It takes a certain kind of courage to get onstage and make people laugh. It also takes courage to lead a rock band playing your own autobiographical, if cryptic, songs. For Lainey Schooltree, it has been a long trip transitioning from one to the other. In January 2011, her ass-kicking musical-comedy duo the Steamy Bohemians were dormant, and Schooltree was desperate to create. She had been writing more serious-minded music since she was a kid, but was afraid to show it off. As a personal dare, she took the RPM Challenge, writing, producing, and recording an album in the space of one month. "I felt like, 'This needs to move forward,' " she says. " 'I've been trying to move this forward for years, and nothing has been happening.' "
The result was May 2011's My Metal Mother, a reflection of her eclectic tastes — art rock, '70s prog rock, Stephen Sondheim, Kate Bush. The last step was to put together a band to play the music, a prospect Schooltree had found intimidating. "I had wanted to do it for years and years," she says. "I think I just didn't have the courage, I was just sort of putting it off and instead doing more comedy stuff." She tapped guitarist Brendan Burns, with whom she had collaborated in the puppetry troupe Elephant Tango Ensemble and the variety show Bent Wit Cabaret. With Burns she formed Schooltree, the band, eventually rounding out the quartet with Derek Van Wormer (bass) and Chris Anderson (drums). They celebrate the release of their first album, Rise, this weekend.
Rise continues to develop Schooltree's varied tastes. "Today" conjures dystopia with a bouncy feel and plucking banjo (Schooltree told Burns to use the Muppets' "Rainbow Connection" as a reference). There's a dramatic sweep to the music and narrative of "Six Feet Up" that would be at home in a stage musical, albeit a fairly complex one. "After You're Gone," a Mother song in a new arrangement, owes a debt to '70s AOR.
Schooltree struggles to describe the band's sound — she calls it "cabaret rock for nerds and weirdos" on their Facebook page. But it is heavily influenced by melodic prog rock, which can be a tough label to sell. "There's such a stigma against prog, which makes me very sad because I think it is some of the best music ever made," she says.
Schooltree, the band, will continue to cater to the offbeat, and will include some cabaret acts before the music starts at the Lizard Lounge. And Schooltree, the person, will continue to take risks. "I like big ambitious things," she says. "Part of what moves life forward for me is setting a goal you're not quite sure you'll be able to do because you've never done it before, and then breaking your neck."
SCHOOLTREE + COUNT ZERO :: Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass Ave, Cambridge :: March 15 :: 8:30 pm :: 21+ :: $10 :: 617.547.0759 or lizardloungeclub.com