Granted, the phrase has its applications say, Michael Jordan's brief and hilarious tenure with the Chicago White Sox. But such triteness does a disservice to the fully realized visions of songwriters such as John Stirratt and Pat Sansone, aka the Autumn Defense.
These two well-groomed popsmiths certainly don't have chips on their shoulders about their day jobs in Wilco one of modern rock's most critically and commercially lauded acts. But it stands to reason that Stirratt and Sansone have something to prove outside the realm of Jeff Tweedy's singular vision. They've been doing as much for nearly eight years now, and with the release of the Autumn Defense's third full-length, it's time to afford these guys their own context, soft and wistful though it may be.
"We get a lot of comparisons to the band Bread," Sansone says. "I think the reason we do get compared to that sound things like Bread and America and Crosby, Stills and Nash is because of the harmonies. We base the sound and the arrangements of the band around the vocals."
Indeed, the soft-rock territory mined by Sansone and company on The Autumn Defense recalls an era of bands with mustachioed singers, auxiliary percussionists, 12-string guitars and 2-inch tape. It's the same lode that modern songwriters such as Josh Rouse and Ron Sexsmith dig, one of woodwind sections and flute solos.
Because Sansone's arranging talents have been allowed ample studio time to flourish, chamber orchestration plays an integral role in the band's mellowest effort to date.
"We've been wanting to do that for all of our records, but this was the first time we were really able to," says Sansone, who co-produced Rouse's Under Cold Blue Stars and has also lent his talents to Joseph Arthur and Andrew Bird.
Sansone handles most of the bass duties on the recording, indulging his appetite for Curtis Mayfield-caliber grooves. Such funkiness comes as no surprise once he says his favorite record of 2006 was Jamie Lidell's discotastic Multiply.
"That guy is one of the best singers I've ever heard, as far as white-boy soul," Sansone says, knowing full well the state of his own whiteness. "I'm not really up on a lot of recent records, to be honest. Usually, if I'm not working on music, I'm listening to music that's not very recent."
That rotation includes recent Drag City reissues of free-folk enigma Gary Higgins as well as scores of vintage Brazilian pop recordings, Sansone says.
"There's a lot of music from that era that is being brought back into the light, things that somehow managed to keep having a life," he says. "There's something reassuring about the fact that young people 30 years later are talking about that music."
The late-night-lounge vibe of The Autumn Defense portends intimate live performances on the group's current cross-country trek, which the quintet will tackle minus strings and woodwinds (except in Chicago and Los Angeles, where audiences will witness something akin to Symphonic Pink Floyd, thanks to rented ensembles).
Checking in from the tour van en route to the band's first stop in St. Louis, Sansone breathes a sigh of relief that the album-release cycle is finally in motion. Whereas indie label Arena Rock handled the group's 2003 Circles LP, Sansone and Stirratt have spent the past couple of months spreading the word via their own Broadmoor Records.
"It feels good to keep it close to home," Sansone says. "We know what's going on. We don't have to second-guess what our record label is telling us."
The Autumn Defense's coming-of-age is further evidenced by Sansone's desire to return to the studio later this year, which will presumably follow heavy touring in support of Wilco's Sky Blue Sky release (tentatively scheduled for May 15).
"Everybody in Wilco is doing all kinds of other things, too, and I think that makes Wilco better because all the members are able to express themselves in other ways," Sansone says.
Curiously, the two groups have never shared a bill, other than one occasion when Sansone and Stirratt filled in for an absentee opener.
"It might happen in the future sometime," Sansone says. "That'd be a long night for John and me."