Sunday afternoon in Belleville, NJ, and The Machine Shop studio is quiet. Sessions for Jetpack Soundtrack are shut down for a day off, making the members of Lionize restless. "We jam a lot," admits keyboardist Chris Brooks. "We'll even jam today ... but we have to get cigarettes first."
The Maryland-based band formed in 2004, learning to play music by jamming and listening -- really listening -- to each other. But now, ten years later, the band has matured into a much more powerful, tight unit. Lionize still hammer out most songs in the studio and rehearsal room from the basic spark of an idea. Jetpack Soundtrack, their fifth album and first for the Weathermaker Music label, is no different.
"There's really only so many ways to work on music. You just have to play it, then work on it," says bassist Henry Upton. "We just exhaust all our ideas and put them down."
The band obsessed over thirteen songs, working off four notebooks crammed with ideas, ultimately narrowing the finished album to eleven tracks. Pre-production became a never ending process of upping the musical ante. Eventually, chasing perfection stopped only when producer Machine finally told them to leave.
The veteran producer proved invaluable to the process, not only in terms of sonic quality, but also performances and even song structure. "The opposite of low key, that's what Machine is," Upton jokes. His enthusiasm -- basically, a conductor whose animated reaction to the music guided its development -- was contagious.
"He's very excited about whatever his hand is on," Nate agrees. "He's a guy with a track record of making incredible records. The sound he gets -- like Earth Rocker and Blast Tyrant -- whatever that guy touches is awesome."
Jetpack Soundtrack is the first time Lionize made use of such an extensive process to develop their music. Touring typically left little time in the past to deconstruct and rebuild ideas. This album became more deliberate in terms of crafting the songs. All thirteen songs went through major revisions, something else extremely unusual for Lionize. "There were exponentially more changes than we've ever done," Chris says. "There are a couple songs that have been through six or seven variations."
That development was largely the result of the band paying close attention to dynamics. The longer a band is together, maturing as players, the more conscious they become about it, says Bergman. "Great bands learn finesse, when to pull back and pull people in, then release that tension. There's definitely a focus on that, and that was the goal for us, as far as the listener's experience -- to feel like there's an interaction."
The songs still lean toward metaphorical sci-fi, lyrically populated by a wonderfully imagined cast of characters. Musically, though, there's a greater depth, revealing a creative and performing leap from Superczar And The Vulture. The rhythm section has become more focused, certainly a direct effect of Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster co-producing the album. It's a better understanding how the moving parts of a song should support its framework to better draw in the listener.
"Breather" is an example of that newfound tightness. The Hammond organ riff builds tension, peaking with a climactic pause, followed by earthy funk verses that explode into a descending riff anchoring the chorus. The title track, "Jetpack Soundtrack," lives up to its name in that regard, literally launching into a blast-off chorus. "Reality Check" shows precise musicianship, smoothly shifting through the gears and coming out the back end at an exhilarating pace.
Touring extensively in the past on a limited budget, or playing to 10,000 people at the majestic Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, Lionize always seems to look for a challenge. The exacting process behind Jetpack Soundtrack is just the band proving another thing they can do, says Nate: "We can record in this fashion. That's a big part of it for us, the fighting spirit to do it, just to say you did it."
Space Pope And The Glass Machine (2008) revealed their affinity for reggae. Destruction Manual (2011) and Superczar And The Vulture (2011) broadened into a more multifaceted musical direction by incorporating rock, soul and blues influences -- such as Deep Purple, O. V. Wright, Led Zeppelin and Solomon Burke -- that became the proverbial keys for taking the Weathermaker Music machine out for a late night joyride.
Lionize first supported Clutch on tour in 2006 and over the course of time became close friends with Jean-Paul Gaster, whom they had initially metat the Washington DC home of drum instructor Walter Salb. They found a shared regard of music as a sacred cultural and intellectual art form, particularly jazz and rock and roll. That bond endeared the younger band to their seasoned patrons. Weathermaker Music -- the label Clutch established in 2008 -- eventually signed the band and the ensuing Jetpack Soundtrack is the first release of this new co-operation.
"We were shocked as anybody that they wanted to put our record out, honestly," says Brooks. "They're kind of vouching for us here, investing serious time and energy, and all sorts of means. They saw we were trying to work hard, and we just wanted to make an awesome record and make them proud."
Which they did. "We caught a different vibe through this process, and we were all kind of on the same page with the direction we took -- from us to Machine and Jean-Paul. It's not like anything we've done before, and hopefully not like anything anybody else is doing." Brooks says.
"Is Jetpack Soundtrack more bad-ass than the last record? Yes." says Bergman, and continues: "We were passionately obsessed in the making of this record. Now we hope that our existing fans and people new to the music of Lionize agree that we made an exciting record."