In Plain Air sprang from Denver’s School of Rock, where its three members, Jake DeMarco, Nate Tharp and Ben Maillaro, all met through various projects.For roughly the past three years, they've performed as In Plain Air, which plays Lost Lake Lounge on Thursday, April 7.
“It brought us together a lot,” DeMarco says. “On lunch break or in between sessions, we’d say, ‘Let’s hop in a practice room real quick. I’ve got this idea we’ll jot down.’ It was definitely a good place to meet, a musical environment.”
The three played instrumental music for about a year and a half after another band fell apart. Eventually, they began writing and recording their own songs as a trio. Bassist DeMarco and guitarist Maillaro share lead vocal duties while drummer Tharp provides backing harmonies.
In Plain Air is a psychedelic progressive rock group by any measure, but the trio brings some classic late-’70s and early-’80s heavy metal into the sound, along with the funk metal style of a band such as Red Hot Chili Peppers. Weird progressive metal outfit Tool also heavily influenced the band's members early on.
They’ve brought a lot of different bands and players into forming In Plain Air’s sound. (The album art on its debut EP, Pillars, which dropped in mid-March, is pure Blue Öyster Cult.)
“The guitarist is a way into Pink Floyd, and me and the drummer bonded over weird music like System of a Down and King Gizzard,” he says. “We were all into weird music.”
He says the band didn’t really intend to head in the psychedelic direction. It kind of happened on its own, as Maillaro is a fan of guitar effects pedal, and DeMarco likes to use synthesizers. Not having a vocalist at first also factored into the trippy sonics.
“Incorporating synths and cool psychedelic guitar passages was a lot of fun,” DeMarco says. “It’s carried on. Now we have vocals, so incorporating that in a psychedelic way has been a lot of fun.”
DeMarco, who was recently in Los Angeles providing session work for a metal band, says he looks to Rush bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee, particularly when crafting his vocal styles for the band’s songs. It was a good way to learn how to play bass, sing and also work a keyboard into his performance rig.
“It’s nice to have kind of practice songs,” he says. “If I learn a Rush tune, then I’m improving on all those aspects.”
DeMarco’s bass plays an outsized role in the band’s sound. He’s not just laying down rhythm for the guitarist to shine over, which can be the trap of the bass player.
“That kind of comes into play with being a trio,” DeMarco says. “You don’t have to worry about a lead guitar and rhythm guitar. Because I’m writing a lot of the songs, I write them on bass. Then the guitarist will throw his guitar parts in. It’s its own stand-alone part.”
Maillaro’s lead vocals have a more raspy, bluesy quality than DeMarco’s Rush-inspired singing. DeMarco, who says his voice also carries an indie-rock sound, likes the weird dynamic the disparate styles bring. About 90 percent of the time, songs start as instrumentals before vocals are added, he says. That creative process probably springs from the band starting off as a vocal-free outfit. He adds that the band did try to find a vocalist for about two years before they gave up and did it themselves.
“We are trying to get into the studio to record a full-length” DeMarco says. “Deciding who is going to what vocally will be interesting, because we have a weird range of stuff we can work with.”
In Plain Air is a young band — DeMarco is the elder of the group at twenty years old — but its members all seem well on their way to being working musicians. All three have endorsements from music gear companies, and DeMarco and Tharp do session work in recording studios. DeMarco says he’s played everything from metal to bluegrass, and Tharp has done several jazz projects. DeMarco adds it’s been a nice change of pace to write and record his own music with In Plain Air.
“It’s interesting to step away and have a project that’s fully creative for us,” he says. “It kind of makes us expand.”
Pillars is now available at Spotify. In Plain Air plays Lost Lake Lounge, 3602 East Colfax Avenue, Thursday, April 7. Tickets are $12. Check out inplainairband.com for more information.
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