Getaway Driver shifts gears on the road to prominence.

Back Behind the Wheel 

Getaway Driver shifts gears on the road to prominence.

Getaway Driver's practice space has not been fully transformed from its workaday garage origins. The small room, located in the southern aorta of Lawrence, offers the typical rock clutter -- stray guitar picks, empty beer bottles, broken drumheads, an array of instruments and amps -- but also features accouterments one might find in grandpa's toolshed, including a rack of neatly hung bicycles, industrial fans, shovels and ladders. A punching bag hangs lifeless in one corner, a set of well-worn boxing gloves crumpled underneath, and a single fluorescent bulb provides meager lighting. But it's the yellow sign, the one with a quote from Howard Zinn, that belies the room's anti-suburban aura: "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."

Getaway Driver isn't a political outfit -- far from it -- and it's likely that the Zinn placard belongs to one of the numerous acts that lay claim to the rehearsal space. But protest, in its abstract form, is an integral aspect of Getaway Driver's approach. The quartet set up camp here last fall as a way of shaking itself out of its musical doldrums. Riding the crest of a highly productive period, the band went into self-imposed hibernation, setting up shop in bassist Dave Newton's house intending to make a serious musical statement. This endeavor involved ambitious touches such as acoustic guitars and an upright piano, firsts for musicians used to playing rudimentary tools of the trade at top volume. They aspired to create art. And they failed.

"It wasn't really working as well as we expected," singer and guitarist Stephen Wolfe admits. "We moved here and started plugging in. Once we started playing with more volume, things started coming together. But that period, though it was kind of a struggle, was so important to what we're doing now."

When Getaway Driver runs through a number of freshly hatched tunes with working titles such as "Wisconsin," "Choco Taco" and "K-10," a rekindled emphasis on melody is apparent, as is a growing sophistication. Newton spends most of his time at the keyboards, and tunes such as "A Side View" find drummer Tom Brantman using symphonic mallets, adding cinematic rolls and flourishes as the song progresses. It's not the dumbed-down grease-rock of the band's early days, nor is it the bookish mathematica found on GD's 2002 EP, Clichés With Harmonies. This is pensive music that packs a subtle punch, building epic crescendos before crashing back down to three-chord earthiness. Getaway Driver is finding its sound.

"I think what we used to try to do was impress the hell out of people with the way we play and hope they didn't realize there's no melody," Wolfe explains, his blue six-string caked in dried sweat. "Now, we'd rather have a melody out there that you can hum along to. Those are the songs that you stick with rather than just sound cool."

The history of the band is somewhat nonlinear, rife with typical lineup changes and directional shifts. The group's nucleus was formed while Wolfe and company were still Johnson County high schoolers, but it was in Lawrence that Getaway Driver was formed in 2001, its moniker taken from a Wes Anderson film. One of the band's first shows was at the legendary (and now defunct) Pink House as part of a seminal bill that included Salt the Earth and Ghosty.

"At the time, there was this really cool feeling," Wolfe recalls. "I'd never heard Salt the Earth before, and I'd only heard [Ghosty frontman] Andrew Connor play by himself. By the time that show was over, it was like, 'Wow. These are three bands that might be able to do something.' This was at a time when a lot of bands were ending. The Lawrence scene was kind of waning. It gave us all a little bit of hope."

The relationship between GD and Salt the Earth was cemented on a tour that included My Spacecoaster, an upstart Texas quartet that also had virtually no following.

"Three unknowns on the road," Brantman says with a laugh. "It was a great formula for success, twelve people at every show."

"There were times when we were on that tour wondering what the fuck we were doing," Wolfe continues. "Now you look back, and it was, like, what could you complain about? We learned so much, and we had so much fun. And people heard it, they bought our CD. Every little bit helps."

The CD in question was GD's self-issued debut, Sparkling Pistol, a five-song EP of highly hummable rock undercut by abysmal production. But the band shone on forget-me-nots such as "Something to Do," songs that underscored the band's ability to place brainy chord changes and artful lyrical twists within simple pop structures. Better was Clichés With Harmonies, which showcased growing confidence and a newfound predilection for math rock. Recorded at Newton's house and released on the band's own Archer Avenue imprint, Clichés marked the official debut of former Diversion 4.0 guitarist Nate Harold, who joined the fold in the fall of 2002. Harold, who continues to moonlight in Kelpie, was a natural choice, a longtime friend who'd shared numerous bills with the band.

"The whole community feel is what kept everybody going," Wolfe explains. "There was a good two-year period where, between Salt the Earth, Ghosty, Diversion 4.0 and us, we were always playing together or always at each other's shows. Then people went and did their own things. Lately, we've put ourselves into a little hole, sort of backed off for a while."

The band's exile on Mass Street has included a one-off show supporting the Get Up Kids last May and Kalide, a multimedia, multiband extravaganza that revealed a peek into the future of digital art. But mostly the band has been penning new material and striving to find a distinctive sound in leisurely pursuit of an eventual full-length release.

"It's such a Lawrence thing to burn out your audience," Brantman says, noting that GD's upcoming Bottleneck show will not include any old material. "You play a million shows, and people get sick of hearing it. You hope that by going away for a while and coming back, people will get excited again."

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