Duo drums up whole new dimension.
FOR THE VISIBLE Men, it all hinges on the drums.
"Drums is an area that, too much of the time, sounds the same from song to song," said Dustin Lanker, songwriter, keyboardist and vocalist for the quixotic pop duo. "We play each song differently, and if we can make the drums different all the time, then each song sounds like its own little world."
To make each song sound like a world unto itself, the Visible Men (Lanker and bassist Dan Schmid) used not one, not two, but four drummers for their debut album, "In Socks Mode." All four drummers - Jordan Glenn, Tim Donahue, Tony Figoli and Ryan Sumner - will play at the Visible Men's CD release party today at the McDonald Theatre.
A highly atmospheric, sometimes darkly shaded pop album, "In Socks Mode" runs the gamut from catchy to eccentric. Schmid and Lanker give ample credit to the drummers for making the album so varied.
The blunt lyrics on lonely-guy anthems such as "Hall of Fame" and "Poker Face" are primarily the work of Lanker, who wrote most of the songs. He pounds out the piano rock that serves as the pulse of the music, and Schmid adds the punctuation with his artful bass playing.
"Dan thinks of playing the bass as being a counterpoint to the melody," Lanker said. "That's a wisdom that I don't think I've ever found in another bass player."
Schmid is equally complimentary of Lanker, and it's clear that these guys, both on stage and off, have chemistry. It wasn't always like this for the Visible Men, which formed as a side project when Schmid and Lanker were both playing in the punk-rock-swing band the Cherry Poppin' Daddies.
Initially, the pair teamed up with drummer Donahue, who also was a member of the Daddies, and recorded a demo tape. The trio played their first gig in November of 2000, and then Donahue left to go on tour with the Swedish guitar-shredder Yngwie Malmsteen.
Only then did things begin to start happening for the Visible Men.
"We decided not to replace Tim," Lanker recalled. "That's when we just really jelled together and the songs started to have this `otherworldly' quality."
Losing the drums opened up the music for Schmid and Lanker and forced the pair to focus more closely on individual notes. Schmid describes the experience as liberating.
"It opened up a whole bunch of possibilities and allowed the notes to speak in ways that don't happen when you're surrounded by music," he said. "I think it allowed people to glean more meaning from the music."
Not everyone gained more meaning from the Visible Men's songs without drums. After recording a drumless demo, Schmid and Lanker began soliciting opinions from friends and other musicians. Opinions were mixed.
"People were saying `Wow, without drums it has this totally different sound, don't change anything,' ' Lanker recalled. "Then there were other people who were saying, `I hear drums on that.' '
One of the people who heard drums was Scott McLean, co-founder of Leisure King Records. A drummer himself, McLean admits that initially he didn't quite grasp what Schmid and Lanker were doing.
"I didn't get it," McLean recalled. "I thought, `What the hell are these guys doing?' '
Eventually, when he was able to step back and imagine the songs he was hearing with an added layer of drums, McLean did get it - so much so that he made a verbal agreement with Lanker then and there to produce the Visible Men's debut album. He made the decision mostly on the strength of two songs, "Hall of Fame" and "No Genius."
"Those songs just absolutely screamed at me," McLean recalled. "After I heard those two songs, I was able to go back and hear the other ones in a new context."
After signing on with Leisure King, Schmid and Lanker spent two weeks last November at Gung-Ho Studio, tracking songs with McLean and sound engineer Bill Barnett. The CD was mixed at Gung-Ho and mastered at Sony Disc Manufacturing in Springfield. It has 10 songs, eight of which feature drums.
"The people who really liked us as a duo, they don't complain that we added drums," Lanker said. "It's not like we added the guy from Def Leppard as our drummer."
In casting the drummers they did add, the Visible Men seem to have sought out subtlety. Schmid and Lanker use the words "orchestral" and "organic" to describe the percussionists, and McLean says each drummer brought a slightly different feel to the mix.
Figoli, who plays on two songs, brings laid-back time to two songs. Donahue, the duo's original drummer, shows his pop sensibilities on three songs, and Sumner adds his straight-ahead rock accents to one song.
And Glenn, the duo's touring drummer, brings a jazzy breeziness to the two songs he plays on.
"He's able to switch from rock to orchestral to jazz," Lanker said. "It's a really creative, lyrical approach to playing drums, and I think he understands the idea that the music is just a score for the lyrics."
Entertainment reporter Lewis Taylor can be reached by phone at 338-2512 and by e-mail at email@example.com.
THE VISIBLE MEN CD RELEASE PARTY
WITH: Dan Jones, Tom Heinl
WHEN: 9 p.m. today
WHERE: McDonald Theatre, 1010 Willamette St.
ALSO: To hear music from the Visible Men's debut album, call GuardLine at 485-2000 from a touch-tone phone and select category 9943
Dan Schmid (left) and Dustin Lanker form the Visible Men, who with four drummers have released a debut album.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Apr 26, 2002|
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