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Weekend Vinyl is Mike McLaughlin, songwriter, lead vocals and guitar; Jim O’Donnell, lead guitar, vocals; Dave Matsko, bass and vocals; and Mark Feary, drums and percussion. What they have in common – what originally brought them together – is that each of them has a child or children attending Evanston’s St. Athanasius School. Recently they released their first CD, “Easy Chair.”
“We met in Evanston,” says Mr. McLaughlin, a relaxed, confident man in his mid-40s, who is originally from the South Side of Chicago. “The way we came together was through St. A’s, for fundraising. They were shelling out thousands to bad bands – 5-6 K for a band no one wanted to see. People would make a
beeline to the bar.”
Mr. McLaughlin’s other band, Swinger, named after the Dodge Dart car, is a ‘60s-inspired, “more Beatle-esque power pop” band that has played at The Cavern in Liverpool. After they played a couple of events for the school, St. A’s fundraising committee asked him if he could find some other dads to make a band. Mr. O’Donnell had seen Swinger play, and though, Mr. O’Donnell says, he “wasn’t too keen on being a ‘Dad band’” at first, and “without knowing the members [he] was concerned about the quality,” he joined. They found a drummer, Mark Feary, through a friend.
They met an obstruction when they “couldn’t find a bass player anywhere,” Mr. McLaughlin says, but “a friend of ours heard we were looking and said, ‘My brother plays,’ and asked if he could volunteer.” The group jelled. Mr. O’Donnell says he thinks “the difference was that we all came from original bands in the past.”
Mr. McLaughlin is also a partner in a futures brokerage company. He is very upbeat about his dual life: The job “couldn’t have worked out better in terms of music and wanting to perform,” he says. Work ends at 2:30 and allows him to be in his studio by 4:00. He says comfortably, “I never considered going straight into music; it would wreak havoc on a family.” That said, he has “always had a band since 1982 and sporadically before that.” His 8th-grade band, he remembers, was called “Illusion.” He says he has always written songs, but “didn’t mature as a songwriter until he got out of college,” as a matter of “perspective, maturity.”
Mr. O’Donnell, however, who learned “the basic chords” from his father, a man who “claims he knows 700 songs, though I have really only heard about 500,” and whose brother Tommy is “probably the best guitarist that nobody knows,” did spend five years in Los Angeles with a band he started after graduating from college. Lost Luggage was “signed to Warner Chappel Music and recorded a CD,” he says, but “nothing … materialized from there” and they moved back to the Chicago area. He and his wife moved to Evanston, as a good place for their kids, making him ultimately available for Weekend Vinyl.
The other members of the band have musical backgrounds as well; Dave Matsko majored in music at the University of Illinois. “Easy Chair” was recorded by Dan Stock at Uptown Recording, Chicago; mixed by Brad Jones at Alex the Great Recording, Nashville (a friend of Mr. McLaughlin’s from college); mastered by Doug McBride at Gravity Studios, Chicago. Art direction and design was handled by P. Jill Harkaway and Eric Miller took the cool back-cover photo of Mr. McLaughlin. “Easy Chair” is available at cdbaby and iTunes or through the band’s website at www.weekendvinyl.com.
Weekend Vinyl’s music is tuneful, interesting melodically, and very, very catchy. It is inspired, Mr. McLaughlin says, by the music of the ‘80s, though contemporary elements discernible.
All the songs on “Easy Chair” were written by Mr. McLaughlin. Their titles
are evocative: “Too Big, Too Frail”;
“Easy Chair”; “I’ll Take a Leap”;
“Summer’s Gonna Fall”; “No Small Wonder”; and “Is It Exquisite” are a few. The lyrics are heartstring-tugging but not mawkish, and the tunes and harmonies
are interesting and memorable.
The band has consciously tapped the ‘80s sounds. The band’s minimal (it promises to grow) website, weekendvinyl.com, quotes Mr. McLaughlin: “‘You can hear the jangle of the ‘80s with hints of REM, the db’s and Let’s Active mixed with the elemental Brit approach of The Smiths, Echo and The Bunnyment and, of course, Elvis Costello. … Toss in a pinch of Americana-roots rock from the likes of Rank and File and The Long Ryders and you have Weekend Vinyl.’”
Some of these influences are readily distinguishable: Echo and the Bunnymen, the Smiths are right out there; but so are Bryan Ferry and the Derry, Northern Ireland, band, The Undertones. Other sounds creep in: “Easy Chair,” the disturbing title song, has a touch of the Spoons about it. Weekend Vinyl’s music is much more compelling than the band itself seems to feel – or perhaps it is just a pleasing, but unnecessary, modesty about their oeuvres.
The songs, not surprisingly, with their ‘80s vibe, are about events and feelings that occur in relationships. In “Too Big, Too Frail” for instance, asserts, “We don’t talk about it; we should talk about it.” No specific event is described, but most listeners will have experienced one. A mournfulness about the recognition that “it’s big and we need to work it out” is coupled with a hopeful, upbeat sound: Now that it’s been recognized, the song implies, it can be dealt with.
“Girlfriend I Know” is clear; Mr. McLaughlin says he married her. It’s a song with a story (“In ’63 our life began”), and also strength and an unforgettable tune.
One of Mr. McLaughlin’s favorites, “I’ll Take a Leap,” invokes the anxiety that infuses decisions individuals have to make and the excitement as well. After a thoughtful guitar intro, the song begins:
I grew up without curtains and I didn’t know for sure.
Some things are never certain, until
you find the door.
I’ll take a leap.
The next verse, opens with a great – a perceptive and accepting – line about life: “I love a page-turner …” Having to make such decisions carries with it a pleasure, too; Mr. McLaughlin says he likes the “open-ended meaning” with which the listener is left.
“What Ya Gonna Do” is especially appealing musically. There’s a little western twang to the bass underneath that gives this song a special character. The way the melodic line starts on the second half of the first beat each time is enjoyably different. “I need a place to run away, she needs a place to hide,” tells the listener what is happening on the narrative level.
“Moonlight Come” is a terrifically seductive tune. The opening grabs the listener right from the start – “Moonlight come, faster than the rising sun,” the refrain “Moonlight over shadows,” soaring over the music; and a cool guitar riff pulls the listener right in. It is a wonderfully singable song.
In fact, all of the songs on this CD are singable and meaningful, a very pleasant concatenation. It helps that the words are distinguishable, too, which is not always one of an album’s strong points. The interval stretches within the songs are interesting without being hard for the average listener to reprise. The combination of these traits make Weekend Vinyl’s “Easy Chair” a real treat.
Like chocolate, one might say, some of these songs are downright addictive. And after consuming it, one just wants more.