Motel Beds: The Best of What's Next

Music Features Motel Beds
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Members: Tommy Cooper, Ian Kaplan, P.J. Paslosky, Derl Robbins, Tod Weidner
Hometown: Dayton, OH
Albums: Moondazed (2010), Feelings (2010), Sunfried Dreams (2011) These Are The Days Gone By (2014)
For fans of: Big Star, The Shins, Ty Segall, Avi Buffalo, Badfinger, Matthew Sweet

“Best Of What’s Next” might suggest, at least in the minds of some, the image of the “next” batch of 20-something artistic types to start a brand new band, still wet behind the ears in the biz but stylishly avant-garde, chock full of piss, vinegar and plenty of crazy new ideas about how to use synthesizers.

Well, that’s not Motel Beds.

This band has a considerably long history that’s likely obscured by the rest of the Internet’s white noise, five proud authors of a handful of small-label releases that bassist Tod Weidner admits “may be hard to find for the average listener.”

Basically, they’re the ideal indie-rock outfit of grit-kicking, road-tripping, chest-thumping guitar-riff glory that you’ve been jonesing for these past 10 years. Their sharp sensibility for enticing melody, paired with an inclination towards ebullient rhythms and some flashy guitars could almost invite a blogger to call it power-pop, but any second spin of their newly released retrospective, These Are The Days Gone By, dashes that simple summary. Organs and acoustic guitars under tender, hazy vocals can swell into a neo-grunge space-rock chug for songs like “Cactus Kiss,” while the quirky, provocative lyrics of “Skymade Suit” will bend the ears of anyone who dug the early Shins or perhaps the softer sides of The Replacements.

“I think we like finding that balance between the dirty and the sweet,” says guitarist Tommy Cooper.

Adds Weidner, “Our singer, (P.J. Paslosky) co-writes a lot of the songs with (Cooper) and he has a real gift for those sweet bits…We refer to (the sound) as ‘mid-fi,’ actually,” says Weidner. “Not so raw that it scares a lot of people away, but rather, just enough hair on it to make it interesting and unique.”

Motel Beds’ 3-minute ballads are sweetened with reverb-wreathed vocals, swaggering rhythms, and charmed by tasteful deployments of unabashedly throwback-ish “ooh oohs” and “bah-bahs” at the corners of catchy choruses. They’re a little bit of Americana’s jangle, a little bit of hard-rock’s shredded flare, a little bit of Brit-pop’s strut, with just a little bit of that mysteriously nostalgic-feeling muddiness to their sound, like it could only come from a place like Dayton, OH; the birthplace of lo-fi indie icons such as Guided By Voices.

“We do get (the Dayton question) a lot,” said Weidner. “We’re very proud to be from Dayton and benefit from that GBV, Breeders, Brainiac and Swearing At Motorists’ legacy, and we’re fortunate to be friends with a lot of the talented people from here who have gone on to a certain degree of recognition or notoriety or what-have-you. It’s a blessing and a curse, as you might imagine. We get GBV-comparisons a lot, mainly due to our tendency to not over-think recording, as well as our history of releasing a lot of material.”

Singer Paslosky and guitarist Cooper started this group in the early 00’s with drummer Ian Kaplan but essentially broke-up in 2005 before they could complete a full length album. “Oh, we were never actually broken up,” says Cooper. “We kinda took a couple years off without really thinking or talking about it.”

Cooper and Paslosky were asked “countless times” by a fellow musician to perform as a duo for a show in 2008 “and the rest fell into place from there,” Cooper says. Derl Robbins, who worked as an engineer on Guided By Voices recordings, joined the band in 2009 and started sorting, re-recording and producing the band’s back catalog, leading to a spat of releases in 2010-2011.

“This second go-around,” says Cooper, “I think there was just this general sense of: Let’s not make the same mistakes of our past bands and essentially just do whatever we want to do. We just had a new sense of focus and purpose that was lacking in prior incarnations of the band.”

Their first release on Misra Records is actually a retrospective, a collection of older (but not necessarily old) songs. As they see it, Days Gone By gives the casual listener a sample of what they’re all about, along with a sense for the style of music that’s informed their sensibilities along the way. The new listener to this “next” album of “old” material is essentially being introduced to a band by way of a montage. It also gives a “roadmap,” says Weidner, for listeners who then want to delve deeper into the back catalog.

We (and, more importantly, you) shouldn’t go and lump them squarely into the “indie-rock” bin; these are, at the end of the day, lovers of the crisper and prettier elements of pop (there are a couple of hardcore Beach Boys fans in the group).

“The GBV-comparisons get us in some doors that might be slower to open otherwise,” admits Weidner, “but it also tends to tie us to music that we don’t necessarily sound much like, in my opinion.”

Weidner likes the idea that this band could be a major discovery for some; “there’s no shortage of good rock ‘n roll out there, no matter what Bono says, you just have to dig a little deeper.”

But, more than that, operating as a band in a music-biz unavoidably shaped by the whims of the internet, Cooper says they’re embracing a necessary spontaneity required for a band to thrive. “You can either get lost in the sea of an incredibly saturated market or just take a chance taking a different approach…There’s not much to lose these days by taking a creative risk and those are kind of the words to live by now.”

“We record our albums ourselves, in our rehearsal space,” says Weidner. “(Robbins) is the engineer and he knows how to easily get the sound we’re going for. Working at our space makes it comfortable and low-stress, so we create this stuff in a cloud of snack-chip crumbs, beer bottles and bad inside jokes, indecipherable to the outside world.”

Adds Weidner, “I like to think you can hear the clubhouse vibe in our music.”

Most of all, Days Gone By, “primes the pump,” as Weidner puts it, “to get folks ready for the next release of new material.” That album is forthcoming, all you new fans, so keep your eyes peeled.

The members are distinctly aware that more people will be waiting to hear this new record than ever before. “So,” says Weidner, “we want to make it as killer as we can.”

“…Killer As We Can is actually the working title for it … (No it’s not.)”