— by Farrah Weinstein
Aberdeen City are a classic college-radio success story.
Guitarist Chris McLaughlin remembers waking up one morning in his Aberdeen Architectural District rental home in Boston and hearing one of his band's songs on a local radio station.
"It was creepy," he said. "It's a way to get out of bed in the morning."
"Yeah, we definitely had a lot of support right off the bat from college radio," lead singer/ bass player Brad Parker added. "And there are certainly stations out there like WFNX in Boston that have kind of championed the band at a larger scale, but it's ongoing. It's developing."
Aberdeen City were brought together by some strange force of nature. The story in a nutshell: When they were 13, drummer Robert McCaffrey and guitarist Ryan Heller played in a band together in a small town outside of Chicago. Parker lived in the same town, but the three didn't hook up until they all attended college together in Boston in 2001, where they met McLaughlin, a Massachusetts native.
Each bandmember has a rebellious back story, which has driven the group to write passionate lyrics with a Radiohead-meets-Better Than Ezra sound. McLaughlin gave up a career in physics after blinding his dog during an experiment involving ionized photons. Heller turned down an opportunity to run his family's snack-food company. McCaffrey was expelled from middle school for acting out during a performance of the musical "Pirates of Penzance." And Parker connected with his introverted-rocker side by locking himself in a sensory-deprivation tank for 24 hours in his parents' attic.
"It was a project about discovering the meaning of life," Parker said. "What is a precocious teen going to do? He is going to build a big box and isolate himself from any external stimulation for 24 hours and then write about it, so that's what it was. It was a bizarre experience, something I might want to re-create at one point."
Once they got together, the rockers rented a house, recorded music and started playing small gigs, eventually releasing the self-produced EP We Learned by Watching in 2003, which earned the band major kudos locally and online.
In February 2005, Aberdeen City relocated to a converted barn in New York's Catskills region to record their first full-length album, The Freezing Atlantic, isolating themselves for three weeks in the dead of winter.
"It was awesome," Parker said. "It was complete isolation. We were doing some tracking, and the temperature would dip down into the 40s and 30s."
Dark, sardonic songs came alive in the small, cold space, including "Pretty Pet," which has the lyrics "I've hurt more than you/ Sometimes regret makes a great pet/ You hit the target, my pet, regret." And their first single, "God Is Going to Get Sick of Me," was also recorded there.
"It's snappy and sexy," Parker said. "You just sort of hear it and think that this is a good foot to put forward. It's memorable, it's significant, and it hits you when you listen to it."
The band recently shot a video for "God," which McLaughlin called "a collage."
"That's the way we write, taking bits and pieces of parts and sticking them together in different ways and then performing them in that way," he said.
Parker, a classically trained violinist who picked up the bass only a year ago, said the band's music has "a lot of texture, layered, dark, melodic music."
"It's music that moves us," he said. "We like to break the instruments into voices. I think that we do push the instruments as much as we can, because we want to get a lot out of them. There's no classic division between a rhythm guitar and a lead guitar and someone coming in with a gorgeous solo."
The Freezing Atlantic was released in fall 2005 and had a strong presence on the CMJ charts. The LP earned the band a Boston Music Award that year and was voted Local Album of 2006 by readers of The Boston Phoenix.
It also ended up in a Sony executive's office with a little help from an intern/fan.
"He knew about the band and liked the CD and kind of passed it up," McCaffrey said. "And it kept getting passed along, until people started showing up at gigs, and you get to the point where people want to see what it's all about, and we were at a point where we were trying to figure out, 'Do we go back into the studio or do we keep going with this album?' ... And so the timing worked out really well. They wanted to put the album out again and help us to reach a few more people, and we were up to it."
Aberdeen City then collaborated with producer Steve Lillywhite and re-recorded a few tracks, leading to a deal with Sony's Red Ink label, which re-released The Freezing Atlantic on Tuesday.
The band is on tour through November, and instead of going out and partying all night with major-label paychecks, Aberdeen City are going the responsible route.
"I think that getting a van and getting around the country is a goal that we have attained," Parker said of the group's first big purchase. "And I think that's something we're going to continue to do. It's pretty simple, but we're making our first full loop in the fall with the Electric Six, pretty much Michigan to Michigan, all around the coasts, and that's something. It takes away from our day jobs, it puts us out on the road consistently, and it's something we've wanted to do for a while."
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