In the early 1970s, a British singer named John Mayall decided to record an album featuring alumni of his band, the Bluesbreakers.
The other musicians, Eric Clapton among them, were scattered around various locations on two continents. So Mayall basically assembled “Back to the Roots” by having reel-to-reel tapes back and forth across the Atlantic.
Technology, of course, has evolved over the decades to the point where swapping recording tracks is as easy as downloading them from the digital cloud.
Which brings us to Pachyderm, a band of Western Pennsylvania natives with its members now attending different colleges in different cities. Despite their diverse locations – and of course, study obligations – they’ve come up with their debut album, “Verge,” through the artist-supporting online market Bandcamp.
They preceded the March 21 release on Bandcamp with a recording of a concert the previous month in Philadelphia, which lead guitarist Ethan Mackowick referred to as “a mishmash of a bunch of different things we were trying to do.”
“I think there are a lot of beautiful moments on that album, but ‘Verge’ is trying to condense all of our creative input into ‘bite-sized’ songs,” Mackowick, who grew up in Peters Township, said. The 10 tracks generally clock in at the two- to four-minute range, contrasting the extended jams the musicians tend to do in concert.
They started working on the album last summer, when all the Pachyderm members were back home around Pittsburgh, and added parts – “recorded in a variety of basements and bedrooms,” as the credits read – before keyboard player Nico Sleator received the tracks for mixing.
He attends the New School in Manhattan, studying jazz piano. Bassist Max Klemmer is at Temple University in Philadelphia, and drummer Remy Erkel is not too far away, at suburban Haverford College.
“Pretty much, we work on a zero-dollar recording budget,” Erkel said about the file-swapping process. “There are some hiccups to it, but it’s pretty rewarding.”
Mackowick, who stayed closer to home to attend the University of Pittsburgh, gave his opinion about ‘Verge’:
“This turned out as good as, I think, a zero-dollar recording budget can be.”
Another band member, guitarist-vocalist Jaxon Stunden, is featured on the album, as are Augie Bello on tenor sax and a trumpet player called Sugah Cat. Compositions are credited to Pachyderm, with Mackowick and Klemmer the main songwriters.
“Max and I are always sending each other recordings we have,” Mackowick said. “We try to be as honest with each other as possible: like, this is garbage, or you’ve got to change this. Or like, what are you thinking?”
Because they’re so spread out geographically, band members rarely have rehearsals these days and often rush to get together for gigs. Erkel, for example, arrived in town for a recent appearance in Pittsburgh’s South Side about an hour before Pachyderm took the stage.
“We’re kind of just relying on a chemistry that we already had,” Erkel explained. “We started this band when we were all 14, so we kind of grew up together, came of age together. There were bumps and roadblocks along the way. But we’ve come out the other end of that really, really close.”
Most of them are graduates of Winchester Thurston School in Shadyside, and Klemmer from Woodland Hills.
“When we were playing together in high school, we would share the same music,” he said about the band’s influences. “There was a lot of stuff that we were all into, together. But there’s plenty of stuff that is really specific to each of us.”
The Grateful Dead, a group that effectively broke up before any Pachyderm members were born, serves as one example. They specifically cite the stripped-down sound of “Workingman’s Dead,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ 1970 move away from their psychedelic leanings, as inspiring their own progression.
Listen for such a stylistic shift on Pachyderm’s next album, according to Erkel.
“‘Verge’ was transitional, as in, we are simplifying our sound a lot and kind of streamlining,” he said. “And I think this is going to be even simpler and more pared down, and really focusing on the songs, themselves.”
For more information, visit https://pachydermband.bandcamp.com/.