Company Of Thieves

There’s a well-known saying that can make a lot of bands uncomfortable while embarking upon their second album: Musicians have their entire lives to write their debut, and a year to complete the follow-up. But in the case of Company of Thieves, the Chicago outfit couldn’t wait to record its sophomore full-length, Running From A Gamble. Even though Company of Thieves’ famously feverish fanbase is exponentially larger than it was when the band released its first album, the only pressure felt during the making of Running From A Gamble was due to the explosive nature of the songs themselves. And the tremendous results are a testament to how far the band has come in such a short period of time.

“We were very eager to get things moving quickly because we were so excited about the new songs,” says guitarist Marc Walloch. “There’s a sense of urgency in this record that comes through the speakers.”

“This record needed to come out of me,” says frontwoman Genevieve. “It was extremely confrontational in a healthy way, and I think that’s why I wasn’t too concerned with what people were expecting.”

The past few years have been busy and fruitful for Company of Thieves, which is now rounded out by drummer Chris Faller. Founded in their teens, Company of Thieves’ members already conduct themselves like veterans, even though they’re still just in their mid-20s. The band’s first record, Ordinary Riches, originally issued independently in 2007, was re-released in early 2009 by Wind-up Records and debuted at #5 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart. The band toured nonstop, hitting the road with groups like Annuals, OK Go, and The Hold Steady, and along the way played Lollapalooza, Last Call With Carson Daly, and Live From Daryl’s House.

“It was really cool to hear Daryl Hall talk about how he liked our writing,” says Walloch. “All the musicians are absolutely amazing—right when we walked through the door they made us feel good and comfortable. It was really cool to be around people of that caliber and not have any fear of playing in front of them because they’re so good.”

When the time came to start writing the new record, Walloch and Genevieve found that ideas were already flowing out of them. Inspired by their diverse influences—including The Beatles, Billie Holliday, Fiona Apple, Radiohead, Elliott Smith, and Nirvana—they inject their triumphant, catchy music with their own energy and soul, making for a deeply dynamic sound that can turn from sweet to searing on a dime. All the time spent on the road not only gave them plenty of opportunities to play around with melodies and chords in the van, hotel rooms, and backstage, it offered a new perspective on America and, ultimately, life in general. That’s when Genevieve began to form the narrative that drives Running From A Gamble, a 13-song coming-of-age story about a girl who, if you listen closely, sounds like she has a lot in common with her creator.

“Karen is the prototypical girl who grows up in the suburbs and feels like maybe she’s destined for bigger things,” says Genevieve. “She leaves home early and goes on this wild adventure of what happens in life, and the relationships that you get into and how you learn about yourself. It’s the realization that we are not our problems, we just struggle with them. And our identity doesn’t have to be consumed by the hardships that we are experiencing.”

The “gamble” in the title can also be referred to as a risk, and instead of running away from anything, Karen runs from risk to risk, the kinds that must be taken by someone who’s moving from a life of dependence to one of autonomy. As Genevieve sings in the peppy, organ-fueled “Look Both Ways,” “You never feel alive until you are risking your life.” Some of the gambles we find Karen taking include facing up to old habits, embracing compromise, risking ostracism by being honest about who she is, and putting herself on display as a performer, which can result in, as Genevieve puts it, “being treated like a marionette in the circus that is life.” All of the blood, sweat, and tears that the singer poured into Running From A Gamble can be heard in the gorgeous wailing during “Won’t Go Quietly,” a song that starts off gently but eventually explodes with unbridled emotion.

Another topic confronted on the album is the environment, and understanding that to every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. The horn-filled Motown-esque extravaganza “Tallulah” was inspired by a small town in Louisiana that the band passed through while on tour.

“There was no one on the main street downtown,” says Genevieve. “All these buildings were completely abandoned, and yet there were these vines growing up from the earth, wrapping themselves around the structures. It looked like they were taking them back into the earth, and it was this amazing feeling that the earth prevails.”

Despite its varying moods and textures, Running From A Gamble is a cohesive, fully formed album, one that Walloch says “you don’t want to skim through.” The band spent a couple of months at the beginning of 2010 fleshing out the acoustic demos made by Walloch and Genevieve. By the time they’d moved operations in the summer from Chicago to L.A., where they hooked up with producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith, Saves The Day), Running From A Gamble was ready to be recorded. Schnapf helped Company of Thieves capture its live intensity in the studio, which included documenting the power of Genevieve’s booming voice. However, at first the band wasn’t sure if they were in the right relationship.

“Our initial conversations with Rob were bad, because he didn’t really give us any answers to our questions, which is what turned out to be so great about him,” says Walloch. “Anything we would ask him about the process, he’d say, ‘I can’t tell you, it has to be whatever it naturally needs to be. I don’t have any plan.’ And we just loved that.”

“I felt like Rob really let me do my thing and would encourage me to get to the point where I felt like I had to sing songs to get them out of me,” says Genevieve. “I don’t know what more I could have asked for.”

Having recorded in L.A., toured the country numerous times, and played overseas, the members of Company of Thieves are certainly a worldly bunch. But they also know where they came from and aren’t about to lose sight of what got them here.

“There’s definitely a hard-work ethic in the Midwest,” says Walloch. “The seasons change your inspiration, they change your mood, they change how productive you are. It’s good to not be conditioned to any one thing or be like a robot and always feel or be the same. I guess that’s kind of like our music.”

Rob Clancy

Rob Clancy of Cold Roses.

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"I don't see any contradiction between playing a loud rock 'n' roll song or a quiet acoustic ballad, if it's all coming from a place that's real and honest," says Cold Roses' singer-guitarist-songwriter Rob Clancy.



Indeed, Cold Roses' new album Escape to Anywhere makes it clear that this is a band that's too busy making dynamic, personally charged music to recognize musical limitations or genre restrictions. The Philadelphia-bred sextet deftly merges forceful sonic punch, crafty melodic hooks and emotionally forthright lyrical content, while taking advantage of the varied sonic and textural palette provided by the band's expanded instrumental lineup.

Those qualities are apparent throughout the album's 12 original songs, from the surging, anthemic drive of "Staying Alive Ain't Easy" to the soulful drama of "Divine Lorraine" to the haunting orchestral balladry of "Words Without Speaking" to the inventive acoustic textures of "Next to You" to the soaring epic rock of "No Silence in the City."

The level of commitment that drives Escape to Anywhere has been deeply ingrained in Cold Roses since the band's scrappy beginnings on Philadelphia's highly competitive live music scene. Clancy was still in his early teens when he began playing drums and guitar in other people's bands, but it wasn't long before he embraced the urge to write his own songs and play his own music.

Towards that end, Clancy assembled Cold Roses, borrowing the name from a favorite Ryan Adams song, and evolving through a series of personnel changes into a singular creative force. Almost immediately, the new outfit established itself as a presence on the local club scene. Although the band briefly gigged as an acoustic trio before adopting a standard two-guitars-bass-and-drums format, Clancy's restless creative spirit eventually drove him to add keyboards, saxophone and trumpet to the band's lineup.

"I love '60s R&B and soul, so I looked to that stuff and thought, what would happen if we bring in a horn section?" Clancy recalls. "We brought them in to rehearsal, just to see how it would sound, and they just kind of stuck. Once we got them in the band, the whole vibe just changed. Having those additional elements to draw on gave us the ability to stretch out and make unpredictable choices.

"The band developed through trial and error," Clancy explains. "We'd try different things and keep the ones that worked. And as we played more and more, our chemistry got stronger and more intuitive."

Along the way, Cold Roses earned a fervent local fan base and a reputation as a powerful live act. Despite the band's lack of a mainstream record deal, Philadelphia's legendary album-rock station WMMR jumped on board, naming Cold Roses Artist of the Month and giving airplay to songs from the band's independently released indie album No Silence in the City. Eventually, stations across the country were playing Cold Roses tracks as well.

While Escape to Anywhere demonstrates Cold Roses' credentials as a world-class outfit, Clancy is quick to note the role that the band's hometown has played in developing Cold Roses' music and character. "This band has definitely been shaped by where we're from," he states, adding, "Philly made us a working band. In Philly, if you're a band playing original material, you really have to bust your ass, and that was a big lesson for us. All of the people in this band come from very different musical backgrounds, but we're all from this area, and that common ground is a big part of the band's foundation.

"Philly has an underdog quality, and it also has such a rich R&B and jazz heritage," Clancy asserts. "It's a town with a lot of heart that doesn't put up with bullshit, and it's a working-class town with a strong work ethic. It also has some of the toughest crowds in the country to win over. We’ve played to such a wide variety of people and found a way to connect with each one of them.”

The lessons learned on the band's home turf proved invaluable during the making of Escape to Anywhere. The band recorded the album – which marks the first release for indie label Recorded Records -- at Los Angeles' Cactus studio with veteran producers David J. Holman (who also engineered) and Roger Paglia.

"Doing this record was a very different experience for us," says Clancy. "The other records we've made were done at a very different time in my life and in the band's life. This is also the first time we've recorded with a bigger lineup, so it was a challenge to figure out how to make that work in the studio.

"We approached the whole thing very organically," he continues. "We recorded everything analog, and we recorded all of the rhythm tracks live, because it was important to us to capture the feel and keep the human quality. The whole thing was really exciting, experimenting with different sounds and different ways of performing the songs. It was also the first time we'd worked with producers, and it was good having someone who had a different perspective and could offer an unbiased opinion of what we were doing."

Escape to Anywhere also finds Clancy and company revisiting key songs from their sparsely distributed indie releases.

"'No Silence in the City,' 'Leave You Alone' and 'Words Without Speaking' are songs that we first recorded on our previous album, and 'Tired of Losing You' was a song that we originally released on an old single," Clancy notes. "But re-recording them, they were like new songs to me, because I was a different person when I wrote them, and because the band was a different band when we first recorded them. I think that the song 'Escape to Anywhere' really encompasses the album. It's about that feeling of always wanting to be somewhere else, but maybe not really being sure of exactly where you want to go."

That restless sense of adventure runs through Escape to Anywhere, and marks Cold Roses as a band to watch.

"It's been a long process getting this record out, but I feel like it's been worth it." Clancy concludes. "I feel like this band now is a well-oiled machine that's firing on all cylinders, so we're looking to getting out there and seeing what it can do."

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