WHITE ROCK â€” Most of the guys in Tommy Alto may not be able to drink in the U.S., but that’s not stopping them from embarking on a threemonth tour across Canada and down the American west coast.
Starting in June, the Semiahmoo Peninsula four-piece is piling in a van with their gear and driving thousands of kilometres east, then west, then south, then north, through the summer. Simultaneously, they are prepping for the release of their sophomore record, Atlas \ Patterson, a pseudo concept album named after "a mixture of inside jokes and introspective thoughts.
"This album, musically, has gotten a bit more progressive, a bit more technical," said 19-year-old vocalist and lead guitarist Tom Vanderkam. "We’re steering more toward a math-rock style.
"We’re really proud of this because it’s a lot more focused than anything we’ve done in the past."
(Scroll down for video of the band performing "Mountain Top" in studio)
While the band’s debut, 2013’s Oceans Carolina, was a very diverse record, the seven-track follow-up is more strictly a mathrock album, a genre known for asymmetrical time signatures and complex rhythms. Think Rush, Frank Zappa and Yes, only modernized.
"The last album, we were going through a lot of different phases – we had a folk phase, an indie-rock phase, and then we started getting into math," said lead guitarist Ben Klassen, 19. "It wasn’t as cohesive, but now, we’ve actually picked a genre and reeled it in."
"We had lots of inspiration from underground U.K. bands that we really like," added drummer Chartwell Kerr, 23, listing contemporary English alternative bands like Tubelord, This Town Needs Guns and Blakfish as influences.
"We’re just trying to bring it to North America and make it big here."
The last piece of the puzzle was bringing in bassist Chris Young, a friend of the band who joined near the beginning of this year.
"It was fairly out of the blue when Tom asked me if I wanted to join â€” and on bass, too, which isn’t my main instrument," said Young, 20, who is more used to electric guitar. "I already had that bass background and they said they needed a bass player but also someone who understands guitar because of the complexity of math rock. It worked out really well."
Much of the lyrical content was inspired by a near-fatal van accident that three quarters of the current lineup survived last Aug. 26 near Hope, as they returned from their first ever tour."
Everything, honestly, went as perfect as a first tour could have gone, considering we booked the entire thing ourselves," said Vanderkam. "We had no booking agents, no management, no publicist, no anything, and everything managed to come together really well until the end."
Kerr, who was in thepassenger’s seat, was among the most injured of the group. His legs were crushed in the accident and doctors said he wouldn’t be able to drum for nine months.
"My history is not really listening to people, so I kind of just did everything faster than I should have," he said with a chuckle. "It was motivation from these guys – they’d come visit a lot and they’d always send music over and keep my ideas going. It was the music that these guys were making about experiences like when we were being taken care of at the side of the van that motivated meto get back up."
Most seriously injured in the crash was bassist Paul Engels, who is unable to continue playing with the band due to his injuries.
The accident, in a way, brought the band closer together. Instead of calling it quits after nearly dying, the current quartet isn’t letting that stop them from hitting the road and making it back in one piece.
"When you go through a near-death experience like that, you really value everything," said Vanderkam. "You sort out your priorities, and for us, we never want to spend aday in our life doing something that doesn’t make us happy. This is what we want to keep doing. Why would we waste a second not making music together?"
Atlas \ Patterson will be released June 3 on CD and digitally via iTunes.The tour kick-off CDrelease party is Friday, May 30 at the Media Club, 695 Cambie St., Vancouver. Tommy Alto will be supported by indie-rock bands Smash Boom Pow, Heard in the Mountains and Milkers Wanted. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m.