Singer Chris Butterfield says he spoke too soon when his band Pink Lightning called its 2011 debut EP First Rodeo, implying, with a roll of weary eyes, that only with their new full-length album, Happy to Be Here, do he and his bandmates feel "seasoned." He admits he's probably "the more obsessive one ..." of the quintet, which includes founder members Neal Parks (drums), Everette Rinehart (bass) and Leo McWilliams (accordion).
Quirkier influences inform Pink Lightening, such as karaoke cut-ups and stand-up comedians. The suspender-strapped, shimmying shout-singer is prone to improvisation — but get him in the studio and he suffers nerve-wracking battles with his "constant-revisionist" side.
"I'm very critical and particular about my parts and you'll hear a lot of dubbing on Here, but that's 'cause I worship Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson and Michael Jackson," Butterfield says. "There was a lot of room on the songs, so then I said, 'Oh, let's bring in the horns!'"
Pink Lightning has honed its oddball, danceable rock for two years. What does it sound like? Imagine post-punk rhythms with destructo disco in the garage — like post-bop jazzheads jibing with neo-psyche space-rock shredders. And then there's that accordion. The whole thing's akin to a carnival, at the very least, affecting a Tilt-a-Whirl aesthetic in energy and song structure.
But capturing that energy, all their experimental tempo shifts, Parks says, means "work." He claims to have lost three pounds after slamming skins for hours on end in a "sweatlodge" of a soundproof room. "Loved every second of it, though," he says. "This album means a lot to me."
Tom Bahorski (of the Ashleys) joined Pink Lightning last autumn, recruited to fill void left by the departure of original guitarist Matt Paw (who plays on Here). Bahorski recorded the brass section (Thomas Gilchrist on tuba and Stephen Bublitz on trombone) in McWilliams and Parks' Eastern Market loft, which doubles as PL's rehearsal space. Unfortunately, much of the recording was lost to corrupt file. They recorded again and the results were better the second time around.
"That frustrated me at first," Rinehart says, "but once I heard how it paid off, I knew I'd have to be patient."
It's hard to stay patient when post-punk rhythms are in your DNA.
Bahorski says he's anticipating Here as a fan first, but now, as a member, "It's just exciting being around exciting people and handsome lads to boot." —Jeff Milo
Saturday, April 28, at the Old Miami, 3930 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-3830; with Mexican Knives, Beekeepers, Robin Parrent