There’s a crowd forming inside Oswego’s Old City Hall as the psychedelic reggae group House on a Spring warms up for their local fans. The bar’s packed on this late night in early March, but only about 30 people are actually waiting for the show to start.
Christopher Beattie’s deep bass notes begin, carrying the toe-tapping rhythm as Liam Shaughnessy helps move the song along with a steady beat and Josh Russell’s keyboard gently kisses the ends of the bass riffs. Lead vocalist Rob Dee raises his arms commanding the crowd and introducing the band. The interlude transitions into their first song, the groovy, bassdriven tune “Brand New Day.”
The song continues as more people begin to notice the music and join in the festive dancing. Matt Brown and Timmy Farfaglia’s Jamaican guitar melodies are rhythmically calming. Watching the happily swaying college students swing their hips, one can’t help but feel the energy of the room. It’s pretty surprising that, despite their five years as a band, the past three with their current lineup, House on a Spring has yet to release a studio album.
On Saturday, April 9, that will all change when the group launches its first full-length LP …We Gonna Break Free (Heavy Weight Records), a 14-track compilation spanning their musical career. “We made this album for the fans just as much as we did this for ourselves,” Russell says. “It’s really about bringing this CD to our fans who’ve been so supportive, and requesting an album for quite some time.”
Russell and Brown, the founding members, put the group through some changes before completing this current lineup. With ex-members moving too far away to perform with the band, they found the current roster from other bands and from within the Oswego/Fulton bar and music scene. Beattie came from a local punk band called The Subjects while Dee met the group at the shows. He started as a guest vocalist for the band. Russell met Shaughnessy at a bike shop in Oswego after their drummer had moved away.
In late March, Russell chats with a reporter at Mimi’s Diner in Fulton. It’s been several weeks since the group finished the record and soon they will conduct a short tour of Central New York venues. Russell looks pleased, speaking in a calm tone. “We made this album the way we wanted to,” he says confidently.
Recorded through multiple sessions in the band’s basement in Oswego, Russell says the album’s do-it-yourself production allowed for plenty of experimentation. They were able to change the direction of each song as they saw fit. They had plenty of time—taking about a year to complete—partly because they were working with dated recording software; they had no choice but to wait until they could afford an upgrade.
“We had to upgrade all our technology about halfway through the process,” Russell says. “That gave us new light on how we could produce the album, putting us more up to par with the standard studio sound.”
With the new equipment, House on a Spring was able to record an album with a clean stereo sound, a booming bass and smooth vocals. …We Gonna Break Free is a laidback record full of mystical metaphors relating to inner strength, the will to survive during tough times, and a deep belief that things eventually turn out all right.
The track “Shine,” sung by Dee, is an example of that optimism. On the song he relates the issues of life to a recognizable symbol, the sun: “The sun will come out tomorrow / even if it doesn’t shine.” No matter what the issue is, life will eventually get better. That positive message recurs throughout the record.
A more popular song, the CD’s second track “Brand New Day,” is one of the first Dee wrote with the band about three years ago. Lyrically derived from a poem he’d penned a few years before as an afterthought to the movie Requiem for a Dream, Dee started reciting the poem along to the melody of the song, stunning the other members.
“The song first came together really well,” Russell recalls. “We’ve changed a few things, but the original take was really smooth. I’ve noticed it’s become one of our fans’ favorite songs.”
Occasionally passing through the conversation with Russell was Dee, dressed in his white apron, wearing his long dreadlocked hair in an updo and sporting the relaxed smile he showcases on stage. He’s an employee at Mimi’s, trying his best to do his job busing tables and washing dishes while answering questions. As he walks past the booth, his peaceful stride reflects the charming characters he writes and sings about.
When asked about recording vocals on the new album, Dee blurts, “It’s a pain in the ass.” Acknowledging his tone, he shakes his head and recollects his thoughts. “It’s specific,” Dee rephrases. “I may feel a part in my vocals is all right, but the rest of the band might feel it would complement the song better if it were sung in a different key or if my voice carried out to a different part of the song. It was fun, though, because I got to try out new things I wasn’t familiar with.”
With the challenging year behind them, House on a Spring is touring through June in an attempt to play the music they love and to win over new fans in Syracuse, Ithaca and even Plattsburgh. “We’re not making enough money to be doing it for the money,” Russell says. “This is about making sure everybody’s involved and having fun.”
House on a Spring holds its Saturday CD release party starting at 8 p.m. at King Arthur’s Ballroom, 7 W. Bridge St., Oswego. Joining them will be Audioinflux, Subsoil and The Baby Shakers. Other upcoming gigs include: April 22 at the Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St. (299-8886); April 29 at Empire Brewing Co., 120 Walton St. (475-2337); May 12 at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 246 W. Willow St. (476-1662); and May 29 at Folk Fest, 274 Kent Road, Sterling ((818) 212-9489).
Jamaican juice: (pictured above) A debut CD and gigs galore highlight House on a Spring’s busy spring.