It feels like a purely objective statement to say the Pedaljets' two-fisted new album, What's in Between, is the band's best.
It has all the studio sophistication that the band might have wished for on its promising 1987 debut, Today Today, and it recovers the pop sensibility left behind on its self-titled 1990 follow-up, after which the group disbanded. The Pedaljets reunited to fix the latter, aided by new guitarist Paul Malinowski (formerly of Shiner and Season to Risk), in 2008. On Between, Malinowski again joins Mike Allmayer (principal singer, songwriter and guitarist), Matt Kesler (bass) and Rob Morrow (drums). In conversation, it quickly becomes apparent that today's Pedaljets feel as unified as this new record.
The Pitch: You've made two records in a row now as this band, if you count one made up of 20-year-old material. What's in Between is almost all new material; besides that, what strikes you as most significantly different about the two albums?
Allmayer: Pedaljets was a transitional record. We were no longer the brash kids who were going in and making a record, but we also didn't have a completely cohesive vision of what we wanted to do. We've gotten to the point where we're confident enough to know what we want.
Malinowski: I love that there are both Detroit-type rockers here and songs that are much more spacious, like "Some Kind of One" and "Change." As a whole, this album feels more complex to me. Pedaljets was a little disjointed. These songs live together much better.
Morrow: At various points, I've probably counted every song as the best one, which I think is a sign of a great record.
What accounts for that?
Kesler: We were able to spend a lot more time trying different ideas and instruments. Back in the day, we had limited time and resources. All the recording and mixing had to be done quickly due to budget and studio availability. Now digital recording can be done almost anywhere, and time becomes less of a factor. With that said, my favorite times this go-around were in Westend Studios, running straight to 2-inch tape, old school.
Allmayer: Communion was a well-respected label, but they gave us $1,000 to record an album, which translates into about three days in the studio. This time, I wanted to take some songs I'd written and explore them fully with the guys. We had the time and we had the resources to do it the way we wanted and do it right. I approached things like, if this riff wears on us, let's lose it.
What are some examples of songs you kept going at until you got them right?
Allmayer: I had some concerns about my vocal on "Conversations," but they all talked me out of changing it.
Kesler: I think Mike was concerned because we used his original vocal track, which was a scratch track from the 1989 sessions.
Malinowski: We started working on that first. There were lots of missing parts. But no matter what we did with the vocal, no other version seemed to have the right amount of energy.
I couldn't tell it was Mike's voice recorded 20 years apart from the other stuff.
Malinowski: Yeah, that's what's great about it. It doesn't matter!
Morrow: We had recorded the song "Change," but it was a little bit lifeless compared to the other tunes. And we were on the verge of having to decide whether to keep it. One night, Mike and I came up with this brilliant chorus, which happened quickly. Suddenly we were generating one good idea after another, and we immediately switched on the mics and recorded the new things so we wouldn't forget them. The original recordings we made that night were so inspired that those are the ones you hear now, on the record. That was an incredible session, magical. From there, that burst of creativity cascaded into rehabbing the middle bit, and then later adding this really beautiful ending.
Malinowski: "Some Kind of One" ended up being the hidden gem. It has this interesting retro feel. Matt had been talking about how we ought to try some old-fashioned hard panning [complete separation of sounds in the stereo mix], and when we played it for John [Agnello, the Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. producer, who mixed the record], he immediately got it. It was the last of the basic tracks we finished, the very last one we decided to add to the group we were going to mix, and it came alive when we heard what John did. He knew just where to take it.
Kesler: "Some Kind of One" is interesting because it is not your typical Pedaljets song. The Beach Boys harmonies were a result of me singing an idea for a string section. We never brought in the orchestra.
I think this is the most moving of the Pedaljets' albums. Any thoughts about why?
Allmayer: As a kid, the world is a massive place that can push you around, and that gives you an attitude, a shell. I always had this persona as a rock-and-roll singer. Now, when I write, I'm singing as a human being who has serious doubts about his own capabilities. I'm looking back at the things that didn't destroy me, and by embracing them, I think what is happening in the song becomes real. There are lots of goodbyes and a few hellos here. That middle eight in "Change" sort of gets to the heart of it. He's singing, Here's to winter's sorry end, almost like he's sorry it wasn't tough enough.
Morrow: We've come to acknowledge and embrace the chemistry that we share. We believe in each other, and there is a certain musical trust involved. And the songs for the next record are starting to take shape, so I can say with confidence that the next one will be equally as good, if not better. See, we're starting to get pretty good at this!