THE AWW COUPLE Paint the Fence Invisible is mostly devoid of cute, and remains miles from twee, precious, bubblegum or any other reductive adjectives often lobbed at good-time indie pop.
Whenever Drug Rug come up in the press (which is happening more and more lately), writers seem to find it hard to separate the band from the relationship between founding members Sarah Cronin and Tommy Allen. Cronin and Allen are not crazy about this.
"It's annoying," acknowledges Allen when I sit down with the two of them at the Inman Square 1369. "I don't know how to elaborate on that."
I realize I'm not helping matters by bringing this up right off the bat. The important thing is that it's all likely to change. Back in 2007, when Cronin and Allen released Drug Rug, it might have made voyeuristic sense to zoom in on their budding love. Their debut was mostly lo-fi bedroom pop, and the two sounded very cozy, very . . . couply.
But their proper full-length debut, Paint the Fence Invisible (on Black and Greene, a label helmed by Jeremy Black of Apollo Sunshine), will have people talking about the music rather than the relationship. For the most part, it's devoid of cute, and it remains miles from twee, precious, bubblegum, and all those other reductive adjectives that get lobbed at good-time indie pop. Instead, we have Beatles-y pop with ethereal touches. The lyrics are rather dark, and it's heavy on synth arrangements layered with vocal tracks, at times borrowing that old Pixies trick of using high female harmonies to create a ghostly effect.
Although Cronin and Allen remain big fans of the Pixies and every derivative thereof (they even cover the Amps in concert), those eerie qualities may have more to do with some actual spirits. Most of Paint the Fence was recorded at the Old Soul Studios in Catskill, New York — a venue that's said to be haunted.
"We've known people who've had ghost experiences there," says Cronin. "We didn't see anything ourselves."
"The guy who owns the studio will indulge and tell you some crazy stories," adds Allen.
"Like cupboards flying open and doors slamming and shit like that," Cronin throws in. (They often hop in on each other's stories.)
"He'll also tell you that the soul in the house gets transferred into any records that are made there," continues Allen. "He's really big on that. Like, it's in the music."
The closest the band came to anything supernatural at Old Soul was when a bat flew in on three non-consecutive occasions — and even that seems more creepy than paranormal. The real impact of the studio on the recording was the stow of vintage instruments there. Like many a band before them, once Cronin and Allen spotted a Mellotron, they had to use it. It's featured in "Passes On."
"It's the 'Strawberry Fields' instrument," says Cronin. "We had to do it." They also made use of a Casio keytar and a sturdy-sounding vibraphone. (On the other hand, that bubbly synth on "Never Tell," the first MP3 released to the public, comes courtesy of Allen's brother.)
By their own admission, Drug Rug are still figuring things out. On Paint the Fence Invisible, Allen and Cronin — who, lest I forget to mention, won for Local Female Vocalist in our recent Best Music Poll — share vocal duties on nearly every song. They'll be looking to mix that up in the future.
"We're realizing now that you've gotta pick and choose those ones," says Allen. "Things are getting easier for us and more complicated. We're learning more as musicians, I guess — how to write a song with different parts in it."
For a band who've done so well for themselves right out of the gate — creating an identifiable sound and songs as breezy and catchy as they are studied and smart — it's hard to believe that making it this far was never part of the plan. It's as if we were storming into their house to make them famous. "We would just play and sing for fun," acknowledges Allen, who has found that the best thing to jettison on an upward ascent like theirs is any extraneous modesty. "I think at first we were really, really surprised by it. But now we're like, 'Fuck that — we're awesome.' "
DRUG RUG + MEAN CREEK + THE NEW BLACK MAGIC RAINBOW QUARTET + THE NEEDY VISIONS | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | August 8 @ 9 pm | $12 | 617.864.EAST or www.mideastclub.com