"I've had experiences," recalls Corrina Peipon, singer and lyricist for the Denver postpunk band St. Andre, "where I've been at Kinko's making fliers and people will look over my shoulder and say, `Oh, hey, are you a death-metal band?'"
Misunderstandings like this are all too common for Peipon and her St. Andre cohorts--guitarist John Davis, drummer Jon Martinez and bassist/group namesake Dan St. Andre. It makes sense: The acts the St. Andre appellation immediately call to mind are rockers Van Halen and Bon Jovi.
Fortunately, this is no conglomeration of half-witted Hackey Sack players just emerging from twelve years spent in a closet with a ghetto blaster and a QueensrØche tape. Rather, St. Andre is an alternative quartet that has stumbled upon a musical recipe capable of grabbing unwary audiences by the yonkers. Even listeners who think its moniker sounds strange are apt to be jamming along with everyone else by the start of the second song.
One of the keys to St. Andre's appeal is the wide range of musical inspirations cited by the players. Peipon, for example, claims to listen to "anything that stands out," be it a track from Sonic Youth (an outfit that may be the band's only common denominator) or a loungy rendition of "Girl From Ipanema." Davis, on the other hand, shares tastes associated with another Davis--trumpeter Miles. "Secretly, Dan and I want to be jazz musicians," he confesses. "We try and incorporate as much as we can of the jazz influence that we have. I'm still not an aficionado or anything--I don't collect anything but Coltrane. But I definitely love it."
As for Martinez, he brings to St. Andre more than twenty years of experience listening to and playing everything from disco to the Dead. "One time," Davis recalls, "Martinez was really psyched because he found this rockabilly album by a twelve-year-old boy and a thirteen-year-old girl. He collects records. Anyone who collects records gets extremely eclectic." In addition, Martinez is a multi-instrumentalist; his most prominent recent gig found him as the lead guitarist for Boulder's Cavity. So impressive is Martinez's ax work that Davis admits to sometimes feeling intimidated.
According to Peipon, the bandmates' varied skills and visions result in an extremely creative environment. "We repel each other," she says. "That adds something to the band that I like. If there's an influence in the band that's coming out too strongly with one of the members, another member will react in a way. It causes a weird cycle."
Or, put another way, a St. Andre song can go just about anywhere. But that doesn't mean the foursome's sound is a free-form, disorganized mess. The musicians have a rare sense of timing: They instinctively switch from one sonic texture to another at just the perfect moment. Their transitions--between overamped feedback and clean-sounding vocals, half-time dirges and double-time raveups--are masterful.
"Dynamics are something that we've always been conscious of," confirms Davis, who originally founded St. Andre in Boulder two years ago (the band relocated to Denver last September). "We never wanted to play five times through a verse and five times through a chorus all at the same time and call it a song."
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Peipon agrees. "I think the goal with each song," she says, "is to challenge ourselves. For instance, we have a song called `Rest,' which began as an experiment to see how slowly we could play." The material on Comet, a four-song cassette St. Andre released last year, is also out of the ordinary, as is "Unfold Creases," set for inclusion on a compilation recording to be released by Boulder's Sh-mo Records in March. The Reejers and Christie Front Drive are among the other acts set to be featured on the disc.
Although all four members of St. Andre contribute equally to the composing process, there's no denying that Davis's guitar playing has a lot to do with its success thus far. Nonetheless, he modestly gives most of the credit for his style--a chopping frenzy of quick rhythms and thick leads--to his equipment. "My DOD Grunge pedal is probably the real secret to my guitar attack," he insists. "Instead of saying `volume,' `bass,' `treble' and `distortion,' the knobs say `loud,' `butt,' `face' and `grunge.' Even with the distortion all the way off, it's still incredibly distorted."
Riding atop this wave of sound are the smooth vocals of Peipon, who delivers words she pens from personal experience "Once, after a show at Club 156, this kid came up to me and asked, `What are your lyrics about?'" she recollects. "I said, `They're about paranoia.' That came out really quickly, but when I thought about it more, [I realized] it's really true. They're about tension between people and the tension that one can create within oneself--between what someone thinks they are, what someone is and what other people think they are."
Peipon is well acquainted with these issues. After all, everyone thinks she fronts a death-metal band.