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Broadfield Marchers

Broadfield Marchers

By Kevin Gibson

In a world in which over-produced and over-compressed are the standards in popular music, the Broadfield Marchers are like the weird kid at the frat party who shows up wearing a Han Solo shirt that reads, “Don’t ever tell me the odds.”

And asks for a Zima.

Low-fi, 1960s-influenced pop tunes are the order of the day for this Louisville band, and they throw back with the best of them – the Marchers eschew would-be modern indie rock stylings (or over-stylings, if you will) for a subtle-but-trippy approach that lands them in a category that owes much more to the Cars than to Death Cab and much more to Guided by Voices than to Kings of Leon.

And if front man Dustin Zdobylak’s house looked any more like a used record store, well, he’d have to buy an ad in the phone book – crates and crates of old vinyl line the living room perimeter, and rock posters paper the walls. This is a guy who probably has Buddy Holly bed sheets and whose cell phone probably plays the MC5 when it rings.

Broadfield Marchers From Left. Mark Zdobylak, Justin Carter, Dustin Zdobylak

But as much as this story sounds like the recipe for a group that develops a hometown following and goes no farther, the exact opposite is true – the new Broadfield Marchers album, Displayed in Reflections, was just released on Rainbow Quartz, a small New York label that specializes in trippy power-pop, and the boys not only have played South by Southwest multiple times, but they’re getting good press in various parts of the U.S. … and yet are lost in the buzz of Louisville’s music scene.

Zdobylak and his older brother Mark team with drummer Justin Carter to comprise the Marchers, and they embody old-school. That their music sounds like some lost 1960s garage band recording is not a mistake, yet neither is it necessarily deliberate – they’ve tried studios, but they simply have not liked the result. So they instead record on an eight-track recorder – yes, on tape – in Dustin’s basement

The equipment is a late 1980s Tascam 488 tape recorder, and the recordings are just what they are on record as they were when performed in Dustin’s basement. The White Stripes kicked off a “garage band” craze a few years ago that briefly made low-fi cool again, but even many of those bands seemed to be doing it all on purpose. The Broadfield Marchers just like recording songs.

“We hardly ever bounce tracks and keep things simple and spontaneous,” Dustin said. “Just mic up and go; if you can't record a song with eight tracks, the song probably wasn’t that good to begin with. Like, with unlimited tracks with Pro Tools, there can be a tendency to over-compress and layer things too much, and then you end up losing the heart of the song.”

He sums it up nicely: “Some of the best rock 'n' roll was recorded on two tracks.”

EIGHT TRACKS AND A CLOUD OF DUST

The basement in question is just what any garage-rocker past or present would love to call home. There is meager padding on one wall, a few blankets on others, and more rock posters as well. There is a rack of various guitars, probably 15 or so – there are even a couple of Squiers.

“We’re not guitar snobs,” noted Mark when giving a tour of the home studio recently.

It’s a cramped but homey sanctuary, a musical sanctuary where three guys manage to make something organic and beautiful on just eight tracks.

The songs are sometimes brought in nearly finished by either Mark or Dustin, and other times they are half-finished or even snippets, and they get fleshed out by the group. Recording happens when it happens – sometimes for hours at a time, sometimes for minutes. But no song is belabored; they are fleshed out, rehearsed and recorded. This is just how the band wants it.

As it happened, a few years ago they ended up with some free studio time, and decided to use it to cut a demo. The studio was owned and operated by a guy whose trade was recording commercial radio jingles, and it just wasn’t a good fit.

“It sounded too slick,” said Carter. “It sounded like a band trying to do a demo in a studio.”

“It didn’t have enough personality,” agreed Mark. “It sounded sterile. We went in there, only had a couple of hours, cut three or fours songs and it really sounded pretty terrible.”

The band tried again at another studio and got the same result. They had recorded already at home and decided at that point just to keep doing their own thing, down in the basement.

“Basically we said we can do this in our basement” for a lot less dough, Dustin said. “Plus, you’ve got more creative control.”

And so ever since, he said, “that’s where the magic happens.” The unassuming younger Zdobylak grins.

The latest album was recorded sporadically over a period of about six months – it contains 16 songs and is about 37 minutes long. Yes, do the math and you’re looking at less than two-and-a-half minutes per song. That’s another differentiating feature of the Broadfield Marchers – the throwback extends to the songwriting as well.

All those Everly Brothers and Elvis songs? They rarely exceeded three minutes; usually it was closer to two. Early pop was a quick hit with a great melody and then done. The Marchers take a similar approach to their songs; listening to a Broadfield Marchers album is almost like listening to side two of Abbey Road by the Beatles.

“It’s weird how, if you go back to the ’60s and ’70s, that was pretty common,” Dustin said.

“To us, they’re not short,” Mark adds. “They sound complete. If you go back to our earlier stuff there are a lot of longer songs. There’s not a conscious effort to make them short, it just came out that way. When a song is written and it’s complete you just leave it alone -- you don’t try to make it longer.”

“That’s what so many people talk about now,” Carter then adds. “We know how to draw songs out and do different things, but … why try to make them something they’re not?”

“Plus, we have short attention spans,” Mark deadpans. “The next album is just going to be two songs: One on each side.”

“It may be a reaction to jam band music,” Carter continued. “We go to bars and the songs last 10 minutes, so we want to write short pop songs. I always think of [jam music] as musical masturbation. I can definitely respect the musicianship; it takes them so long to get to that level. But we take pride in how tight we sound, and we get to that point really fast. We know where we’re going and this is it.”

“Unless you’re on mushrooms,” Mark riffs, not finished, “there’s no reason to play a song more than three minutes.”

Hanging out with the Broadfield Marchers is entertaining, to say the least.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE … SOMEWHERE ELSE

Perform a Google search on the term “Broadfield Marchers.” It yields quite a variety of links, reviews and other odds and ends, and the writers just gush about these three guys -- their reviews overflow with comparisons.

Seriously. It’s almost as if the Zdobylak parents wrote this stuff. And since feature stories like these usually are filled with quotes from the people who know the band best, and since the Marchers seem to be way more popular outside Louisville than within its borders, this is going in a different direction.

Amplifier magazine, November 2008, about the band’s last album, The Inevitable Continuing: “Louisville, Kentucky's Broadfield Marchers have masterfully melded the classic sounds of the Byrds, Zombies and Big Star with such latter-day signposts as REM, Let's Active and Guided by Voices, in the process creating a refreshingly lo-fi, melodic mini-masterpiece for the huddled masses. …

And here’s Uncut Magazine: “Broadfield Marchers have got a mainline to the best qualities of lo-fi power pop...with a basement pop ethic and touches of English psychedelic whimsy.”

And Magnet Magazine wrote that the Broadfield Marchers “sound like Alex Chilton fronting Guided By Voices ... twisting and floating in the rarefied upper register, these brothers’ Byrdsy harmonies make you want to believe.”

And the editor of a website called SideoneTrackone.com named The Inevitable Continuing its 2008 album of the year: “Masterful songwriters who take cues from bands like The Kinks and the Zombies, these guys know how to stretch the simple guitar/bass/drum combinations past the traditional limits. I'm literally on the edge of my seat for a new release from the band, hopefully with improved recordings and more of the same timeless songs.”

Bruce Brodeen runs NotLame.com, a website based in Colorado that is dedicated to power-pop of all kinds – it’s a passion for him, and he drinks up new bands like it’s audio Kool-Aid. Of the Marchers he wrote on his site that they sound like the Shoes, while adding influences of “Sell Out-era Who, Badfinger, Cheap Trick, Alex Chilton, early Pink Floyd and others. These short and succinct songs (many under two minutes) are ethereal, sophisticated, and filled with pop craftsmanship. It appears that the members of Broadfield Marchers have been quietly writing and recording power-pop gems for several years. … The vault has finally been cracked ... The influences parade themselves, no doubt – all the while the Marchers avoid cliché tribute, maintaining a freshness not unlike contemporary practitioners such as Field Music and The Shins.”

Even Mojo (yes, that Mojo) spared some words on the Marchers and, while not providing a gusher, referred to the sound as “cheap but cheering.” Hey, to be noticed by Mojo is pretty darn significant.

And it doesn’t hurt that they’re regulars at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, each spring, as well as the CMJ Music Marathon and Festival in New York. Those aren’t power-pop specific festivals; they are for music lovers in general.

INFLUENTIAL

So where did this love of pop originate? For many of us, it was handed down from our parents via Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Beatles and the like. Younger folks sometimes work their way backwards from current guitar-based bands.

With the Zdobylak boys, it’s a little tougher to figure, but older brother Thad figures in. Born in the early 1970s, he wasn’t far removed from the music of the ’60s, and of course grew up smack dab in the middle of Zeppelin and the like.

“(Dustin) probably listened to everything I listened to,” Mark said. “We have an older brother, and it started with him buying records.”

“We always had the same taste,” Dustin said.

“I was a Stones fan and he was a Beatles fan,” Mark interjects. “But we got along anyway.”

Mark continues, “Our parents didn’t have a very good record collection. I got into music at a very early age because of my brother’s records. I can remember being seven or eight years old and having Cheap Trick posters on the wall. He turned me on to a lot of cool stuff.”

But while some have compared the Broadfield Marchers to ’80s groups like Let’s Active and Murmur-era R.E.M., Dustin insists he didn’t get into the ’80s until much later. He and Mark consistently reach back to the era their brother introduced them to, though.

“There was so much good music in the ’60s and ’70s that you can consistently go back and find something you’ve never heard before,” Mark said. “I think it’s fairly obvious some of the best music was written during that period. As to why we gravitate toward it, it ‘s not conscious; it’s just where we go. We’re not conscious of what decade it comes from.”

The brothers have been writing music for at least ten years, and they say the early stuff, while it isn’t quite as easily traceable to their current sound, is pretty close. The band hooked up with a small label called Secretly Canadian and put out a vinyl-only release called When the Lifted Connive.

Dustin said, “We put it out, and … .” He then shrugged. But that album is the clear kicking-off point of the band’s distinctive approach.

“They said ‘We’ll start you out on vinyl and see what happens,” Mark said. “We were like, ‘Sure that’s cool.’ But nobody we knew could really buy it. But we were happy with (how it sounded).”

Fortunately, Carter shares his bandmates’ love for pop, and he enjoys adding his own touches to the songs. He and Dustin had played together in a fairly successful local high school band, and then they went off in different musical directions. There were a few drummers auditioned for the Marchers when Mark and Dustin convened in 2000, but it was Justin who was the most natural fit.

Interestingly, the connection actually begin before high school.

“Dustin showed up on my parents’ front porch in eighth grade, I guess,” Justin said. He had already played in a couple of bands and knew Dustin from school – and Justin chose the drums largely because his friends usually picked the guitar. He said Justin appeared that day, announced he was forming a band and said, “We need a drummer.”

“Is that a true story?” Mark said. “I never heard that.”

“We played in a band called Fuzz, I believe,” Justin said.

To which Mark said, “I think it was Peach Fuzz.”

“Don’t print that,” Dustin said.

DANCE WITH THE ONE THAT BRUNG YA

Converting the trippy pop vibe to a live setting is something that does pose a problem. OK, it’s actually not a problem – it just gives the Broadfield Marchers a reason to rock out like the big boys.

“With our live show,” Dustin said, “we just amp everything up to 11. The songs tend to be a little faster and louder live. We want to sound like the Who or the Kinks with our stage show.”

This approach goes back to the recording theory that spending too much time on it can take the song away from what it was intended to be. Dustin acknowledges that the end result on stage may be a little sloppier than on the recordings, but still fun. Hey, it’s pop; it’s supposed to be fun.

“It can get kinda of boring when a band plays exactly how they sound on CD,” he said. “I would much rather hear the mistakes and drunken ad libs. It’s really interesting for us to hear how the song progresses from the recording to playing it live. They are definitely two different worlds. It also keeps the songs fresh for us without getting sterile.”

Another long-standing tradition with the Marchers is something rather quirky: curiously interesting song titles. It started early and bore out on with When the Lifted Connive. Some of the titles on that lilting pop gem include “Unshakable Rumble Child,” “Crease of Freedom,” “Harriet Nice” (which sounds like the title for a lost Abbey Road track) and the title cut.

The band’s next album, 2008’s heralded The Inevitable Continuing, broadens this creative approach. Some of these gorgeous songs include “Leopards with Empty Claws,” “Watchful Hill People,” “Patterns of the Glance” and “When Cowards Stall.”

Push play on the new album, Displayed in Reflections, and you’ll be able to hear tunes like “Dr. Invincible and the Champions of Love,” “The Revenge of Jimbo Bell,” “The Steepness Observation” and “Incredible Jumpsuit Shaking.”

And if you’re thinking this is intentional, well, the Marchers are saying it’s not.

“We don’t put a whole lot of thought into it but yet they are important to us,” Mark said. “When I pull out a record and look at the back, if it has interesting titles, I want to hear it. A strange or weird sounding song title is good – but there’s no formula to it.”

For instance, some titles are just phrases they come up with that simply sound good or interesting. But in the case of “Jimbo Bell,” it’s a song loosely based on a Louisville skateboard legend by that name.

Mark, who wrote the song, said, “When we were kids, skateboarding was big and this guy was the local skateboard legend. He was in a Rally’s commercial – he was a big deal. As we started to get out of skateboarding, coincidentally his celebrity started to fade. We haven’t heard anything from him since that time.

“But I just liked the name Jimbo Bell; I thought it had a good ring to it.”

Quite often, the words in a Broadfield Marchers song title do not appear in the song itself – not exactly the pop way, which may confuse the purists. But it’s the Broadfield Marchers way.

So for now, the band will march forward as always, doing it their own way – in their own basement, cranking out short songs that don’t get overthought, and recording on eight-track. With Squiers. Why let some radio jingle guy or flashy Pro Tools-wielding producer screw up a good thing?

“We still haven’t found our George Martin yet,” Mark says with a shrug.

They don’t appear to be looking too hard.