Based on their name — inspired by a Kevin Bacon movie that was based on Lanford Wilson’s play — the members of Cincinnati’s Lemon Sky refer to their particular genre as “Citrus Rock.”
But guitarist/vocalist Ed Bruker’s tale of the band knocking down a chandelier in a Columbus, Ohio dive bar through the sheer force of its sonic presentation (assisted by the rumble of a powerful new bass cabinet) could force a change to “Demolition Rock.”
Of course, any label hung on Lemon Sky is ultimately limiting and ineffective. The quintet’s 2011 self-titled debut was full-bore Rock with a modern Pop heart, like Jellyfish steered by Queen rather than The Beatles.
That same framework exists on Lemon Sky’s sophomore album, Dos, but the band’s shifting lineup and natural creative evolution over the past four years have resulted in expansive and kaleidoscopic growth. Most importantly, even with the band’s advances, there is cohesion between the two albums.
“That’s the thing about not going for a particular sound,” vocalist/guitarist Aaron Madrigal says in his basement rehearsal/recording space. “If you listen to ‘Guillotine’ or ‘Kept in Beyond,’ and then ‘Navel of the Moon,’ (they sound nothing alike), but placed where it is on the record, it totally makes sense. We know what the sounds are, and we plot out the course of the record. That’s why the cohesion itself isn’t an issue, as long as we have it properly mapped out.”
Dos — teased with a limited 100-copy release at Lemon Sky’s gig at MOTR Pub last week — is clear evidence of the band’s sonic maturation and expanded vision. Building on the band’s existing foundation of thunderous Rock with a sweet/sour minor-key Pop melodicism (“Major is a rank in the military,” quips drummer Eric Keyes), Dos is alternately reminiscent ofWish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd (“Err”), a mash-up of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath (“Guillotine”), a tribute to avowed influence Captain Beyond (“Kept in Beyond”) and a nod to The Beatles in the Abbey Road crosswalk (“Navel of the Moon”).
The epic eight-minute closer “Ash and Bone” somehow encapsulates all of the above and more.
“I don’t think we ever write with anything in mind,” Madrigal says of direct influences during the initial writing phase. “It’s usually just something that manifests itself.”
“For the recording, I’m very influenced by those things,” says guitarist/vocalist Eric Cronstein, the studio mastermind behind Lemon Sky and many other local/regional bands. “I think Wish You Were Here is the best recorded record, so it is an influence. Like tones. I’ll say, ‘That’s a kickass tone. How can I make something that gives me that feeling?’ But we’ve been working on this thing for so long. It’s like we went down the hole, and we think it’s cool sounding, but we have no idea what people are going to think.”
The big difference between Lemon Sky’s two albums is simply a matter of being more of a full-band effort. On the first album, Madrigal wrote the songs and then assembled an Impossible Missions Force of players to perform them in the studio, eventually fashioning a group for the live delivery. Bassist Steve Korfhagen was in from the beginning and Madrigal eventually recruited Keyes, the bassist in his previous band, Madras Lounge (Madrigal talked him into switching instruments).
Lemon Sky’s sound blossomed with the addition of Cronstein (who recorded Lemon Sky’s debut, both Pop Goes the Evil albums and the Madras Lounge’s debut, and got the ball rolling on the new Wonky Tonk release, among other projects) and Bruker. But every band member got the same pitch.
“That’s how we hooked Keyes. I was like, ‘No, dude, you can just do it for a little bit, we’ll find somebody else, promise,’ ” Madrigal says. “That’s how we do it. It’s like a black hole — you can go in, you can’t get back out.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s how I started playing,” Korfhagen says.
“Aaron was the only one to join willingly,” Bruker jokes.
The addition of Bruker, who was delivering pizzas with high school pal Korfhagen before joining, transformed Lemon Sky into a three-guitar assault vehicle, which the band has implemented for maximum effectiveness.
“I knew they were looking for a lead guitar player, and there was a show where I could fill in,” Bruker says. “But I didn’t know that Aaron wasn’t playing parts on the album, so I learned all the lead parts.”
“The songs on the first album were written for two guitar players,” Madrigal says. “Eric and I or Eric and Ed were doubling parts and we were like, ‘This doesn’t sound right. We’ve got to figure something out.’ We started with ‘Ash and Bone’ … and we knew we could make these songs three-guitar songs and write the rest of our songs that way.”
“We’ll be out and people will ask us, ‘Why three guitars?,’ ” says Bruker. “We always say, ‘We don’t need four.’ ”
Along the way, Lemon Sky has worked intermittently but relentlessly on Dos and played more than a few memorable shows, including opening for The Psychedelic Furs at Bogart’s and the aforementioned chandelier-lowering gig (“We’ve shot video at almost every show and we weren’t shooting that night,” Bruker says dolefully). Through it all, the quintet has solidified into a Prog/Pop/Rock juggernaut, and Dos is the brilliant result. Although the gap between albums is sizable, Dos wasn’t a case of lengthy creative isolationism.
“If you put it all into one big chunk, it’d be like maybe two months of recording,” Cronstein says. “There was like 16 days of main tracking, then vocal sessions at the Trip Tank, which is Steven’s attic, spread out over a year and a half.”
Dos won’t be released officially until late January or early February, but recent gigs and the limited teaser are raising expectations to a fever pitch. And, as the band notes, Lemon Sky has accomplished everything largely on its own, without management (other than Korfhagen; “I make sure everything gets done and everyone’s in bed on time,” he says), booking agents or outside publicity.
In the meantime, Lemon Sky will play local and out-of-town shows to gear up for the actual release of Dos, and are taking next steps, literally. The band recently rented a cabin in Red River Gorge and hiked its gear up the side of mountain for a writing session.
“We have material prepared for Album Three to get started right now,” Bruker says “We don’t have to work on and write as much as we did for Album Two.”
“We needed the time,” Madrigal says of Lemon Sky’s long debut-to-sophomore gap. “But it won’t happen again.”