From growing pains to all Grownup
On its sophomore disc, Boston quartet has matured into a creative force
It wasn’t Paul Hansen’s undergraduate degree in philosophy that first impressed Adam Sankowski, his future bandmate in the Boston-based Grownup Noise. Nor was it Hansen’s proficiency playing jazz and classical guitar, both of which he was studying at the Berklee College of Music. No, it was the fact that Hansen, who was a few years older than his dorm room counterparts, possessed a unique and highly coveted skill.
“We thought, ‘Great - there’s a guy on the floor that can buy beer!’ ’’ recalled bassist-keyboardist Sankowski, now 32. “We never actually played together at Berklee. But Paul was playing lead guitar in a band and I’d go see him, and he’d play one of his songs and I’d think, ‘Wait a minute - I really like those songs and I love his voice. He should have a band.’ ’’
When Hansen’s first group fizzled, he wondered what to do next. Having degrees in philosophy and music, he now recalls with a chuckle, weren’t exactly lucrative choices for the job market. He admits he panicked, a little.
“Adam swooped in and kind of saved the day,’’ says Hansen, now 36, during a joint interview by phone with his musical partner. “It had taken me forever to finally have the confidence to put together [a] band and then it broke up within a year, so I was ready to give up. Adam pulled me out of a ditch.’’
That troubling trench has since metamorphosed into a creative peak for Hansen, whose songs have fueled (aided by a vegetable-oil powered tour van) a pair of albums by one of Boston’s most promising outfits, equally at home playing an indie-rock club as a folk-flavored coffeehouse.
And the group’s sophomore disc, “This Time With Feeling,’’ teems with precisely that quality. A sense of sincerity, wonder, and poetry beats at the heart of skewed folk-pop songs such as the jubilant “Carnival’’ and “Just So You Know,’’ as well as more sobering fare such as “Flower’’ and “Six Foot Solemn Oath.’’
“With this album we feel like we’ve finally arrived,’’ says Hansen, whose impressionistic lyrics about love, death, and the stuff in between make the record as inscrutable as it is accessible. “The first album is kind of like a prototype. It kept changing and didn’t really have anything connecting it. This one definitely felt like a band record.’’
The title of the album is meant to reflect the Grownup Noise’s growing confidence and statement of purpose. “We were worried that it would sound a little too cliched,’’ Sankowski says. “But we felt that this is where the band was - that this time we’re putting something out there we’re 100 percent really proud of.’’
In the four years since releasing its self-titled debut, the band has worked hard to raise its profile and extend its reach well beyond New England. Its music has been featured on NPR and MTV, and the group is about to embark on its sixth cross-country tour, starting with a show tonight at Johnny D’s in Somerville. All that road work has made the unit - whose semi-revolving-door membership includes drummers Aine Fujioka and Kyle Crane, accordionist-keyboardist Todd Marston, and soon-to-depart cellist Katie Franich (who’s leaving the Grownup Noise to pursue a doctorate in linguistics) - stronger and more resilient, say the principals. In conversation, the word “family’’ comes up almost as much as “band.’’
“Either repeated tours are going to bring you together, or they’re going to kind of kill things,’’ says Sankowski. “I think everyone at some point thinks, ‘If this person does this thing one more time . . .’ But when you’re out on the tour and you feel like the band is sounding better than ever, that always makes up for it.’’
Plus, Hansen chimes in, you learn valuable lessons about each other. Like the time their veggie-oil powered van sputtered out in the middle of nowhere and it was up to the bass player to fix it. “Who knew,’’ he says, “that Adam had those skills as a mechanic when your van breaks down at 2 in the morning?’’
Jonathan Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.