Artist to Watch: Pela

Brooklyn band eavesdrops on everyday America and turns outs ballads of isolation and love

Amelia McDonell-ParryPosted May 03, 2007 11:42 AM


You learn a lot when you work as a bartender, but the people who benefit from slinging drinks at all hours of the night aren't just the drunks getting their buzz on. "I've seen so much dark shit, man" says Billy McCarthy, singer and guitarist for the Brooklyn band Pela, who release their debut Anytown Graffiti this month. "I've served strippers who've just had men slip dollars into their thongs. I've served cops who've just come from a homicide scene. Lawyers who are cheating on their wives, doctors who have coke problems. It's so amazing. It's like once you walk through that door, everyone is just a heart sitting there on a stool." These are just some of the characters who show up on Anytown Graffiti, Pela's debut album (out this month), which paints a scrawled-on-the-bathroom-wall portrait of smalltown America.

It's par for the course that McCarthy met his now-band mate Eric Sanderson while he was performing in an NYC subway station. "We got together to play and I thought it was so great from the first moment," explains Sanderson, who, along with guitarist Nate Martinez, is a classically trained musician. (Drummer Tomislav Zovich, for his part, cut his teeth playing Croatian weddings). McCarthy's schooling mostly came from absorbing the eclectic sounds emanating from boom boxes during summer backyard barbeques. "They're probably the first real musicians I've played with," he says. "Well, we're all real musicians, but they've studied music which is completely amazing to me. I've always thought of 'trained musicians' as, like, an Asian girl with a cello, you know? These guys know jazz and stuff."

SOUND Horns blare on the Pixies-esque anti-war ballad "Cavalry," while the swelling desperation in McCarthy's vocals recalls a certain Coldplay singer on "Waiting On the Stairs." But point blank, Pela is just making American rock, minus the pressure of labels like punk or indie.

STAGE PRESENCE Pela established a hardcore fan base based purely on their insanely powerful live shows. See them once and you'll understand why Anytown Graffiti could be a sleeper hit: The energy McCarthy and his band mates bring to the stage is so intense that songs like the haunting and lonesome "Your Desert's Not A Desert At All" gets gut-wrenching, while the slow and steady gallop of "Cavalry" ended up feeling like the insides of a Civil War battle cry. However, seeing the band live isn't a privilege they afford only their adult fans. "I really stand by how valuable it is to play all-ages shows," says McCarthy. "A lot of those kids who live in small towns, they don't always gets to see shows, so when they come out it's really awesome. I was that kid once, you know? Besides they say that everywhere the Ramones played, a new band popped up. They were forging these routes with their tours that no other band had bothered to go to yet. They were like Lewis and Clark."

MUST-HAVE TRACK: "Lost to the Lonesome"

"Lost to the Lonesome" has a heart-beat rhythm that harmonizes against the joyful melody in McCarthy's voice.

WHERE TO HEAR IT: Pela released two EP's that they paid for themselves before finding a home for Anytown Graffiti on Warner Brothers' new imprint Great Society. The album is out April 24th. You can catch the band live when they mount a U.S. tour with Brakes, Brakes, Brakes starting May 30th in Los Angeles. Find out if they're stopping by a town near you by visiting their myspace page.

SEE THEM NOW: It's strings versus rhythm as McCarthy and his band mates take on the suddenly hip garden sport of Bocce ball at Brooklyn bar Floyd's.

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Pela is the RS Artist to Watch for 4/18/07 Photo

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