Jared Brennan, the sometimes guitarist, sometimes bassist for local rockers Apples of Discord, and the band’s drummer, Greg Grossi, are in Missoula’s Habbilis Studios listening closely to the final mastering of their debut album, Circus Ship. Some of the songs, like “Forklift,” emit shiny pop-rock chords in minor keys, while others, like “Black Shoes,” which the two musicians have been listening to for the last 20 minutes, stew in heavier, brooding melodies. Brennan and Grossi appear content with the album’s final tweakings, but they’re also visibly thrilled to be so close to Circus Ship’s docking point. After the excitement of making their first album, they’re ready to press forward.
“It was done with a critical ear, but at the same time you can just kill a song by over-thinking it,” Brennan says. “Capture a moment and then move on. It’s like a fast-food studio album—get in line, get it out there, here’s some ketchup.”
Despite the band’s assembly line approach to recording Circus Ship, there are few hard and fast rules about the way Apples of Discord operates. Cale Younce, who also plays guitar and bass, recently moved to Conrad to start a restaurant with his wife, but still manages to play with the band. Brennan speaks candidly about moving to New York City in 10 months if he gets the teaching job he’s applied for there. As to the band’s future, Grossi says, whatever happens, happens. After all, even the September 2005 inception of the band and its subsequent ascent to regular local gigs stemmed from happenstance moments: Brennan and Younce first met at the Old Post Pub following an Oblio Joes show when Brennan happened to overhear Younce saying he wanted to be in a band.
“It was the hazy end of the night,” says Brennan, “and Cale was saying that he was trying to find people to play with but couldn’t. I’m like, ‘I’m in the same boat, brother,’ or something dumb like that; some typical 2 a.m. conversation.”
After Grossi answered an ad for a drummer, the trio began practicing in a space above the Top Hat. Months later, while still pinpointing their sound, they would get a knock on their practice space door from fellow local rockers the Victory Smokes, asking them to join an upcoming show.
“It was sort of flattering,” says Grossi. “These guys who were walking down the alley, happen to hear us and they say, ‘You want to play in three nights?’ And we were all looking at each other [thinking] three nights?”
Three nights later they played their first show at The Raven Cafe.
The biographical prominence of such happy accidents doesn’t mean Apples of Discord don’t work hard for their rewards. It’s just that they prefer not to sweat the details. In the case of Circus Ship, the band initially recorded together and then Brennan worked on the first takes intermittently in a University of Montana studio for months, usually during his only free time between midnight and 6 a.m. With Younce in Conrad and Grossi’s involvment limited by his parental duties, neither had much time to spend on the production. Nonethelesss, Brennan maintained the project’s democracy and each got his word in on how the songs should sound and which order they should appear. The end result is a well-rounded album that differs from the band’s rock trio live act.
“When we play out we’re kind of limited to the instruments—drums, guitar, bass and a little bit of keyboards—and it’s cool to be able to get into the studio and add things,” Younce says, referring to tracks with more varied, multi-layered instrumentation. “It’s been exciting to see some potential a lot of the songs had.”
Discovering that potential in the studio is a process Brennan likens to a relationship.
“You’re enamored in the beginning and it’s a lovely process,” he says, “and then you have quarrels but you still love each other. And then you want to make it serious [so] you get hitched.”
He pauses and laughs, struggling to make the analogy work with the band’s up-in-the-air future. “And then you don’t like each other anymore, and it’s over. But maybe you stay in it for the children.”
Now that Circus Ship is ready for a send-off, the band members say they really are looking forward to the support-the new-album part of the relationship. They’re even talking about perhaps recording again sometime soon. But nothing’s set in stone. As Grossi says, whatever happens, happens.