Township Ten: 10 Mighty Years Of Township –
Marc Pinansky Takes Us Back To The Beginning
by Marc Pinansky
photos by Troublemaker Photography/Marianne Bolduc
When we were invited to play the Rumble, to be honest, our main motivation was that it was a paid gig (more than we were averaging at that point and we were working on our first album -which would eventually be pared down to the Ladywood EP) and a chance to get in front of a few hundred people who’d never seen us before. Remember, we had only been playing live for just under a year at the start of the Rumble, so we figured we would never advance past the first round. Therefore, we had no grand dreams of winning the contest, only to take our money and hopefully make a few new fans.
Township – “Gunnin Thru The Nite” – Shot the morning after they won the 2007 Rock & Roll Rumble.
Although we were largely a rock band, we had a handful of mellower or jammier type songs that we were always working into the set. Our ultimate goal in the beginning was to find a balance between rock and jam band-bar rock world, using Drive-By Truckers as a guide post. Further following DBT’s lead, we understood the power of lighting for a good rock show and made sure to have our guy Andy Guthrie there to run lights to help, hopefully, give us an edge. We debated it for a while, but decided to start our set on that first night with “Millions of People”, which is certainly hooky and catchy, but also a little jammier. It felt like a bit of a risky move for us, but one that paid off, as one review singled out that tune as immediately pricking up the ears of the audience. I’m not sure where the middle of the set took us, but the photos look like we were having fun, relaxed, confident and playing our asses off. People were watching. We closed our set that night with another risky move, which was “With You All Along”, a 10-minute prog-Pink Floydian epic that could one of two ways – take us to the next level or bore the living hell out of the audience and brand us as self-indulgent. We had a bit of an advantage on the technical end of the song, because we had played Harper’s Ferry a handful of times previously and had become friendly with the engineer Ethan. At that point, Harper’s was looking to get more rock bands into the club to loosen the hippy-jammy end of things and they championed us as the ones to do it (the club would be sold a year later…). During our soundcheck (we made it mandatory for the band to be prompt for each soundcheck and use our full time to get things right), I asked Ethan to put some delay on my guitar at the triumphant apex of the song when I take a melodic solo. Perhaps still to this day my favorite Township guitar solo. We worked it out during soundcheck, and if there was a video of us performing the song (still a few years before ubiquitous shitty cellphone videos), you’d see me giving a subtle high sign to Ethan right when the moment approached. I should add that before this big concluding solo, there is the tensest moment for the band as to whether this experiment of a song is working, which is a very quiet 2-3-minute build-up that requires us to really be locked in to pull it off effectively. If done correctly, the payoff is the beautiful back half of the song (that leads to the solo). At this moment, when most of the band is plinking out a subtle harmonic line over cymbal accents, we usually huddle around the drums. I remember us all in a tight half-moon around Greg, covered in sweat, all of us locked in on this very delicate part, as Andy masterfully manipulated the lights. I could hear the audience reacting – they were completely with us, but we had to keep focused to really get to the pay off. Suffice to say, we nailed it, and our experiment worked. We ended that night to a crowd in awe. We all felt great about our set, our band, and we won the night.
Upon winning the first round, we decided it was on – we could win this thing. Upon much debate, as to whether to follow the same set as before or do something completely new (running the risk of eliminating songs we know worked from the first round), we decided that we wanted to showcase our range of material. We learned a new song that week, Highway, and were so excited by it that we decided to open with it. In addition to opening with a brand-new song, we decided to not play “With You All Along”, but instead close with another 10-minute epic, “Home”. This night had a lot going on. We were up against Eli “Paper Boy” Reed, who was heavily favored to win. Furthermore, Carter and I, who both also played in the band he fronted, Tulsa, had a conflicting gig that night at Great Scott. And one step further, we were working on the new Tulsa record with Jack Younger, who was still smarting a bit from Eli taking his sessions from his studio/production over to Q. As I turned my minivan down Cambridge Street in Allston on my way to soundcheck that afternoon, I almost ran over Jack crossing the street on his way back to his studio. We chatted for a moment through the car window, and I’ll never forget his parting words, “You guys are going against Eli tonight, huh? Do me a favor. Beat him.”
As far as the set went, we were nervous about our execution of “Highway”, a tune completely new to all of us, but our decision proved correct – we not only nailed it, but it kicked things off with a very serious, tense, tight rock and roll vibe – maybe even a sprinkle of metal. We weren’t a joke. Like the previous week, I don’t recall at this point how the middle of the set went, other than me holding up my guitar at some moment and rattling off the Rifleman’s Creed, “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.” I almost never prepare anything to say before a show, because I always feel awkward having pre-determined banter, I feel like I can never sell it. The best banter is improv. However, I did feel that this saying applied to my guitar and I debated throughout the day whether I should say it, should the moment feel right. Well, at some point I guess I felt it was right and I held my guitar over my head and made my heavy-handed proclamation. The crowd seemed to like it, but it sticks with me because it just seems a little cheesy in retrospect. I don’t think I’m naturally a tough guy, despite what appearances may have suggested. The closing number, “Home“, was another crap shoot mainly because we knew With You worked so well and this one was fundamentally different. Home takes a much more classic-rock power ballad approach and slowly builds to the eventual rave-up ending. This song is in a major key and uses inspirational themes like recovery, hope, and love, paying off with the ending sing-along, “Love will lead us home.” In contrast, With You is a much darker and dynamic tune, using almost all the music to tell the story, which comes across as a sort of questioning, quasi-religious journey. All in all, Home seemed to work just as well as With You, this time getting the crowd to sing along, which was a real treat. Nothing sucks worse than encouraging the crowd to sing and getting nothing. These folks were happy to sing along to a song they’d never heard before!
LISTEN + Township – Give It To It
LISTEN + Township – Highway
LISTEN + Township – Home
Having never seen Eli perform before, I caught one and a half songs before literally running down Harvard Ave carrying my amp to play a set at Great Scott with Tulsa. It was very cool for Carter and me to be leading this double life in the rock band Township and the indie, lo-fi, pretty pop of Tulsa. I remember sitting behind the Rhodes during our set and smiling thinking that this was as cool as a musical life could get. After the Great Scott show I scooted back to Harpers to find out that we had won! There were some grumblings about Eli’s drummer having a busted bass drum pedal, or something like that, but who cares, we were in the finals!
The band debate for the week leading up to the finals was what the hell to do. Do we build yet another new set? Will the judges dock us points for playing songs or even complete sets we’ve done before? We settled on doing a “greatest hits” of the past two sets and rolling the dice by closing with With You All Along again in hopes of recreating the magic. I don’t remember what we opened with, what we played (other than With You), but more the overall feeling that this was ever so slightly the worst of our three performances. That is no way saying that we didn’t kill. I distinctly remember us all feeling the same way – we executed perfectly, but that’s a little more what it felt like – execution over passion. I think it was a little bit of nerves and a touch of reservation playing so many songs that the judges had now heard before, that kept us from playing (by our standards) a fully convincing performance. However, we’re talking B+/A- versus A+, which in a final round may be the best you can hope for. What we lacked in intensity I think we made up for with fun and swagger, as we were now very comfortable with these songs and the room. Our With You closing was damn near perfect, as close as we could get with folks now a little familiar with the song. At the end of it all, though, we didn’t think we would win. Not that we didn’t think that we were great, but the crowd was going nuts for all the other bands, too. I didn’t watch much of The Indefinite Article, but I thought that their different take on the Rumble (mixing rock and rap) could give them the edge. And I watched all of Baker, who I’d seen before and loved, and their songs and energy were undeniably catchy. I’ll always remember Shred standing up there, opening the envelope, and announcing our name. There were hugs and kisses all around and I bounded on stage to give thanks to everybody and probably try and espouse my band/fan unity philosophy to drunken ears (my own included). I also recall that Noel from Hooray! For Earth crashed the stage with me and Greg, and although I didn’t know him that well (he was hammered that night), I was happy to have him up there for a nice WTF moment. I wondered if he was secretly a little annoyed that it wasn’t his band wasn’t up there? Either way, we all had fun and I tried to keep my speech short.
Immediately after stepping off the stage, we packed ourselves and our gear into a couple cars and headed through the night to the woods of New Hampshire, where we would spend the weekend shooting our video for “Gunnin’ Thru The Nite.” Unfortunately, Carter could not join us, as he was finishing the mixes for the Tulsa record with Jack (there was a label deadline), but we had our producer Chris fill in for him in the video (incidentally playing the parts recorded by our original guitarist, Jason Gillis). My scenes were first, which required to be on “set” just before sunrise, dressed in furs, my guitar strapped to my back (also wrapped in fur), and working with a live horse! The goal was to get me riding my horse along the fields at sunrise, in a fantastical, medieval sense. I had ridden a horse once before, and I’ll be honest, the strength of those animals scares me. The horse was deemed to feisty for me to ride, so I would lead it. Furthermore, I was instructed to immediately let go of the rope if the horse bolts for any reason. Well, sure enough, during one of the later shots, the horse took off, and in my sleep-deprived (maybe still a little drunk?) state, I decided I had the strength to stop it! (Perhaps that was a little Rumble-winning confidence kicking in?) I was launched about 5 feet before I let go and landed right on my chest. I was ok, most importantly, my guitar was ok, but we had to use what we had because the horse was done for the day.
The rest of the weekend was an amazing experience, with little time to reflect on our Rumble winning until we came back. And when we were back home and rested, we took our new recognition and interest in the band as an exciting push to give it our all. We set right to work promoting our new EP, of which “Give It To It” became song of the year on WBCN, getting to work on our first full-length, Coming Home, and hitting the road as much as possible. Winning the Rumble gave us a great shot of momentum which was hugely necessary for such a new band. We loved every second of it.
Township’s firsts performance, April 2006