Pewter Cub plays Kelly's Bar at 9:20 p.m., Saturday, with Polish Muslims, After Dark Amusement Park and Black Jake and the Carnies.
Regan Lorie and Scott Sanford started jamming jangly, shoegaze-y tunes atop drum machine beats back in 2008 or so. They soon christened themselves Pewter Cub (Not "Club" — "Cub") and began gigging around the Motor City.
Although the combo earned a following in these parts — particularly after the release of their excellent first album, 2010's The Door Opened; You Got In — to this day (as recently as when they opened for House Phone's tape release show in early February), they're still saddled with an 'l' in Cub.
"It's been the bane of our existence," guitarist Sanford says, between bites of Sgt. Pepperoni's pizza inside Detroit's Majestic complex before their (aforementioned) show with House Phone. "For some reason people look at 'cub' and want to add the 'l' in there."
Contrary to the lo-fi, somber sound of Pewter Cub, the trio — which includes drummer Dave Jennings — doesn't mind incessant goof-ups (like with their name) and can clearly take a joke. (This entire conversation is full of guffaws, jabs and chuckles among the group, against a soundtrack of bowling, drinking and piped-in '80s pop classics.)
Bassist, guitarist and singer Lorie has played piano practically her entire life but never tried bass or guitar until the initial meetings with Sanford.
Sanford loaned her an ax and she taught herself. But, their early live sets were a far cry from the man-this-sounds-just-like-the-record shows the trio musters up now; those shows were often discouraging — and even managed to piss the sound man.
"We just did it out of necessity," Sanford says. "We didn't have a drummer at the time and that's just how we were writing songs. [But] after six months we were drum-machined out. We needed to get a real drummer." Jennings joined in fall 2008.
Because pop music is ever-cyclical, it has in recent years celebrated a kind of early '90s nostalgia — an era that traced the rise of indie (college) rock, from the Pixies to the Lemonheads to the Woodentops. Lots of bands winningly trumpet tones of earlier days (Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire etc.), while others are face-pinchingly contrived (Wavves). So here's where Pewter Cub's appeal lies: There are cues that recall Sonic Youth, Pixies and Pavement, sure, but Lorie, Sanford et al. create a wonderful din all their own — inside these crafty, genuine, noisy rock songs — two decades removed from their idols.
"Everything goes in cycles," Sanford says. "It's been 20 years since the '90s, which is kind of crazy to think about. [Our sound] wasn't a conscious effort. That's just what happened."
Lorie adds, "We don't really set out to do a specific sort of thing. I think we're all so heavily influenced by a lot of that stuff, that we can't help that it kind of comes out on its own."
Mitten folks have taken notice too. After performing at least monthly at seemingly every local watering hole and venue, along with their inclusion in local projects such as the Urgh! A Detroit Music War performance — a DVD featuring local bands performing at the Lager House last June as an homage to the famous '80s Brit film — Pewter Cub manages to pull something from even the tiniest crowd, which is a measure of strength for any act of any size.
"If one or two people come up to you afterward and rant and rave about how much they like you, then it was worth it," Lorie says.
Because they begin recording a new LP in a few weeks and have a single coming soon on Five Three Dial Tone Records (is that label everywhere?), PC isn't switching to glide yet.
The three-piece has tested the new songs live for months now, some of which reveal a departure in sound, but Lorie says they're still very much Pewter Cub-y: "There's no real agenda. If we hear something we like we just roll with it and it becomes a Pewter Cub song."
How does Lorie describe themes in her lyrics?
"Songs are about girl crap — breakups, loneliness," she says, by way of minimizing the very thing at which she's proven herself gifted. Lorie's no mundane storyteller. Her narratives are often rich. A song from the forthcoming record called "Black Music" has an outsiderist theme born of familiarity.
Lorie grew up in a biracial household — white dad, black mom — which created some difficult expectations along with its inherent set of public judgments.
"Growing up, people always expect you to choose sides; to be a certain way because you are half-this or half-that," Lorie says. "So it was always hard to deal with, 'cause you feel like you [didn't] fit in in certain places."
But, the song stemmed from experience: One day while working at a record store with "another lady of color," Lorie says they were listening to a loud rock band, whose name she forgets, when a black woman walked in and immediately her face turned sour upon hearing the music. After walking around the shop for a moment, the woman stormed up to the counter and demanded: "Can you please put on some black music?"
Lorie and the co-worker started joking with her asking, "Well, what's black music?" "Music by black people!" the woman answered before storming out.
The song's context reflects Lorie's definition of the purpose of music. "[The song is] just about this idea that music is not just one thing, it's not one stereotypical thing, it's something for everybody," she says. "[Music] is universal ... in all of us."
Pewter Cub steps on stage at the Magic Stick Lounge, right before House Phone. The band offers little discourse, moving from one tune to the next, and they're received warmly.
This is about the music, and the progress this trio has made from its inception to right now is something. Lorie's vocal melodies hauntingly remain in the head; her voice sounds uncannily like that of Thalia Zedek of often overlooked bands Come and Live Skull, filled out with Sanford's well-fingered chops and Jennings' melody-supporting beats. Their sound is well-rounded and classic, winking at a time when indie had more class and recognition, and wasn't spread so thin and trivialized, when songs weren't just an excuse to load and unload a van.
And it's "Cub," not "Club."
Pewter Cub's Regan Lorie picks her five life-changing records
Kraftwerk — Computerwelt: Me, my brother and sister were raised on the Electrifying Mojo show and he played Kraftwerk constantly. When my brother was in the Army stationed in Germany he brought home a German pressing (yellow vinyl!) of this record. To this day I can't listen to it in English.
Prince — (self-titled): I remember hearing this record for the first time and asking my mom why the lady on the cover had a moustache and a hairy chest. Prince was something completely new, defying race, gender, genre ... he's like a musical superhero. Completely woke me up.
The Beatles — 1962-1966: I was 12 the first time I really heard the Beatles. "Eleanor Rigby" was playing in my dad's LeBaron on one of his AM Gold stations. I remember begging him to take me to Aspen Records, where I bought the only Beatles tape they had, and promptly wore it the hell out.
Babes in Toyland — Spanking Machine: The Babes were my teenage heroines. They were the first band that really drove home the fact that girls were out there teaching themselves guitar and starting bands, and that this really was something anyone could do, even me.
The Chameleons — Script of the Bridge: This was one of those albums I discovered 20 years too late and was angry that I spent all those years without it ... and one of those lush, intricate records that inspires whatever beautiful noise is inside you. (And coincidentally, not long after I first met this record, Pewter Cub was born.)