Extra Blue Kind | Surfacing

“I have no idea how to write an Extra Blue Kind song, and I have no idea how to describe it to people, either.

 

 

I consider it my job to listen to as much music as humanly possible, then pass along the most inspiring, interesting, and awesome to you, the reader. Still, sometimes I stumble. I’m guilty of hitting “repeat” on a favorite CD or track, putting the same tunes into rotation again and again when I know I should be listening to something new.

Since it arrived in my P.O. box in January, Extra Blue Kind’s The Tide and the Undertow has been in near-constant rotation: on my computer, my iPod, my car stereo. Rather than growing old or too familiar, it has instead presented new nuances with each listen, opened aural avenues and pleasure centers within my brain. (The bass-heavy “Sugar” has become a guilty pleasure; it shouldn’t make me feel this good. It’s a song, fer gosh sakes…) This is wide-ranging, pop-friendly indie rock at its very finest, kids; make no mistake.

In my review of the disc, I wrote: “The collection of 13 songs is varied yet unified, indie pop at its heart. P. David Hazel’s voice, first and foremost, is flexible and dreamy, rich and beseeching. Brian Petersen’s backing vocals and harmonies are beautiful, his high notes mixing perfectly with Hazel’s wide range. And the songs are well crafted, the power-pop–leaning guitars pointed and neat, smooth and straightforward; the drums and bass adding just the right undercurrent of groove and desire.” I found the new music and I shared it; job well done.

But still, it wasn’t enough. I kept listening, wanting to know more, say more, do more. So I called up vocalist/guitarist and primary songwriter P. David Hazel and had a conversation with someone who, by then, felt like an old friend.

The first thing I learned in researching the Indianapolis-based quartet was that they hadn’t always been such connoisseurs of uncategorizable indie pop. Formed in 2001, they’d been classified as “no-frills, straight-ahead rock.” I hit “play” on The Tide again. No-frills…wha—? I dug up an old single of the band’s, “Combat Vixen,” and sure enough: The magic was gone. Maybe the promise was there, the musicianship. But Hazel hadn’t yet explored his vocal range, and the creativity and playfulness of what I now know to be EBK just weren’t there. Hazel explained, “I wouldn’t say ‘Combat Vixen’ was even representative of us when we did it. One big alternative rock station here in Indianapolis had a battle-of-the-bands contest and we won. They paid for some studio time and put one of the songs in regular rotation for a minute. It sounds overly commercial and overly polished and overly clean. To me, it sounded like a beer commercial.”

Still, the band enjoyed a regional success, building a quick following in touring and releasing the occasional EP. Finally, in the natural progression of things, it was time for a full-length—and that’s precisely when the original bass player quit. As the three remaining members sat down to lick their wounds and assess their future, Extra Blue Kind finally began to crystallize.

“At that point,” said Hazel, “we had this feeling of sink or swim. It was after all of the radio-contest winning, opening for Creed and Everclear, playing the big outdoor festivals. We’d had a good run at that and, as things are in the industry, things ebb and flow. One minute you’ve got an album out and press releases and people know about you, and then there’s that in-between time when maybe you’re working on an album and people forget about you for a little while, and then you kind of have to push hard again to get back into the spotlight again. We felt like it was kind of wrapped for us. We’d only had this one wave of success and didn’t know if we could do it again. And then our bass player quit.

“We wrote most of the songs for The Tide and the Undertow in a month, and so that was kind of the atmosphere surrounding the album and most of the songs on it.”

There’s an underlying sense of melancholy throughout the disc, to be sure; lyrics draw heavily on themes of loss, endings, beginnings, rebirth. And yet it’s not a depressing disc, not in the least. The music is generally upbeat, insinuating itself into your subconscious and quickly becoming a part of your daily routine. Some influences—Radiohead, Broken Social Scene, maybe even a little Jeff Buckley, based on Hazel’s vocal range and shimmering falsetto—are subtly apparent. But the songs, taken as a whole, are deliciously varied, fitting together without sounding alike.

“I have no idea how to write an Extra Blue Kind song,” Hazel admitted, “and I have no idea how to describe it to people, either. Extra Blue Kind has always been kind of eclectic; it’s like a mixtape of stuff. When I write the songs or when the songs come out, I couldn’t tell you where they come from. Because I struggle to even describe them most of the time, I don’t usually have a preconceived idea of what I want to sound like when I start writing a song.”

With such a strong product—in addition to the near-perfect CD, EBK’s live show is captivating and solid—the band has garnered its share of label interest. In fact, the weekend after Hazel and I spoke, they were headed to New York to showcase for a handful of labels large and small. They also had plans to go into the studio with Ray Martin. “He’s part of a duo that has done work with Madonna, Bloc Party, Gorillaz,” explained Hazel. “We’re going to record an EP with them; that’s why we’ve got all of these labels on our case right now. They’re all waiting to hear what comes out of that recording session.”

And they aren’t alone. Here in the Midwest sits a girl who, quite simply, can’t get enough of a band called Extra Blue Kind. So I keep spinning the disc, telling friends, writing about them. In this industry, I know, it’s all word of mouth. And I’ve got a lot of words, and a big mouth.

www.extrabluekind.com

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