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By Amanda Savage
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It's been hard not to feel a little bit sorry for Gloritone. It's not that the local trio isn't a good band; it is. It's just that the group had the misfortune to come along a couple of years ago, as the golden age of Tempe music had ground to a halt. Instead of being judged on the merits of its own work, Gloritone was saddled with the "next Gin Blossoms" tag and lumped in with the vapid, pretty-boy pop bands that broke their backs trying to become Tempe's "next big thing."
Most of those burdens, real and imagined, were wiped away with Gloritone's homecoming show last week at the Green Room. The band's return finds it a part of a markedly different local music landscape than when it first formed in 1996.
It's been only 18 months since its debut release, Cup Runneth Over, but the group nonetheless premièred a new batch of songs (as well as a relatively new band member). The show presented a forward-looking Gloritone sounding stronger than it ever has.
The group's headlining set capped a six-city tour with RCA/Kneeling Elephant labelmates Adam Elk (featuring ex-Mommyheads front man Adam Cohen) and Sunset Valley. Both bands put on solid opening performances.
The show offered up a rare (and in some instances first) glimpse of the material that will likely make up Gloritone's sophomore release, expected next fall. The band has spent much of the past year working diligently on material to follow 1998's Cup Runneth Over.
Though Lancelot's exit was fairly quiet, Tim Anthonise, Gloritone's front man, admits the separation seemed inevitable for a long time. "Basically, our personalities didn't go together very well. That became mutually more apparent the longer we were together. So it really was a mutual parting of the ways," says Anthonise.
After Lancelot's departure in January, Refreshments/Peacemakers drummer P.H. Naffah -- an old friend of bassist Nick Scropos -- filled in for several months. After hosting auditions in the spring, the group chose Hessel, a longtime member of local pop combo the Jennys. Like many musicians on Mill Avenue these days, Hessel has been logging double duty with the two groups.
The new lineup has been limited to a handful of live performances, yet Anthonise says Hessel has "worked out really, really well." Anthonise also hints that the trio may augment its lineup with a second guitarist.
Aside from the recent mini-tour and the appearance of its first single, "Halfway," on the soundtrack of the Brett "Hitman" Hart documentary Wrestling With Shadows, Gloritone has kept a relatively low profile for much of '99, holed up in a rehearsal/recording space writing new songs.
"We bought some recording gear and started demo-ing things," says Anthonise. "We've recorded everything two, three times. We've been going over everything and working on different arrangements."
The result is a collection of songs that sound strikingly different from those on Cup Runneth Over. Gloritone has made an aesthetic leap forward by expanding its musical vocabulary with varied instrumentation -- which, Anthonise says, includes "flamenco guitars and all kinds of weird shit."
The extended time off has afforded the group opportunities to experiment with a new palette of sounds and machines.
"It's having the time and also Scott [Hessel] coming into the band. He brought in a lot of gadgets," says Anthonise with a laugh. "He had a large arsenal of gear, which is actually very cool because I've never got to mess around with that stuff. We're using a lot of stuff on computer; creating drum loops and just trying to work writing off that kind of thing. So just from that aspect, it's been a little eye-opening because I'm getting to dabble in a lot of shit I've never got to mess with."
By taking their time, the musicians have managed to avoid the trap -- namely the safety of redundancy -- of the dreaded "sophomore slump." The months spent preparing for the album have also coincided well with Anthonise's development as a songwriter -- an element that may signal Gloritone's gradual evolution from a power trio into something else entirely.
It's hard to grasp some of the subtle changes in a live setting, but the new songs feature less of Anthonise's percussive guitar assault and the thick bottom end of the rhythm section -- the yin that made Cup Runneth Overan unqualified creative success. The new songs rely more heavily on yang -- the layered, underpinning melody of songs like "She Was a Good Thing" and "9 Summers." The shift puts added importance on harmony; Scropos' backing vocals were more prominent during the Green Room show.
Although Anthonise acknowledges the change in his writing, he believes it's a natural evolution that will continue. "I don't even know what we will be like six months from now. I've never really had an architecture that I've tried to follow."
The band's debut was recorded at Hollywood's Grand Master studio with producer/engineer Bradley Cook (whose credits include work with the Foo Fighters and Tool). The group wants to record the new album in a different setting and with someone else at the controls. The musicians expect to begin talking to prospective producers in the next two weeks. Recording dates have not been set.