Lithuania: The Long-Term Side Jawn.
Eric Slick is opening for his own band. It’s the night of Lithuania’s record release show at Boot & Saddle and Slick is performing double duty as the bassist for Anomie, another Philly act who takes the stage first. It might seem like a strange choice to volunteer for an earlier set on such a big night for your band but Slick has been putting other projects before Lithuania for a long time.
“Are you guys excited for Lithuania?” Anomie frontwoman Rachel Browne asks the audience. “Tonight they’re celebrating the release of their new record.”
The crowd cheers.
“Ten years,” Slick says to himself, just off-mic. “Ten years…”
On a weekday afternoon, at a table in Reanimator Coffee in Olde Kensington, Slick starts to get excited as he talks. He’s a very mild-mannered guy, so his energy comes out through hand gestures rather than raising the volume of his voice. Today, Slick is discussing Lithuania and that’s something that he doesn’t normally get to talk about.
Seated around the table are his friends and Lithuania bandmates Dominic Angelella and Ricardo Lagomasino but these three are also all bandmates in other projects. At another point in time, this could just as easily have been a meeting for DRGN King or Hop Along. Today, though, it’s all about Lithuania. And it’s about time.
“Lithuania was the cool, almost joke-y thing we would talk about and occasionally write songs and play shows,” says Angelella, whose uber mellow demeanor contrasts Slick’s nervous energy. “But it was like a secret. It wasn’t a real band yet.”
The guys in Lithuania have been making music for a long time, just not always as Lithuania. Collectively, they’re a sort of underground force in the Philadelphia music scene, appearing as key players in bands that ended up gaining more notoriety than Lithuania.
It’s sort of funny then – but not surprising – that when they started getting things rolling in earnest within the past two years that a lot of the press about Lithuania referred to the band as, “Eric Slick of Dr. Dog’s new side project.”
But “side project” is a difficult term to use for a band that started 10 years ago, pre-dating any of the projects that its members are known for. Lithuania was originally a two-piece recording project that started when Slick and Angelella met in a music theory class at University of the Arts.
Angelella, a Baltimore native, got the feeling even before meeting Slick that he was different from the other squares in their class.
“He had the hair that I have now,” says Angelella, gesturing with a fistful of his shoulder-length locks. “I looked across the room at him and said to myself, ‘That dude looks like a freak.’”
They started talking bands, each sizing up the other’s tastes, and immediately bonded over a mutual adoration of bands like Hüsker Dü and Lightning Bolt. They started making music together in the same raw, crunchy vein as those bands, but their musical curiosity led them in many different directions and to many other projects, sometimes with the same people.
“For both of them, in their professional working lives, [Lithuania] was their escape,” says Brendan Mulvihill, who has written and performed music with Angelella in DRGN King and with Slick in Norwegian Arms.
Mulvihill says that even while the guys could put their all into a certain project, they still always had more left over that they needed to pour into another outlet. When Mulvihill learned that Slick and Angelella were going all in with Lithuania, he knew only good things would come.
“[Lithuania] puts them in a situation where they allow themselves to push their boundaries and experiment,” says Mulvihill. “It’s really beautiful to see two friends come together and persevere on a project that’s really just a celebration of their ability to work together in such a beautiful way.”
Any sense of urgency about the band has disappeared in Slick and Angelella’s 10 solid years as musicians They’ve learned that slow and steady is an okay way to go.
“[Lithuania] has been the focus for so long, it just exists,” says Angelella, referring to a three-year period in which the project lay completely dormant. “We’ve already been a band that does nothing.”
After letting their shared ideas marinate for so long, Slick and Angelella decided to get cooking. When they made the move to cut a record in 2014, they had a deep history of ideas and friendship to draw from. The result was the aptly titled Hardcore Friends, recorded in a four-day blast at The Headroom studio in East Kensington.
Lithuania played its last show as a two-piece at Kung Fu Necktie, in the middle of recording their LP. The economy of playing as a duo gave way to its limitations, and after a set beleaguered by technical malfunctions, Slick and Angelella decided it was time to bring another member on to help things run more smoothly.
Luckily, Lagomasino was right there in the crowd.
“I thought it was an awesome show,” Lagomasino says with a laugh.
After Slick and Angelella’s time in the studio was completed, Lagomasino took his place behind the drum kit and Slick transitioned to guitar, where he could be a more traditional frontman. With the aid of some technical wizardry, Slick does double duty as guitar and bass. He plays through a splitter that sends a signal from his guitar to both a bass and guitar amplifier.
“I’m trying to invent a new way of playing for myself,” Slick says.
Being able to do more with less is something of a core value for the group at this point. It’s what’s allowed them to remain invested in the project for so long, and also what lets them keep going even in the face of what for other bands can be a crippling disaster.
While on the road with mewithoutYou, Lithuania and their touring buddies in the band Foxing had a trailer full of gear stolen the day before the tour’s final show. Foxing had to drop out of the last performance but Lithuania was able to soldier on with gear borrowed from mewithoutYou.
It was heartbreaking to lose so much so quickly but also a reminder of how their high-energy approach can defy technical limitations.
“I write songs based on knowing strings could break at any moment,” says Angelella.
“We’ve got to be able to just plug in and play wherever we are,” Slick agrees.
Fortunately, nothing breaks during their performance for the release of Hardcore Friends. Slick and Angelella haven’t stopped smiling all night. When they take breaks between songs, it’s only to thank the crowd for being there to support what they’ve been preparing for a decade to share.
With a record under their belts and a solid three-piece lineup, Lithuania is ready for phase two, only 10 years later. Slick says they’re looking forward to writing new material with Lagomasino, and dedicating more time, energy and focus to the project.
“In the back of our minds we have always been like, Lithuania is our band,” Slick says. “It’s not a side project. It’s what was born out of our friendship.”