1090 Club does not sound like a band whose members have accumulated nearly a collective century of living in Billings. Shipwrecked on Shores, the quartet’s first full-length album, released this week by Los Angeles-based Sidecho Records, evokes nary an echo of the dusty prairie rock you’d expect from a band based in eastern Montana.
The album—buoyed by the bowing of violinist Megan Dibble and suffused with eager, lilting melodies—is a hefty sort of indie pop: hip, urbane and self-assured. The sound is a product, bandmember Sean Lynch says, of having “made our own thing” in Billings, where all four band members have roots. And with a solid effort now in stores, band members are making big bets they can ride it to the next level.
Lynch, the guitar player and one of two main songwriters for the quartet, is selling 11 Cafe, the Billings restaurant he started upon returning to his hometown just over five years ago, to free up time for touring, and other band members have made similar choices to focus on making music. With the contract from Sidecho Records and album-mixing support from big-name producers like Steve Fisk (whose credits include Nirvana and Soundgarden) and Alex Newport (Mars Volta and At the Drive-In), Lynch says the new album represents “a chance that none of us have ever had before so…we all kind of wound down the rest of our lives to make a commitment to do it for at least two years.”
1090 Club’s current lineup has already been at it four years. Lynch and keyboardist Mike Galt started playing together even earlier, during an extended stint sharing a house in Portland, Ore. After Lynch and Galt returned to Billings, Galt says, their “basement jam sessions…turned into 1090’s musical ideas.” Violinist Dibble and drummer Steve Serfazo came to the band from their jobs staffing Lynch’s restaurant, and that core group cycled through a series of bass players before experiencing the epiphany that resulted in the band’s current bass-free configuration, culminating with the recording of Shipwrecked on Shores.
Lynch describes the group crystallizing “about a year and a half ago after we had done a few tours and…gone through a couple bass players. We added another bass player, and she opted not to show up to a show, and that show was the best we had played in probably nine months…It was the turning point when we decided that if we were not five, and we were four, then we were way stronger.”
From that decision came the impetus to put together an album.
“After we got rid of the bass player,” Lynch says, “we were like, ‘We have to write the best record we have ever written,’ even though we hadn’t really written a full record. But they had to be the best songs we had ever written.”
Rethinking the group’s instrumentation meant more than just making sure the people behind the soundboard knew to expect keyboards to supply the low notes. When the last bassist was bounced, Lynch says, the group decided to give everyone a microphone and let them sing.
The chorus of four voices delivering 1090 Club’s lyrics is the ensemble’s most distinctive feature; soaring, exhorting vocals lend an earnest urgency to the aurally interesting but not excessively complex tracks, bearing out Lynch’s claim that, with the retooled lineup, “it’s like we lost one instrument and gained three.”
With the musical chemistry of 1090 Club in equilibrium, Lynch and his bandmates are now focused on balancing the fiscal equation. Already, MTV has approached the band about using instrumental tracks from Shipwrecked on Shores as background music on its shows, and Lynch says the band is open to any opportunity that allows the band to keep playing music.
“I’m just here to play. I’m glad people are listening to it,” he says. “I’m glad somebody is happy to put it out. It makes me feel like something I’ve worked on is actually worth a shit.”
1090 Club plays KBGA’s 10th anniversary birthday bash Saturday, Sept. 23, at 9 PM at the Elk’s Lodge. Also performing are The Old Haunts, Fierce Perm and The Photo Atlas. $7.