By: Cara Carriveau
Absentstar on Absentstar-
“We love melodies and lyrics,” says Derek Ingersoll, lead singer of Chicago-based Absentstar. “We’re not that interested in gimmicks.” Well, they do have one gimmick: Their debut album, Sea Trials, doesn’t sound anything like a debut album. This is an uncommonly assured longplayer steeped in the fine art of pop-rock songwriting.
The band’s roots extend back to 1999, when Ingersoll, guitarist Andy Dixon and drummer Heath Hamilton moved from their native Indiana to Chicago, where the three figured they stood a better chance of finding an audience for their music. They found more than that: The Windy City also gave them guitarist-keyboardist Marshall Hanbury Jr. and bassist Noel Arnim, who completed the band’s lineup in 2005 and, says Ingersoll, finally helped realize the music he and Dixon had been hearing in their heads for nearly a decade.
The 12 tracks on Sea Trials–the latest release on veteran A&R man Steve Ralbovsky’s new Columbia imprint Canvasback–reverberate with those
efforts. Opener “Half Life” shudders to life with pounding guitar chords and dreamy electric piano, then heads into a driving chorus in which Ingersoll advises a troubled friend to “learn to let it go and face another day.” In “For God’s Sakes,” one of the album’s most radio-friendly cuts, Ingersoll’s powerful vocals slice through Dixon’s and Hanbury’s post-Edge guitar wash, while Arnim and Hamilton drive the tune with a propulsive
rhythm-section groove. Ballads such as closer “All Is Forgotten,” in which Ingersoll uncannily channels ex-Verve singer Richard Ashcroft, provide crucial counterweight to the more uptempo material, lending credence to Ingersoll’s claim that he and his bandmates are guys who haven’t lost
faith in music fans’ ability to listen to an album from beginning to end.
Sea Trials was produced by Dan Wilson, the former Semisonic frontman who won a Song of the Year GRAMMY Award in 2006 for penning the Dixie Chicks’ hit anthem “Not Ready to Make Nice,” and mixed by Michael Brauer (Coldplay, John Mayer, My Morning Jacket).
To kick things off with Absentstar, Wilson and the band spent two weeks doing preproduction in Chicago, then tracking much of the record live in Minneapolis during the spring. Ingersoll says Wilson complemented the band’s writing process effortlessly and consulted with each member along
the way. Ingersoll explains the band’s method: “Andy’s the catalyst. He comes in with anything from a single riff to a complete song, which I then add lyrics to. But an Absentstar song isn’t an Absentstar song until everyone in the band contributes their parts. And Dan understood that: He knew that we weren’t looking for a producer who could only engineer the best-sounding drums, but one who can help the drummer write the best-sounding part or come up with a melody or guitar line. It’s much easier for us to communicate with a producer who is not only an engineer, but a player and artist as well.”
Now that they’ve completed Sea Trials, the guys in Absentstar are anxious to hit the road and spread their confident, nuanced sound as far as they can. They’re not playing for a specific demographic, Ingersoll says, but to anyone and everyone. “I don’t really understand the desire to limit your audience,” he adds. “I love pop music and I love indie music, as long as it’s got a melody and it means something. We worked so hard on this record. I just want it to be heard.”
For more information about Absentstar, please visit their official site at: http://www.absentstar.com/