Now Playing: Bella’s Bartok

Northampton, Massachusetts-based outfit Bella’s Bartok provide an object lesson in what happens when college theater majors are allowed free rein to play with accordions minus any prudent adult supervision. It’s a slippery slope, one whereon giant puppet heads inevitably follow. And before anyone can say “Django Reindhardt,” the whole bloody affair is bound for hell on back of a crazy ragtag gypsy-circus-punk caravan.

That’s the band’s bio, in brief, according to singer and bassist Asher Putnam, who was among that initial group that founded B’sB some eight years ago. “Some of us were music and jazz majors, and some of us were heavy into theater,” he says. “And we’re all first- and second-generation Americans, a mix of Russian, Hungarian, Romanian. So we all grew up hearing weird music in our grandparents’ houses, and then rediscovered it when we found each other at UMass.”

The band’s music is a colorful crazy quilt of those European traditional and folk influences, interwoven with plenty of American punk and pop, and even some hints of jazz, just for good measure. The music owes something of a debt to like-minded Manhattan outfit Gogol Bordello, whom Asher duly credits as an influence on the band’s sound.

“I went to school for ethnomusicology, and I spent some time traveling Europe, collecting and listening,” Putnam says. “I went through Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, Coatia and Italy. That really solidified my interest in keeping certain traditions alive.

“At the same time, we’re also a bunch of American boys, so we love rock ‘n’ roll, and we want to make our music approachable. We try to integrate American rock with those traditional styles. We like to call what we do ‘circus punk,’ and it is a very a approachable, danceable style.”

And then there’s the band’s stage show, which is every bit as luridly extroverted as one might expect from a band that counts several aspiring thespians among its members, and takes the stage armed with weaponized puppet heads. “We just got a trailer to haul the giant puppets,” Putnam laughs. “They’re big, and they’re creepy, made out of duct tape and chicken wire. And we’ve got a couple extra now we like to disperse amongst the audience members. When you add it all together with the rest of our stage show, we generate a lot of audience interaction. It’s a slightly more wild version of the ‘Muppet Show’, and we like to make the audience a big part of it.”

Bella’s Bartok will play Preservation Pub Friday, Feb. 16 at 10 p.m.

 

Now Playing: Busman’s Holiday

Bloomington, Indiana brother duo Busman’s Holiday ply a brand of pop music that’s wholly at odds with most of what’s classified as “pop” nowadays, as the brothers play predominantly on acoustic instruments, employ a minimum of technology even in the studio, and draw inspiration from a range of not-what’s-trending genres including bluegrass, ragtime, old-time jazz and swing, obscure folk and even British Invasion-era rock.

According to singer-guitarist Lewis Rogers, the Busman vision of pop is that of a modern classicist; it’s a vision that seeks for the heart of what makes music memorable, and communal, in the first place. “One thing that’s really important to us is melody,” Rogers says. “A lot of popular music today doesn’t seem to revolve around melody so much. For us, it’s really important to get melodies right.

“If I can hum along with a tune and remember it in my head afterwards, then the song is probably going in the right direction. If I can leave a show and remember some of the band’s songs, I’m inspired by that. But a lot of music in the pop world now is more rhythm-oriented. And in the indie rock world, there’s a shift toward externalness, music as ambiance or background music. And that’s okay sometimes, but it can lead to passiveness. And passiveness in music can be a curse.”

Lew and brother Addison (drums and vox) began playing music together at an early age, and began taking the project seriously roundabout 2005. Their earliest gigs consisted of the brothers busking in the streets of Bloomington, with later live efforts moving into the realm of local house parties.

Rogers says he and Addison cycled through a number of additional band members through the years, though they’ve ultimately hewed to the duo format, at times employing additional musicians for some of their gigs according to need and inspiration.

The experience of busking and playing innumerable house parties has nurtured in the Rogers brothers a warm, genially extroverted stage manner, a personal and unpretentious way of performing that comes off on record and in video as well as in a live setting. “We like to banter a lot,” Rogers says. “It’s a carryover from all of those house shows. For us, it’s like we’re hanging out with the audience. It’s all about directness.

“When we started playing more in clubs with sound systems, it actually took time for us to realize we could use microphones,” Rogers laughs. “Because we played so much at house shows, we were used to projecting with our voices. Now, we’ve learned to use the sound system a little more.”

With the last Busman’s Holiday record, “Popular Cycles,” having dropped in October of 2016, Rogers says he and his sibling are hard at work on a new platter for 2018, though he’s uncertain as to how, or even whether, it will differ from previous BH efforts. “We’ve always been very planned in the studio, but we’re moving toward being more in-the-moment with this one,” he says. “We always have lots of ideas about where things are going to go when we’re planning for a new studio album. And then it never turns out quite the way it seems in our heads.”

Busman’s Holiday will play Preservation Pub Thursday, Feb. 22 at 10 p.m.

 

Now Playing: Damn the Witch Siren

The way Damn the Witch Siren chanteuse Bobbi Kitten tells it, her meeting with now-bandmate Z Wolf some four years ago was fated to happen. And given its inevitability, the brassy singer and multi-instrumentalist felt little compunction about offering fate a helping hand.

“We were in different bands, and I wanted to steal him away,” says Kitten with a laugh. “I was really impressed with his songwriting, and I was in a band with a bunch of dudes who were kind of misogynistic. So I kind of sabotaged the band he was in.

“But we ended up having a really strong connection. When we started making music together, we were inspired by each other. And we’ve been working off that inspiration ever since.”

That inspiration is palpable, inasmuch as the duo have released one EP and three full-length albums in the short years since, with the latest being 2018’s “Red Magic.” Across those four releases, DTWS’s stock in trade has been electro-pop — infectiously danceable electro-pop, rendered with skill an verve, and distinguished by Kitten’s sexy, sinuous vocal and considerable performance chops.

But unlike many of  their like-minded peers, who tend to concentrate on a narrow field of electronic endeavor, DTWS are unafraid to mine the increasingly vast territory that comprises electro-pop and EDM. Listening to one of their albums is almost like listening to a sampler platter of tech-savvy dance music from across the decades — hints of Missing Persons mixed with Depeche Mode mingling with the Cocteau Twins from the 1980s, echoes of Divinyls and Dee-lite from the 1990s, the whole of it shadowed by modern DJ-driven EDM influences and flavored with post-millennial rock courtesy of Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

It all makes for fun, free-wheeling musical sprawl. But Wolf and Kitten say that, having been together four years now, they’re beginning to hone DWTS to a finer point. “This most recent record is our most cohesive,” Wolf says. “I think we’ve finally found our sound. This record turned out just like we wanted it to, as a dark, dance-y, sexy club record.”

“Our early music had a very heavy-bass-centric sound,” Kitten says. “Our focus now is just to write the most energetic music that we can. At the same time, this is also some of our darkest music; it’s grittier than anything we’ve done before.”

Live, DTWS are unlike conventional rock bands in that they rely more on electronics than on live instrumentation. Both Wolf and Kitten are burdened with multiple responsibilities — drum machines, synths, keyboards — when they’re onstage, in their efforts to faithfully reproduce DTWS’s dense recordings in concert.

Ordinarily, none of that bodes well for creating a kinetic live performance. But Wolf says over the course of their time together, he and Kitten have learned to adapt their methods and their set-up to make for live shows that are as galvanizing as their albums.

“It’s different from most electronic bands,” he says. “It feels more like you’re watching a rock band play, as opposed to a DJ. We’re very busy, but it’s still chaotic and rowdy and exciting.”

“I like to do a lot when I’m on stage,” Kitten says. “But there have been times in the past where that meant I couldn’t connect with the audience as much as I wanted. (Wolf) stripped things down so I could connect more, so I could actually go out into the audience when I want to.”

Damn the Witch Siren will play Preservation Pub Friday, Feb. 23 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: Zolopht

Grand Junction, Colorado-based Zolopht began life as  reggae band at Mesa State College in 2009, and reggae remains at the core of what the six-piece outfit has done over the course of nearly nine years, two full-length albums and innumerable cross-country jaunts. In the meantime, the band has integrated its members’ various and far-flung influences — hints of horn-driven ska, prog rock, Americana, punk and metal, jazz and jam-band improvisation — in such a way as to forge a sound that defies genre, even in the face of that ubiquitous rhythmic skank.

“Our sound has been constantly evolving since the beginning,” says singer and rhythm guitarist Zac Grant. “At first, we were a lot more on the reggae tip. But being six of us, we have  lot of different influences, so it’s kind of a melting pot. So it’s become more funky, more jammy, although the reggae is obviously still in there. But the way we describe our sound now is psychedelic funk-rock reggae. It’s sort of Sublime-meets-punk-rock.”

Indeed, on their two fine full-lengths — 2014’s “pH Balanced” and 2015’s “Flexor” — Zolopht exhibit a talent for crafting insistent melodic hooks, as well as the instrumental chops to extend their tight, well-crafted pop-rock songs into long-form jams when the band is on stage and the energy is right. They also draw heavily on the hesher spirit of lead guitarist Cam Vilar, whose classic metal six-string maneuvers — tasty crunch rhythms, harmonized melody lines, squealing harmonic fills — add an appealing hard rock flair to Zolopht’s mix.

“We’ve always just kind of written music that we enjoy listening to when we write songs,” Grant says. “We’ve never really tried to adhere to a particular genre. What has happened is that we’ve adapted to each other’s influences over the years. We were never only going to be a rock band or a reggae band. That’s made for a pretty wide set of demographics in our fan base. We played a show in Tallahassee, Florida, the other night, and we had people from 21 to 60.”

Grant says Zolopht are currently working on record number three, even as they push their way across the U.S. on yet another continent-spanning tour — the busy band logs between 175 and 200 live dates every year. The workload is par for the course for the six-piece, however, as Grant says members made the choice early on to keep all band functions in-house, committing to Zolopht as a way of life as well as a career.

“We do our own booking; we do our own marketing,” Grant says. “Our bass player does all of our graphics. This is our priority in life. So it makes for lots of mornings waking up early after a show and staring at a computer. But it has gotten easier over the years, as we’ve toured and returned to some of the same markets again, built up a reliable fan base and just gotten used to the things we’ve got to do.”

Zolopht will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The Wintervals

Wintervals band members Lisa Tyler and Trevor Walker enjoy a musical chemistry that seems to suggest that their collaboration was always a fait accompli. Tyler tells that the two met while working at a Hendersonvile, N.C. coffee shop, and bonded over their shared love of Jason Isbell and Neil Young. As both of them were aspiring musicians, they judged it worthwhile to collaborate on a handful of songs Walker had been working on as part of a planned solo effort.

“He had some songs he had written with no lyrics or melodies,” Tyler says. “I wrote some lyrics, and within the first three songs, it was clear that this was a magical fit.”

That was 2015. Six months later, the duo recorded their full-length debut, “Can’t Win for Losing,” to be followed by the 2017 effort “Wilderness” — a pair of indie/folk/country releases that offer up compelling songs bolstered by tasteful performances, as well as vocal harmonies that are nothing short of levitating. Indeed, the music that has come of the Walker/Tyler partnership in only two short years is every bit as affecting and effortlessly lovely as Tyler’s description would seem to suggest.

It was no sure bet on paper, though. Walker came to the band with an impressively diverse resume, having held down the drummer’s seat in a jam band, the bassist’s slot in a folk-rock unit, guitarist chores in a country-bluegrass outfit. Tyler, on the other hand, had never played outside a scholastic setting, having been a member of the choir in both high school and college.

Nonetheless, the Wintervals sound owes a good deal to Tyler’s nightingale voice, as well as to the fetching combination of the two principals singing in tandem, which they do often on the aforementioned debut. “I’m not a lead singer, and I don’t consider myself a great backing vocalist, either,” Walker says. “She’s great with both, but I come in and do what I can.”

Though both Wintervals records are marked by an abundance of soft, lilting melodies and Tyler’s trademark vox, last year’s “Wilderness” comes off just this shy of a straight-up country record, full of conspicuous mandolin and pedal steel moments in contrast with “Can’t Win for Losing”‘s more indie-rock- and folk-approved flavorings. To some extent, that happened by design — “I do think we wrote more expressly country songs for the second record,” Walker says. But mostly it speaks to the intuitive nature of the duo’s collaboration.

“When we’re working on music, a lot of times it’s just a matter of ‘what does this song need?'” Walker says. “And then it’s like, oh, okay, this is a country song. I’m trying to focus on the song conceptually. What’s going to serve that song? Because the goal is to end up making a good-sounding record, whatever that is.”

Right now, the Wintervals are hard at work on songs for album number three, which Walker says they hope to release by the end of the summer. “We’ve got six or eight songs ready, and we’re shooting for nine or 10,” he says. “From what we’ve done so far, I’d describe it as a solid mix of the first two records. There’s some stuff that wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Can’t Win for Losing,’ and then there’s a little bit of country stuff, too. It’s different, but it’s still the Wintervals; it’s still us.”

The Wintervals will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.