Wake up in the back of a van on a sweaty August morning at a fly flanked Texas gas station and its bound to get a band bonding. It’s embellishing to tie the Detroit quintet Prussia’s recent buckling-down for their latest album and their newest songs’ intricate layers and honeyed harmonies back to the inevitable parking-lot pass outs and couch surfing endured on the raod – but, still, when they returned from this six-week self booked cross country tour last fall, suffice it to say: they went to work.
DIY STREET FAIR
“After spooning with these guys in a van,” bassist Andrew Remdenok gazes around the front porch where singer Ryan Spencer and his brother Drew sit beside him, “I was ready to get as far away as possible.” Okay, so, first they took a quick break from each other and decompressed from the tour that supported 2009’s Blessed Be EP. But guitarist/organist Brenton Bober had been home (school/family) that time continuing to write songs and the band’s longtime friend (former guitarist of IL-based Ohtis) Adam Pressley joined soon after their return, and, “Ryan never stops writing,” Drew nods, “and Brenton was ready to go.”
“Let’s do it right,” Remdenok echoed their sentiments before starting work on what would become this seasons’s Poor English LP, “let’s make the album that everybody wants.” Remdenok, who’d recorded and mixed Prussia’s Blessed Be and 2007’s Dear Emily LP, nodded that “our albums didn’t sound like our live show,” which, as Drew put forward was caused by irregular schedules.
Ryan puts it blunt, “We wanted to make something really good. Before we were just having a lot of fun making music, but, when we put this down we wanted to make something that you could listen to a long time from now and be like: whoa, holy shit, how did we do that?”
“We wanted to try to write in a new style,” adds Drew, “we even talked about having no drums on this and just have African percussive instruments.”
“…broke a lot of bongos,” Ryan nods.
“We were all involved (this time),” Remdenok said. “(Other albums) had been: people being together at separate times, recording, then combining the results.” He later uses the word “experiments,” to describe those past recordings but not “this one…” which rendered “a nice balance” stylistically of past albums, in terms of sound and feel: a noisy pop classicism melded into experimental indie rock and dashes of rhythm focused, dubby, tribal spook folk. More than before, Poor English sounds forceful, with a tightly woven ensemble air, thickly layered with harmonies and gracefully jitter-stepped with intricate song structure’s multiple change ups.
Pressley said English, for Prussia, was “a big reinvention.” What started as a winter’s retreat to “get the album sounding like our live shows,” (under the boardwork of engineer Miko Mader) lead to “an entirely new Prussia altogether.”
Songwriter Josh Epstein (Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr / The Silent Years) aided in some production and arrangement, while the band continued to “push ourselves,” as Drew put it, not playing as many live shows and specifically setting to not be easily satisfied. “Before it’d seemed people sorta liked what we were doing so let’s kinda just get stuff out there if we’re happy with it.” But not this time. “We just wanted to make it the best we could.”
Which sounds dangerous: ...considering this band had already curried considerable favor based on the live show’s powerful presentation and the quirky panache of their minimalist, clackety grooved soul pop.
It makes it all the more promising that they’ve now managed to capture that vigor —the blazing guitars, high howling Rastafarian-doo-wop-murder-ballad blend of vocals and arresting rhythms punch and slide via some twisty tropicalia trip— onto a recording bolstered with professional equipment and a separate party at the boards.
“Yeah…” Remdenok smirks, “no RadioShack mics on this album.”
“I don't think it should be TOO hard to translate these songs live,” Pressley said. “We initially wanted this album to sound like we sound live. Still, there was a lot of extra production done in the studio that might be tricky. I'm not too worried about it, though.”
When asked to describe the current state of Prussia’s sound, as evolved through the English sessions, Pressley: “It's nearly impossible for me to describe any band I like, let alone my own band, but I'll try. Dynamic, eclectic pop rock. ? Sorry, I'm no good at that.”
In the meantime, while piecing together this increasingly collaborative recording, they paired off in twos and threes and flexed a more electronic-leaning penchant – with Pressley’s demoed beats facilitating verdant dance groove ground for Ryan to rap and balladeer upon, forming what would become an album’s worth, a mix-tape worth, of “disco” songs: including electro-heavy demos from Bober and collaborations between Drew and Remdenok as well.
Poor English was mastered last month. From here on out, they’ll scour for interested labels – which, like their staid approach to the record, they’re in no hurry – it may linger towards the end of the year. But “there will be singles. Maybe a a-side-b-side type deal,” Remdenok assures.
They’ll tour in February, starting the year fresh. But before then, they’ll wind down 2009 with choice shows, some big, some casual. Remdenok says: “We’re goin as fast as we can, but we wanna do it right.”
Mansion pic by Megan Schram
Live stuff: mike milo