TRIBE - By
When a young band gets their
big break on national radio, it's
usually not on a news program. But that's exactly what
the Boston-based group Tribe found a song from their
Sleeper, making headlines in the nation's capitol.
Last fall, as the fight to fund the supercollider was
geared up in Congress, a symposium hosted by the American
Society chose Tribe's song "Supercollider"
to open the proceedings.
This moody sonic landscape features provocative lyrics
obsessed scientist who's left his family and "gone
to Texas/To watch
the holy fire burn..."
Word-of-mouth made Tribe a favorite with the supercollider
set, and the subsequent exposure on National Public
Radio and other
broadcast networks prompted the group's label, Slash,
to accept an
offer to film the song's video at the supercollider
facility in Texas.
In what many critics call a short-sighted move, Congress
to cut the funding for the supercollider after already
pouring a few
tons of money into its construction. The members of
Tribe can take
some comfort in knowing that they got to use the most
video set in history. And they also won over a few fans
never have heard of them otherwise, because the unexpected
the song also landed them a Thanksgiving gig on NBC's
Late Night with
Tribe's certainly been looking for widespread acceptance
it formed in the mid-1980s. The band -- Janet LaValley
Eric Brosius on guitar, Terri Barous on keyboards and
vocals, and Greg
LoPiccolo on bass -- met through a series of classified
informal jam sessions. They took the usual route bands
songs, playing live shows and making demos. During this
began to register mightily on the overcrowded Boston
music scene, and
their lively performances attracted a devout following.
For the last
five years, Tribe's taken honors in the the annual Boston
as well as the Boston Phoenix/WFNX Reader's Poll.
Several of their early demos were reworked for the band's
slick 1991 major-label debut, Abort. The critics raved
release, but audience reception outside of the northeast
conspicuously quiet. Tribe is a hard sell to people
heard them, and most rock writers seem to have a hard
down just what it is they do so well.
You can pretty much boil it down to this: Tribe is a
passionate and literate rock group that's unafraid to
musical styles and genres. They're experimental in their
but with a firm footing in rock and pop traditions.
There's much more
to Tribe than that, but it's a good starting point.
Just don't ask
anyone in the group to define their sound, because they're
tell you not to think too hard about it. "We just
write songs, and if
it's a good song, we play it," says LaValley matter-of-factly.
not a funk band or a folk band or a metal band, but
if we write any of
those songs and they're good then we'll play them."
LaValley's voice is one of the richest to arrive on
popular music scene since the early-1980s heydey of
singers like Pat
Benatar and Deborah Harry. When she auditioned for Tribe
she'd simply been singing for the fun of it. "I
didn't sing with any
professional bands before that," she claims. "I
sang with friends'
bands back in New York and I sang in the school choir,
but I never
said that this is what I want to do."
She cites a wide range of musical influences and
inspirations: the glam-pop of David Bowie and Todd Rundgren,
soulful rhythms of Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye,
introspection of John Lennon and Joni Mitchell. You
can feel all of
these in her distinctive vocals, and she's got the uncanny
seamlessly shift among them within a song -- sometimes
within a single
LoPiccolo also claims he wasn't planning to be a bass
although he knew he wanted to make music. "I've
been sort've of a
do-it-yourself kind of guy," he says. "I was
a fan, an electronic
music enthusiast into synthesizers, computers, that
sort of stuff."
He picked up the bass during jam sessions with other
musicians -- one of which was keyboardist Barous, who'd
LoPiccolo for some time.
Ask LoPiccolo for musical influences and you get another
listing of musical styles from the last two decades.
"When I was in
college, I was into grandiose art-rock like Yes, Genesis,
that kind of
stuff," he remembers. "Then when the 80s came
around I got into
hardcore, like the Dead Kennedys. Some of the Boston
Volcano Suns and the Zulus were also big influences.
When we first
started the band, that's what we were excited by. That
was the time
that the Pixies and Throwing Muses were just starting
Brosius' guitar work also displays a wide range of sound;
seems equally comfortable laying down power chords or
melodies. Terri Barous' thoughtful keyboards often recall
Ultravox and other pop-minded groups. All these diverse
influences helped to craft Sleeper, which is possibly
the most fitting
album title of the year: a relatively little-known disc
that has the
power and polish to win over the masses.
Everyone pitches in on songwriting chores, with Brosius
Barous reportedly doing a lot of the work, but "Supercollider"
written by LoPiccolo, who says he got the idea after
magazine article about it. "It just popped into
my head complete,
this guy who was gonna go out west and build this huge
he says. "It was neat in that alternative rock
fans I talk to on the
net automatically assume that's it's a cynical put-down
science. But when the people at the actual facility
talked to us,
they said we really hit the nail on the head. They didn't
ironically at all."
"Supercollider" isn't the only pulse-pounding
Sleeper's filled with some great tunes that benefit
willingness of producer John Porter (School of Fish,
the Smiths) to
let Tribe capture some of the raw energy they bring
to their live
There are several unabashed romantics in the group,
from the number of songs here about lost and unrequited
Rover" is an infectious lament from a person who
refuses to accept a
lover's departure, and it quite nicely picks up the
rhyme of the
children's game: "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Willy
on over/He must be
there, I have these letters tied in twine." Later,
narrator exclaims, "He still insists the story's
over," and it's hard
not to feel the heartbreak.
"Mr. Leiber" has a premise similar to Vladimir
Lolita, only with a slight twist -- it's about a young
infatuated with a very old man. The driving keyboard
hopelessly optimistic, almost childlike, and is complimented
by Barous' quiet, gentle vocals.
"Sing to Neptune" begins as a haunting ballad
about a woman
who's lost several lovers to the sea: "Was a man/Was
the one/Went to
sea/Now he's gone." In the middle of the song,
the guitars and
keyboards take over and transform it into a beautifully
instrumental. There's "Making A Plan," with
its strong blues-flavored
backbeat, and twisted pop gems such as "Dogflower"
and "Romeo Poe."
The strong title track finds a witch attempting to conjure
the perfect lover, and the ingredients of her desperate
some startling imagery: "Owl's wing, make his voice
give him green eyes/Boil little cauldron." Iit
turns out that
songwriter Barous based her lyrics on the recent discovery
that one of
her ancestors had been burned as a witch. LaValley's
vocals are propelled forward by Brosius' metallic guitar
it's no wonder that the group uses this tune to open
most of their
Tribe sounds pleased that they've been able to capture
their live energy on Sleeper. "It was more of an
spontaneous live sound," says LaValley. "On
Abort, everybody recorded
their parts independently and there was a lot of experimenting
song form. This time it was just going in and doing
LoPiccolo confirms: "We played a lot more live
and there was
a lot less sequencing and over-dubbing. The whole arrangement
was a lot more casual. John went with the flow, sat
back and let
But one couldn't exactly describe the Sleeper sessions
low-key; there was considerable tension in the air concerning
Penzo, the group's original drummer. Not long after
sessions, Tribe replaced Penzo with drummer Mike Levesque,
artistic differences as the reason for the split. "It's
stressful to record, and the band was going through
a rough time,"
admits LaValley. "It had been coming to a head
for a long time."
"We're still good friends," Brosius told the
last summer, "but we'd gone in different musical
directions. We were
trying to get something out of him that he couldn't
Such a move was sure to cause pain for a group as close-knit
as this one. At one time, the members of Tribe even
shared a house in
Brighton, just outside of Boston -- they'd practice
in their basement
studio and later regroup upstairs for dinner and TV.
Now everyone is
over 30, and they've decided it's time to withdraw into
quarters. Brosius and Barous (who married recently)
still live in
that house in order to keep the band's jam space.
The old Brighton house probably also serves to remind
that they're not the only band on the block, and that's
vital to Tribe. "That's where a lot of the bands
in Boston live,"
says LoPiccolo, "and there are a lot of bands in
Now that Tribe has some momentum from "Supercollider,"
got a good chance to stand out from the rest. Not only
are they cool
with the physicist set, but they're probably the only
band with an
Internet address listed on the disc booklet. LoPiccolo's
self-appointed techno-head of the group, and he usually
interested parties to a special Tribe discussion group
by a friend. Here Tribe fans can e-mail each other tour
concert reviews and other information concerning their
"It's useful because if we play someplace we can
post it and
people know that we're going to be there," says
LoPiccolo. "We played
in San Francisco a little while ago and posted it on
the net. Sure
enough, a dozen people showed up who'd read about it
there. It's a
good way for our hardcore fans to keep in touch."
The Internet allows fans as far away as France and Australia
to converse with stateside Tribe enthusiasts. It's something
encourages, although she's got reservations about getting
herself. "It's cool that it's out there and people
are getting the
word out," she admits. "But the whole computer
things kinda creeps me
out -- the facelessness of it, the anonymity."
She'd rather be seeing the fans in person, and who can
her? "I've always felt, 'Just let me at 'em!' The
quality of being up there on stage, I just absolutely
love it. I've
always loved the spotlight,"she says.
And she may get her chance, as Tribe is currently negotiating
to go on a major tour of the country. In the meantime,
putting together more demos and getting geared up for
a return to the
studio, although LaValley hopes it isn't too soon. She'd
like Tribe to hit the road and win over some new fans.
playing every night," she says. "That to me
is wonderful...You just
learn so much and it's so exciting, and there's the
whole challenge of
getting a new audience and making it work for them.
"Yes, we are beloved here in Boston," she
points out with a
wry laugh, "but there's no guarantee out there,
and I really love
that!" There's a boldness to her laugh, and you
know it's a challenge
the whole band is eager to accept. If Sleeper is any
they'll have no trouble meeting it, none at all.