Over 25 years ago, five Denver musicians who collaborated with Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Warlock Pinchers and Dressy Bessy came together to play jazz standards on Tuesday afternoons as the Perry Weissman 3. Still together, the band has played under the moniker PW3 for the past decade.
While the musicians originally formed to play jazz on a regular basis, they also started writing original material more in the vein of Chicago instrumental post-rock act Tortoise and German krautrock pioneer Neu! PW3 nods to both on Backlog, the group's new twenty-song, two-hour-long album that’s been two years in the making with producer Kyle Jones.
Guitarist Brian Murphy, who’s played with various bands around Boulder and Denver, including Warlock Pinchers, since 1984, says the bandmates started going over to Jones’s home studio in the fall of 2018, initially thinking it might be a rehearsal. They ended up coming back to the studio every Thursday for the next two years, gradually chipping away at the album.
As the record’s title suggests, some of the songs in Backlog date back to the past; they were based on chord charts Murphy had drafted in notebooks.
“It just was really obvious to call it Backlog,” Murphy says. "Calling it Constipation wasn't catchy enough.”
Murphy, the main songwriter in PW3, says songs usually start out with him messing around with different chord voicings. In the ’80s, he had a college roommate point out that he only used two or three fingers to play guitar. Since then, he’s been working at getting a bigger sound out of his guitar by using more fingers.
When you just spend time playing by yourself, you just want to make the biggest sound possible,” he says. “And either it's going to be like playing through an amp and turning it up, or it's going to be like getting as many notes in there — and a chord — as possible.”
Murphy then took the chord sketches to the other bandmembers, who helped flesh out the tunes and arrange them. Rounding out the band are Merisa Bissinger, who plays drums, flute and banjo, and Rick Benjamin-Tebelau on trombone, keys and ukulele. Both played on Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Craig Gilbert plays Electravibe and synths, and bassist Dane Terry plays Theremin, synths and an Orchestron, a ’70s alternative to the Mellotron, on some tracks on Backlog.
“That's one of the things we brought in that’s just this kind of ancient technology," says Murphy about the Orchestron. "It's like an evolutionary dead end."
The instrument was one of many that bandmembers tracked after the initial songs were recorded, including bass, guitar, drums and trombone or vibes on some cuts.
“And then we just went back and just went total kitchen-sink on everything,” Murphy says.
While most of Backlog was tracked before COVID-19, the band put the finishing touches on the album over the past year, with members recording tracks at home and sending them to Jones, who mixed them over a few Zoom calls with the musicians. That process was different than on previous albums, like 2011’s album 3 or 2003’s Squirting Flower. The band still tried to capture the energy of its live shows, which included monthly gigs at City Spirit in the late ’90s.
“We've been a live band for 25 years,” Murphy says. “We’re not quiet in the corner like a cocktail-party live band. We usually fit right in on the bill with the metal band or the punk-rock band.
“What we're trying to accomplish with this record is getting the emotional content out there, because there's no words, obviously," Murphy adds. "The way you do that is playing live. What I've always done my whole life is just turn it up. So even the idea of playing collaboratively over the internet was: ‘How can I hear you guys without cranking the headphones so high because my guitar amp was so loud?’”
For more from PW3, go to the band's Bandcamp page.