Band to Watch alum set to release its Kickstarter-funded full-length debut

Until recently, when it came to recording, local rock act Playing to Vapors was content to go it alone, taking as much time as it needed to tweak the songs that ended up on EPs like Identities (2012) and A Glitch in a Void (2015).

But for new album Shred the Master Design, which the band funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, Playing to Vapors rented time at 3 Elliott Studio in Athens, Ohio, working with producer/engineer Josh Antonuccio, who recorded the band onto analog tape.

At first, the urgency of a shorter, more expensive timeframe caused some anxiety. “The whole time we were recording to tape, [guitarist] Daron [Mackenzie] was flipping out about not doing enough takes and that we didn't have enough time,” singer Lucas Harris said recently at a coffee shop. “Josiah [DePaso] had to do drum takes and nail them right then and there. … All of us were super stressed out.”

But the challenge also served as a breakthrough for the band, which also includes guitarist Mike Stokes and bassist (and Dispatch Media Group employee) Zackary Cramp. “I wrote the lyrics to ‘Shred the Master Design' in the studio,” Harris said. “Usually we're the band that has infinite time to record, so the whole idea with ‘Shred the Master Design' was letting go of that idea and giving in to this new way of recording and just letting it be its own thing.”

Harris and his bandmates found a certain freedom in letting go, and they also embraced being able to play live in a room together during the recording process instead of taking the track-by-track, piecemeal approach. “It made a huge difference,” Harris said. “If you listen to it, you can feel the energy we put off in a live environment a lot more on the new stuff.”

The 2016 Band to Watch will celebrate its debut full-length with a show at Park Street Saloon on Saturday, June 17, the day after Shred the Master Design's official release. It's an album that finds the bandmates, most of whom have been playing together since their days at Worthington Kilbourne High School, simultaneously expanding and refining its arena-ready alt-rock. Playing to Vapors explores new sonic territory, incorporating wolf howls into the title track and adding walls of guitars and even an opera singer on album-closer “Lydia,” while also consciously making the songs more approachable.

“We were focused on getting better at writing songs people could latch onto,” Harris said. “On ‘Shred the Master Design,' I'm [also] talking about the back and forth of making something different that stands apart from everything else, but also is familiar. It's this weird catch-22.”

Though Harris and the band didn't initially approach Shred with a specific lyrical framework in mind, he said the songs began to overlap thematically. “The overarching theme is being a young, impressionable person and trying to figure out who you can trust — who's good, who's bad, who's trying to play you for a fool,” he said. “I've always felt like I try to write songs that aren't necessarily easy to interpret. I'm trying to be better about that. I'm trying to make it more obvious what I'm talking about.”