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Static in Motion 

Music preview: The Static Age

The twentysomething waitress at Red Square doesn't recognize Andrew Paley of Burlington rock band The Static Age. When he politely asks if she could turn down a speaker above the table where the group and I are sitting, she looks at him with a mixture of confusion and irritation. "We're just trying to do an interview," Paley says calmly. "Just this speaker. If you can't, it's no problem." She can't, and it isn't.

It's easy to picture a not-too-distant future in which any of Paley's requests would be instantly accommodated; he and his band could very well become the Next Big Thing. But at the moment, they aren't particularly concerned with the trappings of stardom.

Paley, 23, is the group's guitarist, singer and principal songwriter. A good-natured and goal-oriented young man, he has an easy-going personality and a friendly smile that belie his quick-thinking, politically savvy mind. His band mates aren't much different. They're a bright, hard-working lot. And their dedication has paid off in the form of national tours and a record deal, all on their own terms.

Paley and his bandmates -- drummer Bobby Hackney, Jr., 26, 23-year-old keyboardist Sarah-Rose Cameron and bassist Adam Meilleur, who is 24 -- represent a new generation of rock musicians. They hold fast to the ethics of punk but draw inspiration from more melodic sources, mainly '80s Great Britain. The Static Age's sophomore release Neon Nights, Electric Lives -- the first with L.A.-based label Tarantulas Records -- stands apart from other retro-obsessed acts, however. The disc showcases a maturity and subtle complexity that many young groups struggle to achieve. Atmospheric, seductive and catchy as hell, The Static Age create pop music with a dark heart.

An 18-plus release party for Neon takes place at Nectar's this week. A soundtrack to romantic alienation, the album will probably affect miserable teenagers in much the same way as groups like The Cure and The Smiths did before them, which is to say tremendously. The disc, produced by recording ace Matt Squire, is chock-full of potential singles. Strong hooks shine through on every track, particularly the sweetly melancholic "Armory."

Meilleur's commanding bass lines, such as on the muscular "Ghosts," lay the foundation for spidery guitar and ethereal keyboard figures, while Hackney's understated, in-the-pocket drumming -- evident, for example, on the driving "It Never Seems to Last" -- could make a session player twice his age consider a new career. Paley is without question a gifted singer, and there's little doubt that his songwriting skills could take the band well beyond the confines of novelty and trendiness.

Formed in 2001, The Static Age possess a confidence that comes from experience. Some of the members have been playing together since they were teens; Hackney, Meilleur and Paley spent their formative years bashing out hardcore and punk in a number of local bands around Burlington. "We've been playing together for a good eight years," Hackney proudly says of his history with Paley. Like many high school punkers before them, the founding members of The Static Age claimed Burlington's all-ages venue 242 Main as their base of operations. Bassist Meilleur still volunteers at the club.

Marie Whiteford, the original keyboardist, left the band last year, not entirely amicably. "The long and short of it is that she wasn't working in the band for the right reasons anymore," says Paley, choosing his words carefully. "It was very convoluted when it happened, but it was somewhat mutual. It just took a long time to sort it all out."

Cameron, who joined in April 2003, brings a fan's appreciation for their music, along with a background that's heavier on Rachmaninoff than on rock. "I lived in UVM's bubble for four years, but I'd seen them a bunch of times, and before I even knew any of these guys, I was a fan," she says. Originally hailing from Chatham, New York, Cameron has an air of elegance and handles her band mates' jocular wit with sly ease. Her new role wasn't an automatic fit, though: Rock clubs are a bit different from concert halls. "I was trained classically for 13 years," she explains. "Music performance for me up to now has been only that, so it's been an interesting switch."

Although the band's name comes from a song by horror-punk icons The Misfits, The Static Age couldn't sound less like them. "I think I'm the only real Misfits fan in the group," claims Meilleur. Why the tribute? "It was gonna be the name for our old band," Paley relates. "That group [Hemlock Verdict] was much more in the punk style, but we eventually realized 'The Static Age' had a lot of different connotations. We thought it was kind of cool as a nod to something that isn't really an obvious influence on our music."

The group's moniker occasionally leads to amusing situations, however. "You wouldn't believe how many emails I get from people saying, 'Wow, I thought you were going to be a really bad Misfits rip-off, but you guys are awesome,'" he says. "I guess we just set the bar low."

The group's visual image is well defined but never over the top. On stage they affect a cool distance, with dark clothes, evocative lighting and no smiles. In real life, however, they're as personable as can be.

Paley is a warm, handsome young man, whose ready grin in private contrasts with the melancholy mood he conveys on stage. His bright eyes and boy-next-door mannerisms make him easy to talk to. Meilleur holds fast to a punk sensibility, and he seems not to care for the trappings of fashion and poise. He's relaxed yet observant, brushing aside the sandy brown hair that falls above his eyes with a denim-sleeved wrist. Hackney may seem out of place as a young black man in a post-punk band, but his genial humor, intelligence and inner confidence give him a physical grace that transcends typecasting. Cameron is quick-witted and attractive, but doesn't seem willing to give into the "girl in a boy's band" stereotype.

Although Static are informed by the passion of punk, the members' individual influences are much broader. "I've always listened to other stuff," Paley claims. "When I was a kid my favorite tapes were Tears for Fears' Songs From the Big Chair and The Psychedelic Furs' Forever Now. I've still got the cassettes kicking around."

Paley is also a huge fan of art-rock legend Peter Gabriel, which may explain why the group sounds more "progressive" than most of their peers. "With the exception of Genesis, I fucking adore everything that man has ever done," he says.

Hackney, whose father and uncle are founding members of Vermont reggae institution Lambsbread, remembers when he began considering life beyond punk rock. "At the time I was listening to some different stuff, but I'm not gonna say I was listening to The Smiths since I was 3 years old. I loved punk and hardcore, but I needed something fresh and new."

Paley suggests the transition isn't so unusual. "If you think of where the forefathers of this kind of music came from, it was punk rock," he explains. "So it felt very natural to be in a bunch of punk bands and develop a new sound out of that."

Not long after The Static Age released their debut The Cost of Living, the music biz came knocking. The group was courted by the influential label Victory Records, which seemed willing to grant almost anything to get its hands on the band, even offering Paley a vanity imprint and an office at Victory headquarters in Chicago. But he was wary about the group being pigeonholed, made-over and commodified. "My big complaint about the music business these days is that it's all style over substance," Paley states. "Nobody's writing songs anymore; they're writing themselves into styles."

Hackney concurs: "I think you can just see right through a lot of bands that are coming out these days. They were put together by labels to be sold."

Cameron admits that The Static Age's brooding visual image is part of their overall aesthetic, but bristles at the thought of ready-made rock stars. "Not only are some of these bands way overpublicized and stylized, but the songs are just vapid. Groups are getting together to become famous, not to make music."

After a year of negotiations with Victory, The Static Age simply walked away. "At the end of the day we chose integrity over ease," Paley says. "Had we signed that contract, we'd probably be all over M2 right now. But we didn't want to lose control, we didn't want to support a brand we didn't believe in, and we didn't want to be another cog in the machinery."

Now signed to a label whose ethics are aligned with their own, The Static Age are hitting the road, embarking on a fall tour that will take them to the other side of the country. They're on the verge of being able to make music full-time, but for now each member still holds a day job and makes personal sacrifices to keep the momentum.

"The job thing doesn't bother me so much," says Meilleur. "They can either fire me or give me the time off. You gotta let them know who's boss!" Cameron describes the balance a little differently. "When I graduated from UVM, I got a job and everything was hunky-fuckin'-dory," she relates. "Then suddenly it's, 'Hey, you gotta take three weeks off, but you still have bills to pay. To juggle all of that is definitely a challenge, but it makes me realize what a commitment it takes."

For the time being, the group calls Burlington home; touring has brought the realization that the grass isn't necessarily greener in larger markets. "In New York City, the only way a band like us would get noticed is if we didn't wear any pants," Paley says, only half-joking.

While this may be true, The Static Age are simply too good to ignore. As they slip out of the bar into the dusk of a Vermont October, it seems reasonable to expect big things from these young musicians. "Last year we were in hibernation making this record and putting together a team," says Paley. "Now, for the lack of a better analogy, I can say the sky is the limit." The twentysomething waitress at Red Square doesn't recognize Andrew Paley of Burlington rock band The Static Age. When he politely asks if she could turn down a speaker above the table where the group and I are sitting, she looks at him with a mixture of confusion and irritation. "We're just trying to do an interview," Paley says calmly. "Just this speaker. If you can't, it's no problem." She can't, and it isn't.

It's easy to picture a not-too-distant future in which any of Paley's requests would be instantly accommodated; he and his band could very well become the Next Big Thing. But at the moment, they aren't particularly concerned with the trappings of stardom.

Paley, 23, is the group's guitarist, singer and principal songwriter. A good-natured and goal-oriented young man, he has an easy-going personality and a friendly smile that belie his quick-thinking, politically savvy mind. His band mates aren't much different. They're a bright, hard-working lot. And their dedication has paid off in the form of national tours and a record deal, all on their own terms.

Paley and his bandmates -- drummer Bobby Hackney, Jr., 26, 23-year-old keyboardist Sarah-Rose Cameron and bassist Adam Meilleur, who is 24 -- represent a new generation of rock musicians. They hold fast to the ethics of punk but draw inspiration from more melodic sources, mainly '80s Great Britain. The Static Age's sophomore release Neon Nights, Electric Lives -- the first with L.A.-based label Tarantulas Records -- stands apart from other retro-obsessed acts, however. The disc showcases a maturity and subtle complexity that many young groups struggle to achieve. Atmospheric, seductive and catchy as hell, The Static Age create pop music with a dark heart.

An 18-plus release party for Neon takes place at Nectar's this week. A soundtrack to romantic alienation, the album will probably affect miserable teenagers in much the same way as groups like The Cure and The Smiths did before them, which is to say tremendously. The disc, produced by recording ace Matt Squire, is chock-full of potential singles. Strong hooks shine through on every track, particularly the sweetly melancholic "Armory."

Meilleur's commanding bass lines, such as on the muscular "Ghosts," lay the foundation for spidery guitar and ethereal keyboard figures, while Hackney's understated, in-the-pocket drumming -- evident, for example, on the driving "It Never Seems to Last" -- could make a session player twice his age consider a new career. Paley is without question a gifted singer, and there's little doubt that his songwriting skills could take the band well beyond the confines of novelty and trendiness.

Formed in 2001, The Static Age possess a confidence that comes from experience. Some of the members have been playing together since they were teens; Hackney, Meilleur and Paley spent their formative years bashing out hardcore and punk in a number of local bands around Burlington. "We've been playing together for a good eight years," Hackney proudly says of his history with Paley. Like many high school punkers before them, the founding members of The Static Age claimed Burlington's all-ages venue 242 Main as their base of operations. Bassist Meilleur still volunteers at the club.

Marie Whiteford, the original keyboardist, left the band last year, not entirely amicably. "The long and short of it is that she wasn't working in the band for the right reasons anymore," says Paley, choosing his words carefully. "It was very convoluted when it happened, but it was somewhat mutual. It just took a long time to sort it all out."

Cameron, who joined in April 2003, brings a fan's appreciation for their music, along with a background that's heavier on Rachmaninoff than on rock. "I lived in UVM's bubble for four years, but I'd seen them a bunch of times, and before I even knew any of these guys, I was a fan," she says. Originally hailing from Chatham, New York, Cameron has an air of elegance and handles her band mates' jocular wit with sly ease. Her new role wasn't an automatic fit, though: Rock clubs are a bit different from concert halls. "I was trained classically for 13 years," she explains. "Music performance for me up to now has been only that, so it's been an interesting switch."

Although the band's name comes from a song by horror-punk icons The Misfits, The Static Age couldn't sound less like them. "I think I'm the only real Misfits fan in the group," claims Meilleur. Why the tribute? "It was gonna be the name for our old band," Paley relates. "That group [Hemlock Verdict] was much more in the punk style, but we eventually realized 'The Static Age' had a lot of different connotations. We thought it was kind of cool as a nod to something that isn't really an obvious influence on our music."

The group's moniker occasionally leads to amusing situations, however. "You wouldn't believe how many emails I get from people saying, 'Wow, I thought you were going to be a really bad Misfits rip-off, but you guys are awesome,'" he says. "I guess we just set the bar low."

The group's visual image is well defined but never over the top. On stage they affect a cool distance, with dark clothes, evocative lighting and no smiles. In real life, however, they're as personable as can be.

Paley is a warm, handsome young man, whose ready grin in private contrasts with the melancholy mood he conveys on stage. His bright eyes and boy-next-door mannerisms make him easy to talk to. Meilleur holds fast to a punk sensibility, and he seems not to care for the trappings of fashion and poise. He's relaxed yet observant, brushing aside the sandy brown hair that falls above his eyes with a denim-sleeved wrist. Hackney may seem out of place as a young black man in a post-punk band, but his genial humor, intelligence and inner confidence give him a physical grace that transcends typecasting. Cameron is quick-witted and attractive, but doesn't seem willing to give into the "girl in a boy's band" stereotype.

Although Static are informed by the passion of punk, the members' individual influences are much broader. "I've always listened to other stuff," Paley claims. "When I was a kid my favorite tapes were Tears for Fears' Songs From the Big Chair and The Psychedelic Furs' Forever Now. I've still got the cassettes kicking around."

Paley is also a huge fan of art-rock legend Peter Gabriel, which may explain why the group sounds more "progressive" than most of their peers. "With the exception of Genesis, I fucking adore everything that man has ever done," he says.

Hackney, whose father and uncle are founding members of Vermont reggae institution Lambsbread, remembers when he began considering life beyond punk rock. "At the time I was listening to some different stuff, but I'm not gonna say I was listening to The Smiths since I was 3 years old. I loved punk and hardcore, but I needed something fresh and new."

Paley suggests the transition isn't so unusual. "If you think of where the forefathers of this kind of music came from, it was punk rock," he explains. "So it felt very natural to be in a bunch of punk bands and develop a new sound out of that."

Not long after The Static Age released their debut The Cost of Living, the music biz came knocking. The group was courted by the influential label Victory Records, which seemed willing to grant almost anything to get its hands on the band, even offering Paley a vanity imprint and an office at Victory headquarters in Chicago. But he was wary about the group being pigeonholed, made-over and commodified. "My big complaint about the music business these days is that it's all style over substance," Paley states. "Nobody's writing songs anymore; they're writing themselves into styles."

Hackney concurs: "I think you can just see right through a lot of bands that are coming out these days. They were put together by labels to be sold."

Cameron admits that The Static Age's brooding visual image is part of their overall aesthetic, but bristles at the thought of ready-made rock stars. "Not only are some of these bands way overpublicized and stylized, but the songs are just vapid. Groups are getting together to become famous, not to make music."

After a year of negotiations with Victory, The Static Age simply walked away. "At the end of the day we chose integrity over ease," Paley says. "Had we signed that contract, we'd probably be all over M2 right now. But we didn't want to lose control, we didn't want to support a brand we didn't believe in, and we didn't want to be another cog in the machinery."

Now signed to a label whose ethics are aligned with their own, The Static Age are hitting the road, embarking on a fall tour that will take them to the other side of the country. They're on the verge of being able to make music full-time, but for now each member still holds a day job and makes personal sacrifices to keep the momentum.

"The job thing doesn't bother me so much," says Meilleur. "They can either fire me or give me the time off. You gotta let them know who's boss!" Cameron describes the balance a little differently. "When I graduated from UVM, I got a job and everything was hunky-fuckin'-dory," she relates. "Then suddenly it's, 'Hey, you gotta take three weeks off, but you still have bills to pay. To juggle all of that is definitely a challenge, but it makes me realize what a commitment it takes."

For the time being, the group calls Burlington home; touring has brought the realization that the grass isn't necessarily greener in larger markets. "In New York City, the only way a band like us would get noticed is if we didn't wear any pants," Paley says, only half-joking.

While this may be true, The Static Age are simply too good to ignore. As they slip out of the bar into the dusk of a Vermont October, it seems reasonable to expect big things from these young musicians. "Last year we were in hibernation making this record and putting together a team," says Paley. "Now, for the lack of a better analogy, I can say the sky is the limit."

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About The Author

Casey Rea

Casey Rea

Bio:
Casey Rea was the Seven Days music editor from 2004 until 2007. He won the 2005 John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.

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