The Weight of Change is the debut album for Brother Starling. The Philadelphia group’s record is the true definition of Americana – using a blend of rock, folk, and even a little funk to bring out the emotional lyrics of singer Geremiah Giampa. Guitarist Mike Rusch, bass player Brian Fin, guitar/keyboardist Joe Ryan, drummer Tom Mellon, and Giampa answered questions about the recording and songwriting process for the new record.
What vision did you have for the record’s sound when you began writing The Weight of Change?
Geremiah Giampa: We spent the year leading up to the album really just playing and understanding what our sound as a band was. Having that direction helped open up the options for songs that we could pick to record. Several of the early songs were acoustic based with a Laurel Canyon vibe that we wanted to build upon and highlight as a group. Once the subject matter of the lyrics came into focus, we definitely adjusted our playing to make sure the emotion of it all wasn’t lost.
How long did it take you to write and record the album?
Brian Fin: The actual recording process took just about a year. We had done the basic tracks and had a planned break that tragedy changed the course of and then ultimately the entire album. The nine songs that became the record were written over the course of four years. We tend to revisit songs we had hit a wall with in the past because sometimes the stars align and suddenly one we had given up on comes together in a totally new way. “You And Me” is the only song on the record that is almost identical to its original demo that Geremiah brought to the band.
All the others have been torn apart and put back together in several different ways that make the original ideas almost unrecognizable.
My favorite song on the record is “All Those Nights.” I enjoy how well the band plays as a whole on the track. Does one person come up with general arrangements before you head into the studio or do you piece things together collaboratively as you record?
Joe Ryan: Typically Geremiah comes in with an idea including a melody, lyrics, and chord structure on the acoustic guitar. We really enjoy taking a journey from there that may stray far from the original idea depending on what instrumentation we think fits the song or what we each feel while experiencing it. We’ve had songs that started as acoustic ballads and transformed into driving anthems.
Our producer, Derek Chafin, provides a great deal of input on what he feels works best for the song and the album. He provides us with an insightful perspective that pushes us out of our comfort zone and allows us to see what sounds best. We really enjoy “All Those Nights” because it felt so right to give the song space and keep it in the theme of acoustic guitar, simple piano, straightforward bass and drums and colorful electric guitar lead lines.
The lead track has a great open highway vibe. How did “Cobbled Streets” come together?
Mike Rusch: “Cobbled Streets” is a song that we were always working on and had a few different variations over the past year and a half. Our producer, Derek Chafin (Barn Sound) thought it would be good to put something uptempo on the album that would sort of put you in a trance – something similar to Wilco’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” but with a big chorus. Brian Fin (bass) started playing that rhythmic bassline, we started layering as a band and it really brought everything into focus.
The record has a consistent Americana tone and then “Madmen” throws a funkier tune into the picture despite some bleak lyrics. How did you piece together a song with such strong emotions and funky groove?
Tom Mellon: This is one of my most fond memories from the recording process. On the second day of tracking, G had sent me a raw demo of him strumming the opening riff on an acoustic and lightly singing. He has always found a way to implement some groove into our songs and this song was a perfect example.
Before we left the studio after a long weekend of recording, we started a discussion with Derek that maybe there’s room to put one more rock song on the record. I asked G to play the demo that he sent. We huddled around his phone and Derek insisted to try tracking an idea. I remember that I had to pee and Brian had to leave so we were limited on time. Derek basically locked us in the room until we tracked this. It was done in a half hour. I walked downstairs to find Derek and G listening to the playback.
I said “it may be a good demo.” They said, “demo? We just got it.” It was one of those rare times that you write and record a song in minutes. There was definitely a sense of swagger, sex and angst. Although, the groove was reminiscent of a Bill Withers track. While it was the quickest to record, it was the last song to have completed lyrics. G went back and forth with lyrics but the result was very fitting for the world today which can be interpreted in any way you want.
The Weight of Change was released in January and you had dates scheduled for the spring. How has COVID-19 affected Brother Starling’s plans for 2020 and how have you been passing the time?
Geremiah Giampa: We had several shows scheduled for Spring that have either canceled or have been postponed and we’re really unsure (like many) as to what is going to happen with the Summer or Fall. Even if the country is fully operational again, how long will it be before the general public feels confident enough to be at a crowded show?
Covid-19 affected us because we were on a roll creatively and had just put in a lot of work translating the songs from The Weight of Change to fit a live setting. Lately, we have been getting together on Zoom calls to stay in touch (beyond texting) which has been fun. I have done a couple of Facebook live performances and we all have been collaborating ideas back and forth via apps as a way to stay creative as a band.
The Weight of Change is available for download on Brother Starling’s website and streaming on Spotify.