It's tough to single out a distinct voice when speaking to the men of Places. There are seven guys in the band, and they frequently talk over one another. But it's not the sheer numbers that make isolating a single member a chore. It's the fact that they each offer the same input and similar observations — and that's a good thing. Call it mind reading or chemistry, but that phenomenon has made the logistics of wrangling the seven much easier. What's more, it's made the notion of employing a traditional three- or four-piece setup seem confining for the musicians.
"There's never a struggle," declares Places singer and lead guitarist Tyler Glasgow. "It's a really awesome dynamic between us. Having the seven of us has never really felt forced; it's always just felt like a natural progression. All seven guys sing, all seven guys listen to the same music. It's never felt like one guy wasn't pulling his weight."
With the upcoming release of the band's sophomore album, No More Wasted Days, the members say they're enjoying a new phase of the group, one that fully draws on the fullness and effect of a band size that's more common for a jazz or funk outfit. Produced by Wallflowers bassist Greg Richling, the record showcases the recent addition of two new guitarists as well as the development of the band's songwriting process. Glasgow insists that the approach has been set and refined over the years, and it's been fostered by a growing cast of musical characters.
The group's current lineup — which features two drummers, two electric guitar players, a twelve-string guitar player, a bassist and a keyboard player — evolved from its initial formation four years ago, when Glasgow connected with keyboardist Jordan McDonald and drummer Checkers Barker following a search for musicians to back him up for a studio session in Los Angeles. Barker, who then lived in Montana, hooked Glasgow up with his two brothers — Branden, a bass player, and Drew, who eventually took on the role of second drummer.
"If I write a song and bring chords to the band...that's the easiest part," says Glasgow. "There will be a keyboard part and a harmony part, then there will be a break in band practice. These two drummers will figure out what they're going to do together. There's never a pull from either side."
A second drummer seemed like an ideal match for Glasgow's songwriting style and the outfit's budding conception of instrumentation. "I wanted nothing more than to have Tyler be the singer in my band," Branden Barker recalls. "When he brought up the prospect of doing two drums, it was the easiest answer to say yes."
For the younger Barker brothers, the notion of playing together had always been appealing. "We grew up playing together," Checkers recalls. "I would get done with high school, and Branden and Drew would get done with middle school. We'd come home and try to learn the Blink-182 catalogue. We've literally been playing together since Branden picked up a bass and Drew started playing drums. Our influences are really similar."
Refreshingly absent were any sibling rivalries or conflicts among the brothers, who had played together in school talent shows, using on-stage gimmicks like bringing Drew out of a duffel bag for a drum solo. "Our dad plays drums, and that was our thing growing up," Drew explains. "I grew up watching two of the best drummers in the West, arguably, from age three on. I was lucky enough to watch them do very technical and very challenging things as a small kid."
The result was an unmistakable fraternal interplay in the Barker brothers' live performance, an eerie quality that added an immediate driving force to the newly formed Places. The chemistry from those first studio sessions in L.A. was clear, and the band spent a year juggling a sixteen-hour commute and a member who'd just started a family (McDonald became busy with the demands of being a new father). Being split between Denver and Montana proved to be quite challenging, and the setup nearly derailed the group.
"We essentially just made it work, keeping the dream alive," Glasgow notes. "Our band was not a tangible thing. We had a record, it sounded good, but we didn't release it until they moved here.... It was over a year before we finally released it."
More than a year after the release of that album, Where We Are Right Now, the band finds itself solidly based in Denver, and the addition of electric guitarist Brian Martin and twelve-string player Jon Hatridge has added new sound colors to an already-rich musical template. "The twelve-string fills up the songs so much," Hatridge points out. "It's just as much of a rhythm instrument as it is a melodic instrument. It's almost like a tambourine."
Adding Martin, previously a member of the Heyday, on electric guitar gave Glasgow more space and freedom. For Martin, an advanced guitar and piano student who was contemplating giving up his career as a musician, joining the band proved a saving grace in a creative sense. "I think me and Jon are pretty fortunate," says Martin. "We were pretty big fans of this band before we joined," he notes. "I think it was telekinesis, the powers," he goes on, referencing the group's chemistry with an understated hint of wry humor. "I was about to quit music and go back to school and stop doing this. They were bringing something a little bit more original than I was used to seeing."
All of these elements came to bear during the recording of No More Wasted Days. Recorded at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins this past spring, the album benefited from the input and insight of Richling, who drew on Places' live strengths during the recording process.
"Greg live-tracked this whole record," McDonald reveals. "There's nothing overdubbed; everything you're hearing is just in a room playing at the same time. There are keys, two guitars, bass, two drum kits, a twelve-string, and it sounds like that. I think it's cool, the way it translates."
The approach gives songs like "The Fire," "Honesty" and "Doesn't Matter What I Say" an expansive sound and a sense of immediacy. On "Doesn't Matter What I Say," the Barkers' paired drums lend a contoured percussive effect, a backbone that drives Hatridge's shading on the twelve-string and Martin's fretwork on electric guitar, and lends heft to earnest Glasgow lines like "What if I say that it's all wrong...I keep believing in a broken lie."
With echoes of music from the likes of Tom Petty and Counting Crows, Places' latest release offers instant accessibility to a sound rooted in the canon of classic American balladry and songwriting. Those familiar elements are no accident, Glasgow says. There's a power to playing a song like "Free Fallin'" in a crowded bar; there's a considerable effect to playing music that listeners of all backgrounds can immediately recognize. Mating that sense of universality with the band's own unique instrumentation and composition is a major goal of the new release.
"We're a family band, and I'm not ashamed of that," Glasgow enthuses. "I try to make music that everyone can listen to; you don't have to have a particular hair style. I wrote the record about myself.... All of my favorite songwriters are not pretentious and not contrived. They're not trying to be something they aren't."
For Glasgow and the rest of the members of Places, trying to force their music into the framework of a four-member band is a prospect that's more than pretentious and contrived. Such limitations aren't even under consideration. "I can't imagine playing in another band with one drummer," Glasgow concludes.