Breezy Does It
Andy Falconetti's 6-5 frame challenges the ceiling in a tiny northwest Denver basement. As rehearsal space for pop confectioners the Breezy Porticos, the cement-walled bunker serves multiple purposes: It's a sound lab, clubhouse and, above all, a storage room. With his head grazing overarching cobwebs and support beams, the singer/guitarist behind one of the city's sweetest-sounding trios seems oblivious to the room's tight-fitting constrictions; cardboard boxes, vintage clothing and copious amounts of thrift-store dingus positively glut the place.
Dressed in a light-knit short-sleeved shirt, leisure slacks and navy-blue Converse low-cuts, Falconetti smiles frequently and with ease. He's got a polka-dotted Danelectro, an assortment of kiddie-style wind instruments, and a full set of traps and snares all within arm's length -- plus amps and foot pedals aplenty. So much for feng frickin' shui.
Yet with drummer Eric Van Leuven and bassist Jeffrey Almond, Falconetti conjures the summery spirit of the great outdoors: The Breezy Porticos' music is likely to evoke images of kite-flying on a warm, muzzy day, dandelions, lemonade stands, Creamsicles, Estes rockets and lawn darts. When asked to classify his band's sound, Falconetti chuckles and shrugs: "Rummage-sale pop? I don't know. We're more interested in classic pop structure than anything else I guess."
That said, the Breezy P's won't beat you over the head with nursery rhymes or plunder your guts with feedback. About as upsetting to the human condition as a rainbow, they radiate a simple, clean, bittersweet joy that doesn't rely on extravagance or molten, slavish deathcore to be even remotely appreciated. With jangly hooks, fluttering beats and multiple harmonies, the Breezies craft concise, hummable, lo-fi gems that are melodically pleasing and highly accessible. And as with so much of the locally bred Elephant 6 stuff -- that whole Dressy Minders in Stereo thang -- you can't help but think of Little Mary Sunshine when you hear it.
"I think sometimes our songs might sound happy, but they may not be," Falconetti says. "I like music that makes me feel angry or sad, too. Even the angriest band in the world is enjoying playing. We like to have a good time. We have fun playing. And I think that conveys to the people watching."
Van Leuven -- who cut his teeth in hardcore bands during the Reagan administration followed by a stint in the early-'90s punk outfit Cavity -- likewise has mellowed over the years. "Everyone's young once," he says. "This is a release more than anything. You actually get to use your brain. I work in a financial institution where creativity is usually stifled. I've been lucky to be able to still do this."
Falconetti and Van Leuven haven't always seen eye-to-eye musically, though. In his early-'80s-era high school zine, Last Resort, Falconetti printed scathing, adolescent remarks about the Anti-Scrunti Faction, a Boulder-based punk outfit composed of Van Leuven and two lesbian activists, one of whom later joined San Francisco's Tribe 8. "Who would have thought we'd be in a band together fifteen years later?" Falconetti says, laughing.
Almond -- an occasional hired hand for SpinArt signees the Minders -- teamed up with the Breezy P's less than a year ago, replacing original founding bassist Jody Schneider, someone whom Falconetti still considers an important part of the "the auxiliary Porticorps." "She's still involved, singing backup and making CDs," Falconetti says. "She fills in for Jeff when he's touring with the Minders."
A gifted chanteuse, Schneider (one of 40th Day's umpteen bassists over the years) has warbled lead, harmonic and backing vocals alongside Falconetti as far back as the 1994 inception of Sissy Fuzz, a power-pop quartet that was filled out by bassist Wendy Fisher and drummer Cincy Woods. The self-taught Sissies -- free of expectation or pretension -- had a raw, understated car-radio aesthetic that translated well into a few cassette releases, as well as a split single ("Unglued") with Gina Go Faster on John Meggitt's Blue Lamp Records. With the help of Pet Sounds studio figurehead Robert Schneider (no relation to Jody), the Fuzz issued Luftgitarren in 1997; the first three cuts -- "Don't Fear (the Reverb)," "Summer Saliva" and "Waffle Poultice" -- gained distribution as a seven-inch EP on Japan's 100 Guitar Music label. Before she was a Dressy Bessy, Tammy Ealom briefly replaced Jody Schneider until the Sissies folded in 1998.
Two years later, inspired by an old Sissy song called "Breezy Porticos," Falconetti launched the original lineup with Van Leuven and Schneider; the three soon issued their self-titled debut through Falconetti's homespun Paper Cuts imprint. John Hill (Dressy Bessy/Apples) oversaw what Falconetti calls "the first digital stuff we ever did." Their efforts resulted in a three-song EP mastered for disc and vinyl. The standout track, "Perfect Day (for a Yardsale)," gained regular airplay on Radio KVCU-AM/1190 last spring and was included on the station's Local Shakedown compilation. Infectiously cheerful (try listening to Van Leuven's kazoo solo without cracking a smile), the carefree tune utilizes Perry Weissman 3 trombonist Rick Benjamin to accent its catchy melody with warm and lofty brass tones; Ealom likewise makes a cameo, singing back-up vocals on a sumptuous "Crayola Sunset."
During what Falconetti dubs the "Midwestern Waffle House tour," the Porticos breezed through dates in Wichita, Kansas City and Omaha last summer to promote their release; they found plenty of time to discuss crayon-colored sunsets (whether in the hue of Carnation, Indian Red, Aquamarine or Flesh) in addition to playing an opening slot for South Carolina's Galactic Heroes in Nebraska. Back home in Colorado, the unlikely venue of Wheat Ridge Lanes staged Schneider's final appearance as a permanent Breezy bandmember. To the sounds of rolling Ebonites, crashing pins and merriment, the "Aloha Bowl" (complete with colorful plastic leis and Hawaiian drink specials) featured a performance by the Porticos with all proceeds going toward Black Cats Hockey -- one of several intramural adult teams in a league organized by former Fuzzite Cincy Woods. ("Playing for Cincy is like joining the Marines," Falconetti says.)
When Almond was recruited into the Breezy P's, he brought plenty of touring experience with him. A road veteran (the Minders recently completed a West coast jaunt with San Francisco's Fuck), Almond sees the logistical difficulty of continuing to satisfy two bands, especially when one of them is based in Portland. "It was a lot of fun, but realistically, [the Minders] need to find someone who lives closer to them," he says.
If Denver's loss was Portland's gain after Minders leader Martyn Leaper left town, maybe the opposite is true regarding the Breezys' acquisition of Almond, a fluid bass player and eloquent back-up vocalist.
"I think that's one of our strengths -- three-part harmonies," Falconetti says of his current lineup. "Not a whole lot of bands in town do that live. For a one-guitar band, I think we really fill up a room with music, too. But with only three instruments, you have a lot more work to do."
Citing the Zombies and Kinks as big influences, the Breezies issue a live sound that recalls classic '60s Brit pop. Though to hear Almond speak of performing in his hometown (it's Falconetti's and Van Leuven's too: All three are CU-Boulder grads), the Mile High city sounds like one big cultural sinkhole: "Denver has nothing going for it music-wise," he rails. "The scene sucks. It supersucks. It's not supportive. I'm not saying it can't happen. The lack of intensity in the scene is part of what I like about it, too. I can't dis on it entirely. At least you're free to do your own thing."
Falconetti agrees, at least about the general lack of local support.
"There's the same core hundred people who come to the Apples every time they play," he laments. "It's sad that it doesn't go beyond that."
Van Leuven sees a few distinct advantages to being Denver-based. "It allows you to develop more because you're not competing against a hundred people that all sound alike," he says. "A lot of people moved here to do outdoorsy things, and going to a club to hear a pop band isn't high on their list. But the population is growing enough that we're getting more support. And KVCU has made a huge difference."
Weathering such obstacles, the Porticos sally forth. A recent western sweep through Grand Junction, Florence and Salt Lake City found them in a caravan with Denver's Maybellines and Kudzu Towers as an effort to promote Amateur Rocket Club -- a split seven-inch featuring all three bands plus the Utah-based Jenni Jensens. For their part, the Breezy P's enlisted sound engineer Mike Jourgensen ("the J Mascis that's better than J Mascis," Almond enthuses) to record the two songs they're most proud of: "Starry Eyed" (a pearl of beachcombing-paced espionage) and "Cloud Ninin'" (a bit of harmonic, tempo-altered daydreaming).
Once again favoring vinyl (Rocket Club comes in both clear red and blue), the Breezy P's maintain a curious insistence on releasing all of their music on flat, seven-inch platters with stylus grooves -- a technical artifact that has gone the way of Howdy Doody and the eight-track tape. (A numerologist might find significance in the fact that if you total the ages of all of the Breezy players -- 100 -- and divide by the number of bandmembers, you get 33 1/3, the number of rotations that your average full-length album makes in a minute. But since the records are played at 45 rpm, that theory doesn't wash -- even though "Yard Sale" is an absolute hoot at the slower speed.) Still, there must be some reason the Breezies are opting to release "Breaking Away" and "Gee, Your Math Looks Terrific" -- two leftover cuts from the Hill sessions -- on yet another upcoming split seven-inch; this time it's with the New Jersey-based Gwens on Florida's Happy, Happy Birthday to Me Records.
"It's a cool medium, and it sounds so good," Falconetti insists of vinyl's lasting spell. "It's a cool package. You've got this big chunky thing in your hand -- this cool seven-inch -- and with CDs you don't get that."
"There's more substance," Van Leuven says.
"You guys read that in a magazine," Almond counters. "Don't make the argument that it sounds better, that the packaging is better. Frankly, it's that you two have a certain nostalgia about it, and you think it's cool that it's different than everything else."
"I'd rather have an album cover than a CD cover to look at," Van Leuven says.
Either way, the band is in agreement about the merits of DIY over letting a bigger, corporate entity handle matters of content or packaging. "Even if you get signed to Sony, everything will get done for you, but they'll charge you for it and probably drop you after an album," Almond says. "If you pay for the recording yourself, you won't have to worry about the record label coming in and interfering."
With a new set of discs (as yet untitled, but with 500 copies on order -- the same number as Rocket Club), the Breezies look to once again secure distribution beyond their hometown and hopefully break into markets such as Japan -- a country whose music fans seem to appreciate the retro aesthetic. And in an age when many bands use computer software programs to put that warm, nostalgic, brushfire-sounding scratch and pop back into their digital releases, it's refreshing to see a band make vinyl its modus operandi -- even if it sometimes seems about as practical as releasing '78s or Marconi-era wax-covered cylinders.
All the same, the Breezy Porticos continue running through the sprinklers of sweetness and light. They stubbornly summon sounds of innocence lost, conjuring the bygone days of a Kenner Close-n-Play. It's sunny again, kiddies. Put down the stupid PlayStation and back away slowly. Go outside. Make yourselves useful. Chase an ice cream truck or something.
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