THE SILVER SEAS Daniel Tashian, lead singer and chief songwriter of Nashville-based quartet The Silver Seas, claims that the inspiration for the bittersweet pop songs on the group's Cheap Lullaby debut didn't come from a romantic breakup, some unrequited love or any of the typical catalysts for tunes like these, which teeter thrillingly between hopefulness and heartbreak. Tashian says it was sitcoms.
Daniel Tashian, lead singer and chief songwriter of Nashville-based quartet The Silver Seas, claims that the inspiration for the bittersweet pop songs on the group's Cheap Lullaby debut didn't come from a romantic breakup, some unrequited love or any of the typical catalysts for tunes like these, which teeter thrillingly between hopefulness and heartbreak. Tashian says it was sitcoms.
"I was wishing someone would hear one of my songs and pick it up for a sitcom theme," Tashian confesses, "so I got into that mode of writing for a while. There is something about that music ? songs from The Odd Couple, Laverne and Shirley, the Pink Panther cartoons ?that got ingrained in my brain. The Odd Couple theme is the perfect form of music for me because it's minor chords, but it's not sad. In fact, there is song on High Society, 'Tativille,' that tips its hat to The Odd Couple."
Opening track "Country Life" is an upbeat, fish-out-of-water story ? a hipster city slicker's version of Green Acres, if you will ? that could indeed double as a jaunty sit-com theme. But the title track, which follows, is its darker, yearning flipside. With tunes about outsider guys longing for girls who are just out of their reach or their income bracket, High Society has remarkable emotional depth, even if the arrangements --which boast layers of harmonies from all four band members, jangly 12-string acoustic guitar solos, and shimmering keyboard touches - - have such an easygoing feel.
Tashian, who'd been reading Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse while he wrote these songs, is decidedly more Tin Pan Alley than Music Row. He's got a knack for creating instantly memorable melodies to pair with often plaintive lyrics, though he's no show-off; his craftsmanship seems effortless, as if he just dashed off these sneakily addictive numbers in his spare time. Says Tashian, "My lyrics and melodies are straightforward, but I think it's harder to do these kinds of pop songs than, say, a heavier ballad." Any one of them would surely be AM radio-worthy ? the cocktail-hour croon of "We'll Go Walking," the country rock of "Catch Your Own Train," the breezy romanticism of "Imaginary Girl," which, come to think of it, would have made a great theme to the classic '60s sitcom The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis.
Grammy-winning producer, arranger and keyboardist Jason Lehning doesn't polish these songs to perfection because they sound gorgeous in nearly naked form. Lehning points out that Tashian constructs his songs in an appealingly weird fashion, generally avoiding bridges for a verse-chorus, verse-chorus approach or, in the case of "Miss November, "it's just three verses and then it's over. There's such an interesting structure to it." And it works, conveying the urgency of a narrator pleading with a centerfold for a date, a time-honored rock and roll scenario; harmonies piled on ELO-style help to sweeten the plot.
"We're a good team," says Lehning. "We bring to each other what the other one doesn't have. Daniel's an incredibly spontaneous person and I'm an incredibly pragmatic person. When we work together, we get to be ourselves in a really good way. That makes a nice balance and it's really enjoyable for me."
High Society was recorded in two days at Sound Emporium Studio A in Nashville, which played host to R.E.M, when they were making Document, as well as many country, folk and indie-rock artists. Along with Tashian and Lehning, The Silver Seas feature John Deaderick on electric bass and David Gehrke on drums. After the foursome had rehearsed and gigged enough to get comfortable with the new material, Lehning gathered his band-mates in one large room at the studio to cut these tracks live. Admits Lehning, "We didn't have any money, so this was designed for us to get done fast." He later added home studio overdubs and cut some more vocals. For the most part, though, the resulting album reflects one inspired weekend's worth of intense recording.
Both Tashian and Lehning were raised deep within the Nashville music scene. Tashian's dad Barry was lead singer of the Boston-based, mid-sixties cult combo the Remains and subsequently toured with Emmylou Harris' Hot Band. Lehning's dad Kyle is a well-respected country music producer and the former president of Asylum Records Nashville. While the young Lehning apprenticed behind the boards, Tashian was developing into a formidable singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He signed with Elektra Records in New York City and, in 1996, released his solo debut, Sweetie, produced by T-Bone Burnett.
Lehning and Tashian first met briefly by chance before choosing to work together. Recalls Lehning, "I remember a foggy night in a Nashville bar called the Iguana, right after Daniel finished his Elektra record. I talked with him for a couple of hours, and then he disappeared for about two more years." Tashian laughingly says he had "an allergic reaction" to Lehning, but something about their exchange stuck. Lehning continues, "Daniel called me out of the blue one day with his idea for the band, saying 'I have this sound in my head, and I know who I want to be a part of it. Would you help me get started?'"
Tashian says, "Jason came over to my house and I played him 'Message From the Birds' and 'Sea of Stars'" ? both of which appear on the group's 2004 debut, Starry Gazey Pie, self-released under its former band name, The Bees (U.S) ?"and he said, 'Yeah lets do it.' Then I told him I always wanted to do something with the drummer David Gehrke, and we got him in, and we were off and running."
Upright bassist Robbie Harrington was part of the original lineup and played on the debut CD; then electric bassist Deaderick stepped in. Starry Gazey Pie garnered airplay on stations like Boston's WFNX and L.A.'s KCRW and critical kudos from the press. For a time, the self-pressed disc was so hard to find that original copies were fetching premium prices on eBay. High Society began to circulate in a similar fashion, but a tour with Guster and lots of local gigs, praised by publications like Nashville Scene, brought the group a wider following and a record deal.
The Silver Seas cram a lot into the 35-or-so minutes of High Society and even offer, with "Broadway Lights," a slightly wistful but nonetheless happy ending ? for now. Stay tuned for the next episode. -- Michael Hill
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