“Singing to sound good is not something I’ve really ever done, at least since I’ve been playing in bands,” Loudon says. “I keep finding new things I should pay attention to.”

Being a decent songwriter , and having talent in general, isn’t something Loudon owns up to easily. He writes lyrics as “hodgepodges of little scenes,” blaming not being a good enough writer on an inability to piece together overarching themes.  But while writing about “the boring stuff,” Loudon admits he does take writing very seriously. He said track “A” is about the feeling that age doesn’t matter, and that things don’t always matter as much as you think they do.

“But ‘B’ is about waiting for the trolley,” Loudon says. “There’s not much to it. Writing is very cathartic for me because it’s like being able to talk about and describe things that you don’t get to talk about much in conversation.”

It’s more than just Loudon, however. He credits the success of the band to their collaborative song writing. With everyone sharing ideas and keeping their egos in check, it’s kept them from getting in ruts.

This creative approach is evident in the studio as the pace lags a little bit while the band hashes out guitar parts and harmonies for back-up vocals. This has led Loudon to change his opinion, deeming yesterday as the “fun day.”

Even though the mood is more tense, it’s still noticeable that the songs on this 7-inch are turning out slightly more pop-sensible – maybe even happier – than the older material from the Restorations catalogue. Was knowing that the band has a few things to be happy about rubbing off in the music?

The notion is brushed off.

“I assure you,” Loudon says, “the other songs on the record that’s coming out will be just as mopey as the last ones.”

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