You can hear who the indie rock band listen to on their new "Triumph," and they're good with that.
Sam McCabe takes joy in explaining that his brother Collin started playing the violin when he was 8 because a teacher thought he had "issues."
"I just finished everything quickly," Collin says defensively, but Sam continues as if he never said a word.
"So that I didn't feel left out, they decided 'Sam can play piano.'"
Drummer Jared Marcell wasn't there when Sam and Collin ran down the family history, but he likely has had plenty of that special dynamic that comes with being in a band with brothers.
The two began playing together piano and violin together while in grade school in St. Louis, then Collin switched to mandolin and Sam to guitar. They played in jazz band in high school, where Collin switched to bass. At that point, they started writing songs together, and when they moved to New Orleans to go to Loyola, they started a dance punk band, Cute Machines.
"There was no market for it at all here," Sam says. "There was no one to play with here." There was also no place to play because small, punk and indie-oriented venues couldn't accommodate their sprawling tech set-up, including synthesizers and drum machines. "The record we put out was pretty good, but there was no traction for it."
"We did it because we'd gotten really into pop music," Collin says.
"We saw Lady Gaga twice," Sam continues.
"LCD Soundsystem kind of stuff," Collin says. "Our freshman year, we were really into that."
"Second half of freshman year, LCD Soundsystem did their big farewell show and I stayed in on and watched that full thing online," Sam says.
But they were also into the simpler, more physical pleasures of banging out rock 'n' roll noises in rowdier ways than the Cute Machines songs and set-up allowed. While home in St. Louis over the summer, they played with their old drummer and enjoyed the way the songs could breathe with three live musicians. "It was more fun," Collin says.
Collin met Marcell when they sat next to each other at a Cake concert, and when the McCabes and the Cute Machine singer parted ways, they funneled all their energy into Bantam Foxes, writing eight songs in a month and a half in late 2011 that they released in early 2012. After all the carefully click-tracked, mediated music, the McCabes were happy to priority immediacy. When they wrote, they gave themselves a half-hour to work on a song. " If something's not going to get our attention in 30 minutes, it's not going to get someone's attention in five seconds on the radio," Sam says. "They're going to change the channel."
They hear the difference between that first batch of songs and those on Triumph. It's more riff-oriented, but more importantly, "we stopped trying to imitate people," Sam says, laughing.
"We stopped trying to write songs that sound like artists we like sound," Collin agreed.
"There's still influences," Sam continued. "You can still listen to it and hear who we've been listening to and who my favorite bands are, but we're not trying to rip people off."
If you know what to listen for, you can still hear what Bantam Foxes have been listening to, and they're fine with that. They're unabashedly music fans first. They haven't scheduled a gig on the first Saturday in October because Arctic Monkeys will play in Baton Rouge that night and they want to go. They were envious when a friend got to see four nights with Queens of the Stone Age and they didn't. They track their own musical lives by the songs they listened to and the shows they saw. The Kills, The White Stripes, Beck, Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age are just a handful of the bands who helped shape their sound, but Triumph doesn't sound like any of them. Those influences are filtered into a fuzzy, driving sound that could be a contemporary take on garage band music or a less gauzy version of shoegaze.
"That's all part of being in a band," Collin says.
Collin McCabe worked as an intern at My Spilt Milk this time last year.