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Music Preview: Local band tunes into vintage frequency

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

By the time Bill McAdams was born, the sound and the look of the latest Hi-Frequencies record was already 8 to 10 years out of step with what the kids were buying.


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But McAdams grew up on his parents' records, immersing himself in the sounds of a bygone era -- the Beatles and early Stones, a Sonics 45, the original Elvis and the band he now considers an obsession, the Beach Boys.

"Pet Sounds" is his favorite album, but he finds more inspiration in the early stuff.

"I think a lot of people," he says, "will just go to the pinnacle of what a band achieved and try to build from that. And they don't really look at all the sort of loose ends that a band like the Beach Boys might have left behind or different stages in their progression that I think could be fleshed out a little more, explored further because they only maybe went through a certain period for six months. People look at 'Pet Sounds' and say, 'OK, I'm gonna make a record that's gonna recall this,' but they don't really understand what went before that to get to there."

The earlier stuff, the guitarist explains, is "more within my grasp as a musician, more within what I can understand. So that's why I'm interested in it. I mean, I love 'Pet Sounds.' It's my favorite album of all time, but it's beyond me to say that I'm influenced by that. That's silly. That's just not realistic for me right now."

But building on the rhythmic density of Brian Wilson's earlier productions -- with friends of the band sitting in on piano and a baritone guitar -- proved much more realistic for "Hi-Frequencies," which has its release party tonight. From the instrumentals -- of which there are many -- to the "Jonathan Richman singing Bobby Fuller and/or Buddy Holly songs" appeal of the cuts with vocals, "the record could pass for an overlooked gem from the days when rock 'n' roll was more about the 'Fun, Fun, Fun.'

"If we had had a baritone sax," McAdams insists, "it would be even better."

The album cover, a pre-modern classic by bassist Kate Daly, is based on the cover of "All Summer Long."

But one important area in which this album doesn't owe a thing to any Beach Boys record is the harmonies.

There are no harmonies.

"Nobody else," McAdams says, "is really interested in singing."

If the rest of the band could sing like the Wilson brothers, would he use them?

"Of course," he says. "You'd have to."

On the opposite end of the spectrum with regard to all things Beach Boys is where you can usually find the Hi-Frequencies drummer, Bill Scully (whose wife-to-be, Mellisa Varner, plays piano on the record).

In the '60s, his dad was the drummer for local garage-rock legends the Arondies.

"I grew up hating the Beach Boys," Scully says. "My dad hates the Beach Boys. It's a dirty word."

The music in his house, he says, was "always a little more R&B influenced, whereas Bill has loved the Beach Boys since day one, which is fine. I think we kind of work together well because of that. We have common interests musically, but I think we're all like character foils."

McAdams and Scully (who'd prefer it if you wouldn't call the instrumentals surf) met in the warehouse of local garage-rock imprint Get Hip Records -- which, with Scully's help, released a CD of his father's music.

"We would drive around when I was little," Scully says, "and my dad had this eight-track tape of the Arondies stuff, and I thought 'Wow, some day I'm gonna have this stuff released on a proper record.' When we got rid of the car, he almost threw the eight-track out, but I kept it, and it became this quest to find all these tapes. That's when I hooked up with Gregg Kostelich to put their CD out and that's how I met Bill, so it was kind of cosmic, I guess."

McAdams already had signed on a second guitarist -- Jason Lizzi. Daly, whose onstage chemistry with McAdams is half the charm of the live shows, completed the lineup.

For as much as they disagree about the Beach Boys, McAdams and Scully (who actually likes the "Pet Sounds" to "Wild Honey" era, saying, "That whole 'Happy Days' hamburger joint stuff ... it reminds me of good times that I didn't have when I was a kid. My dad was a Clairton cop, you know?") are on the same page with regard to recording on vintage equipment.

McAdams recorded the album in the band's rehearsal space on vintage equipment -- a half-inch four-track and quarter-inch two-track -- he bought for the project.

Scully, who restored his father's early '60s kit so he could use it, says, "I kind of liked doing it that way, because, as you know, my dad's group, the Arondies, did all their stuff on one- and two-track. That was really the sound we were going for, with the old instruments and just that old aesthetic. We weren't trying to be retro. It just so happens that that stuff sounds good. We could have at least used four tracks on some stuff. We didn't, though. Which was fine. Most of it was two- and three-track. I think track four was broken or something. I think the Beatles' first couple records were two-track. They did a good job, so if we can do a hundredth of what they did on their first record, I'd be happy. If we could be 1 percent as good as they were."

Ed Masley can be reached at emasley@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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