Band finds escape from the day-to-day grind at 'Buttermilk Mountain'
There's an element of escapism in Buttermilk Mountain, the long-in-process new album from rock quartet Bummers, which surfaces most obviously on “St. Tropez,” a breezy, beach-ready tune about idling the days away amid the surf and the sun. Of course, when singer/guitarist Jeff Pearl wrote the song two years ago, he was struggling to get by on a 17k-a-year job, living about as far from the tropics as one could.
“But everyone has that spot, either in their mind or a physical place that they go to that is their St. Tropez, their paradise to get away,” said Pearl, who joins bandmates Chris Steris, Steve Sikes-Gilbert and Cody Smith for a release show at Ace of Cups on Saturday, April 27.
In recent years, band practice has served as Bummers' means of escape — a place in which to create free from the pressures of career or family.
“I think it's a vacation from our lives when the four of us get together,” Steris said. “When we're creating music, it's like a drug. And that is the motivation: ‘Hey, let's get away a couple hours and we'll all hang out and play some music and drink some beers.'”
This casual approach informed the long-running sessions, which began in earnest two years ago and involved endless tinkering and experimentation, the bandmates sometimes pushing songs as far as they could before stripping them back. With “80's Men,” for example, the musicians initially layered on every 1980s musical touchstone they could brainstorm — Rod Stewart, Don Henley, Bryan Adams — before peeling some off, landing on a propulsive, synth-driven track that pays homage to the era without detouring into cheese.
At times, the lengthy, laborious process wore on the bandmates, so the built-in breaks proved essential. “When you're in the studio and hearing it over and over and over again you kind of want to distance yourself from it,” Pearl said. “You're listening to 10 different mixes and drum hits. … It was good to take a few months off and get away from it before coming back to do the final mixes.”
Musically, Buttermilk Mountain finds Bummers expanding on its jangly, surf-rock sound, with songs calling to mind everyone from the Strokes (the staccato pulse of “Carolina”) to Smashing Pumpkins and T. Rex (grandiose guitar jam “Not Calling”). While synths are more prominent this time out, tracks are still dominated by a six-string, a trait Steris attributed to three of the four bandmates being foremost guitarists.
“When we started, I played bass on two of the first four songs we wrote,” said Steris of his current role. “Then when we started writing songs again, I already had the bass in my hands … so I just kind of became the bass player.”
Another shift the musicians have gradually adapted to is the idea that the band isn't likely to become a primary career, which was more of a goal coming into Bummers six years ago.
“We're getting older, and we haven't been approached by agencies or anything, which is fine,” Steris said. “That's what we wanted … but now we can take our time and do this how we want instead of getting mad at everybody, like, ‘We have to do more! We have to do this!' We get it. We're 35. We're not going to be on the cover of Teen Beat. And it's OK.”