As a guitarist of grandiose and pompous self-worth, instrumental bands have always been at the forefront of my choices for saying something vital with your head and hands. And surprisingly enough, New Jersey has more than a few brave bands that move in that direction. Bands such as Linden’s Ruined Machine, Middlesex foursome In Realm, Wayne’s Dynasty and my favorite instrumental group of all time, Asbury Park’s Chemtrail.
Compositionally speaking, I’ve always felt that it takes a specialist to bring a song and melody together without a standard vocalist. The writer becomes more of a super composer, a mysterious Svengali that pulls a musical piece into their own mad, six-string direction. And if it’s done with the practiced intuition and regimental shredding of a ninja, it can be quite an act of art. Most of the bands listed above have made some leap towards success and scored, but instrumental music is not an easy sell in today’s glutted, pop fashion world of fedora-wearing flunkies. You had better be at the top of your game if you hope to gain any real fanbase.
This next Shoreworld band is working their way towards that goal. With a name that makes Emerson, Lake & Palmer seem smaller than Pee-wee Herman’s Puppet Land Band, Simmons Pryzbylowski Yard Ruane sounds more like a law firm than a musical group. Led by Ocean, NJ singer/guitarist/songwriter Dave Simmons, the group is out in support of their latest effort, This New Life Of Mine.
Simmons and crew tend to be hands-on when it comes to disc details. Along with Kevin Pryzbylowski, he produced the disc and took care of artwork, photography (with Pat Ruane) and liner notes. I believe he allowed someone else to master the disc, but that’s probably because he didn’t have the equipment to do it himself.
Based off of the conceptual narrative of someone consciously embracing an unhealthy illusion over the reality of life’s situations, This New Life Of Mine treads ominous waters. The record’s song titles alone will raise the eyebrow when it comes to revealing the human psyche.
From the very first chorused and crystallized notes of “Nothing Good Will Come Of This,” I know I have a dark and serious band on my hands. Dissonant, echoed electrics ping three-note voicings that carry like a ripple from a thrown stone as the band sleepwalks into the melodic verse. The chord choice and subsequent placement of Simmons and Ruane’s guitar work is the main focus here. When the band kicks in, pocket rhythm work of bassist Mark Yard and drummer Kevin Pryzbylowski push this beast forward with gallons of fuel to spare. With more compositionally sinister fire than any of that ridiculous bullshit Stevie Vai puts out and twice as gritty as ole’ Joe Satriani’s “Echo,” “Nothing Good Will Come Of This” just may be the best thing on the disc.
When questioned about what led to this project after years of trying other things, Simmons told me, “There was a six-year period between this CD and my last one. After I made the Disintegration Principle disc I was on a real high. I was receiving radio play on NPR for my song ‘24/7 Blues.’ I had played a series of shows from CBGBs, Maxwell’s, The Bitter End and even two nights in Las Vegas. I was even working with a small record label as a featured artist.
“Unfortunately, during the recording of my next record, which started in 2007, between the label going bankrupt and problems finding the right backing bands, months turned into years. Of course, I had nothing to show for all this wasted time.
“I had become very frustrated with my efforts. I couldn’t just waste all this time and have nothing. I finally called up a few friends who I had been playing live with and we decided to try to record again. I didn’t want to work with any producers nor did I want to worry about writing a popular song. And most importantly, I didn’t want to record in a studio with time restraints. I really just wanted to tell a story ‘live.’ The band basically learned the songs during each session. I’m a big fan of Coltrane and Davis. I wanted to make a record the way they did in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.”
Simmons will also be the first to tell you that he doesn’t live in the sunshine happy world of pop music. “I Just Don’t Feel Safe Anymore” beats like a tell-tale heart. Whispering, hypnotic bass and guitar hold the repetitive riff as Morse code guitar lines beep and twirl across the dark and ghostly palate of the song. And while the piece dangles on the edge with a feeling of losing focus, the band manages to hold your interest with their vast bag of musical tricks and arabesque effects.
“Caught In The Ordinary” swings back into the Steve Stevens school of electric guitar. Filled with monster riffs and squawking, wah wah tone, “Caught In The Ordinary” might just be the band’s most “ordinary” song. It’s not a bad thing and still manages to fit into the rest of Simmons’ dark and sinister sermon on This New Life Of Mine.
The best set of songs on the CD is part one and two of the title-track. Here is where Simmons and Ruane cut loose, playing the guitar as a vocalist uses the voice. The utilization of passion charged arrangements and emotion-laden runs take precedence over the common fret board acrobatics that usually are “go to” tools of the trade, and it’s completely refreshing. Influential flecks of Joy Division, Tears For Fears, Steve Jones and Billy Duffy burst all over this sonic soundscape.
Simmons Pryzbylowski Yard Ruane (man, I never get tired of saying that) have done their collective homework as they stumble down the rabbit hole, taking the listener along on a ride that overflows in a cacophony of twists, turns, and surprises.
When I first got wind of this project, I wasn’t very enthusiastic. It’s a tricky genre at best and I’ve known Simmons as a guitarist for many years. He’s had some good releases with other bands, but he’s had quite a few self-imposed setbacks as well. So this record was both a surprise and a well-earned two thumbs up from the Shoreworld crew.
This New Life Of Mine succeeds on many levels. The continuity is strong, the interpretive highway is wide open, and the player skill, tone and arrangement put this CD on a much higher level than just some improvisational jam movement. It leaves this band on high ground when it comes to approaching music as true art.
Band leader Dave Simmons sums it up as he says, “All in all, I see myself and the band as another artistic venture more than just being musicians. When I’m not playing, I fill my creativity with painting or woodworking. I try to play guitar like Jackson Pollock paints. As you know, creativity waits for no man or band.”
For more information on This New Life Of Mine, head over to facebook.com/simmons.david.