Honing in

By Cale Sauter

East Lansing band ready new sound for local scene

When East Lansing’s Irwin Vega plays The Record Lounge’s one-year anniversary bash this week at the Small Planet, the line-up on stage will be the four survivors of a musical mission started two years ago by Michigan State University student Ryan Waters. The show marks the culmination of a tumultuous, but ultimately productive several months for the dynamic rock band dubbed for Waters’ childhood nickname. “I don’t even know the meaning of the nickname,” Waters says. “My brothers gave it to me when I was little. They were weird.”

All weirdness aside, Waters is excited to set his musical vision into motion with a new line-up, a slew of promising gigs (including a spot warming up the bar at The Fillmore in Detroit before The Black Keys show at the end of January) and a new EP to be released within the next month.

The four-piece’s debut album, “A Tale of Fading Youth,” has taken longer than expected to release, but Waters insists the end result will be worth the time he and his compatriots spent deliberating. “We finally solidified our line-up in October,” Waters says. “Everything fell into place.”

The band’s latest line-up, which features Waters on rhythm guitar and vocals, Gordon Fredericks on second guitar, Alex Livanos on drums and Ben Sawyer on bass, was formed with Waters’ and Livanos’ goal of creating a “musical cult” that would mold to what they were doing. “We try to find band members that have been in as few bands as possible and hold no preconceived notions, but are also more talented than me,” Waters says.

When their old bassist quit just before an already scheduled gig, Waters and Livanos had to think fast to replace him. “Ben was a TA (teacher’s assistant) in a class that Alex and I had,” Waters says. “Our previous bassist quit after I had already booked a show, so Alex was sitting on his toilet, looking through numbers in his phone for anyone who could fill in on short notice. He came across Ben’s number and remembered that he played bass. Ben came and jammed with us, and it just clicked.”

The sonic result of Waters and Livanos musical mission is a slightly more relaxed version of the band’s bluesy, hard-rock origins. Sampling the first couple tracks the band has released from its forthcoming EP reveals a more relaxed, folk and pop oriented sound, with a noticeable regard for musical nuance. Simplistic, everyman songwriting gives way to an inviting soundscape that merges from candid acoustic passages into effectsladen expanses. The updated aural backdrop has proven a fitting home for Waters’ retrospective songwriting. “I’m untrained, so I try to develop songs from somewhere I’m completely unfamiliar with,” Waters says.

Waters said the theme of album, mixed and mastered by East Lansing’s Glenn Brown, is open to interpretation. “I tended to use a lot of personal and cultural critiques that could be applied to anything,” Waters says.

Record Lounge employee Hodge Heckaman invited the group to be part of the six-band celebration of the Record Lounge’s first year in business. “Hodge saw us play at Mac’s Bar and said his ears were ringing for a couple of days, and he knew that we needed to be a part of this show,” Waters says.

The show will also feature a slew of giveaways, including records and gift certificates.

Irwin Vega

Your Best Friend, Life Size Ghost, Denton on Doomsday, and more 9 p.m.
Thurdsay, Jan. 15 The Small Planet, 18 , $5/$8 (517) 351-6230 www.thesmallplanet.net