A Black Tie affair

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First Posted: 7/1/2014

There are hints of many of today’s contemporary radio favorites found within the music of Scranton-based Black Tie Stereo: Neon Trees, Maroon 5, and The Killers, to name a few. Black Tie’s guitarist Charlie Kaszuba doesn’t shy away from such comparisons; however, he insists his band is all about forging their own identity.

“We really try to go for our own sound,” Kaszuba says, on the heels of Black Tie Stereo’s eponymous debut CD release this Saturday at Ale Mary’s in Scranton.

“Stephen (Murphy) is our main writer,” begins Kaszuba, “and I’d like to say he has a specific sound he likes to go for. I’d say it’s about 50/50, as far as us having an ‘ideal’ sound in mind when we first started this band.” Kaszuba does admit to a bit of trepidation when Murphy first brought the initial batch of songs to him some two years ago, noting that the Scranton area isn’t always the most receptive locale for original material.

“Once I heard the music and his ideas, though” Kaszuba recalls, “I knew right then and there that this wasn’t something that should be taken lightly.”

Black Tie Stereo, morphing from former monikers Aim & Fire and most recently, The Kickbacks, features guitarist Kaszuba, vocalist and pianist/keyboardist Murphy, and is rounded out by drummer George Pachucy and bassist Aaron Kovalich. The band, which in its past life focused on covers, now is taking its shot at the brass ring with a strikingly modern and musically adept approach to popular music – something that’s been garnering a fair bit of attention from fans.

“We like to make sure that everything we do onstage is the best we can do to entertain an audience,” Kaszuba says of the band’s mantra. “When people are enjoying the music and having fun, dancing, that’s all that is really important to us. It’s like a rubber ball situation; the audience gives it right back to us, the energy that we put out there. That’s exactly what we’re looking for. Our band chemistry is very natural; nothing feels forced, and I think that projects.”

Black Tie Stereo’s debut EP was produced by none other than Carl Canedy, the man behind such metal classics as Anthrax’s “Fistful of Metal” and Overkill’s “Feel the Fire.” Black Tie Stereo is a bit of a departure for rock veteran Canedy, who says he likes the idea of tackling something new. Kaszuba’s known Canedy for a while and puts an immeasurable amount of value in the producer’s know-how.

“It’s incredible how well his ears are tuned to music, even down to mixing – how the drums should sound, how everything should be EQ’d,” Kaszuba says. “It’s pretty incredible how he has that natural notion, and he guides you in a great way. I consider him a father figure; I’ve worked with him for many years before this band even started.”

Canedy’s peen pushing his latest discovery in Black Tie Stereo with a figurative gleam in his eye. He should not meet much resistance in rounding up converts to the band’s genre-challenging blend of vivacious pop. There’s unquestionably something for every musical appetite contained with this band’s sound, including the skillful sense of musicianship – which sometimes is known to take a backseat in the pop world.

“We really like having that sense that there is pop; there is rock in there as well,” Kaszuba says. “I guess that’s just something that comes naturally as well because of all of our influences. I do think that today there is a lot of music that is over-processed. I don’t want to say that I’m not a fan of that, but at the same time, there’s nothing like sitting down and working hard at every part of your instrument, making sure that our techniques are the right choices for the songs.”

Kaszuba likes that simple element of unadulterated songwriting exploration, Black Tie Stereo toiling away and honing their craft together as a band.

“That right there brings it all back to how it used to be,” he explains. “At one point, The Beatles were just four guys sitting down with each other saying, ‘How do we write this? How do we get this song to go here?’ It feels really good to just be natural with your instruments. I don’t know if that’s something that Carl had in mind for us all along, but there’s nothing on this record here remotely synthetic other than an electric keyboard or something; everything else is just natural amplifiers, natural drums. It sounds great; we love it.”

A quick preview of the EP on the band’s SoundCloud page reveals a distinctly melodic burst in tracks like the uplifting power pop of “I’ve Made a Friend,” spirited funk in “Go,” and the boundary-defying scope of Queen’s “A Day at the Races” era in the satisfying quirk of “Avalon.”

“I think ‘Go’ definitely got our best reaction when we played it at shows,” says Kaszuba of the new material. “Just from people saying, ‘Wow, that sounds really good, like something on the radio.’ That song is like the standard for who we are and what we like to write.”

Kaszuba goes on to reflect about his band’s process of bringing its increasingly identifiable sound to life.

“I think the coolest part of being in this band and writing this music is that over the years, we’ve been writing this original music and working it into our cover shows to see what people think of the songs,” he says. “It’s a mixed reaction; people are picking and choosing their favorites. Some people are even saying they like “Not the One” best, and that’s really a more alternative-sounding kind of song, not one that you would immediately think of as a single. It’s really cool to see people gravitating toward different songs and naming their favorites. We actually have a new song coming out that’s unfortunately not on the record called ‘21’ that’s getting a great reaction as well.”

Upon the release of the debut EP, Kaszuba is optimistic of his band’s chances with the music they’ve created, yet remains grounded in the thought that the music business is a volatile world of unpredictability. The new music will be available at all the usual outlets, such as Amazon, iTunes, as well as the band’s website and shows. As an added incentive, the first 100 people through the door at the release party Saturday night will receive a free download card redeemable for the EP.

“We want as many people to hear it as possible,” he says. “We could be here today, then tomorrow in Los Angeles dealing with some record company. We’re going to enjoy the ride while it lasts, writing more music, and keep plugging away. Locally, our spot within the music scene here, we’re enjoying where we are.”