Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Billy Swanson is anxious again. His band Pela has just finished playing an ambitious, blistering set at the Delancey, a lower East Side venue, and the amiable lead singer wants to know why “it” hasn’t happened yet. As he drinks his beer heartedly, Swanson wonders aloud whether Pela will finally have its big break or not.
I remind him that his band has been playing shows for less than a year.
Swanson smirks, pretending to take comfort in my response.
“A year’s a long time, you know,” he finally says back.

Pela is unlike most local bands for a number of reasons. For one, their sound challenges the confines of a club venue. The Brooklyn quartet performs with exclamation points and fists, nonplussed by the smallness that comes along with patronizing the club circuit. Pela strives like they’re entertaining an arena, projecting epic waves and resounding vibrations into the limited airspace. You can walk out of a Pela show inspired (if you catch them on a good night. Pela, like all upstarts, can still sometimes sound sloppy) knowing that you witnessed true potential, a band you can store away in your I-saw-them-when mental cabinet.

Swanson, who has a self-proclaimed “construction worker’s body,” splits his vocal duties between a ferocious howl and a haunting falsetto. Regardless of the weather, the singer wears a sweater vest on stage--a fashion choice definitively not made out of trend. Guitarist Nate Martinez is short and scrawny, almost a non-threatening, smaller version of Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. His guitar heroes must either be in Radiohead or U2--despite Martinez’s size, he is primarily responsible for the band’s bulky reverberation. The bespectacled bassist Eric Sanderson flails back and forth as if the floor was too hot for him to stand in one place and Tom Zovich sits behind the drums unassuming and disciplined. Paradoxically, every time I see Zovich after a show, he’s smiling and charming a new girl, offering to buy her a drink.
There is a definitive Pela sound and it's neither rocket-science nor derivative. Their repertoire, garnering comparisons to classic-U2, the Walkmen, and the Psychedelic Furs, is a homage to the past twenty years, albeit the non-new-wave aspect of those two decades. It's a retroness you can't resent because its the sound of your childhood when you first discovered music cooler than what you were just hearing on the radio.

Their first release, an EP entitled All in Time (Brassland) does not properly convey the rawness of their live show. The five songs feel polished and controlled like the product of upstarts overcompensating for the shortcomings of inexperience. Hopelessly self-aware (who can blame them?), All in Time is only a taste of what this promising group is capable of. The opening song "Latitudes" is an exhilarating track reminiscient of the breezy feel found in "Where The Streets Have No Name" and "Clocks" (and despite the indie disdain for U2 and Coldplay, these are two songs that a lot of people feel very passionately about). Tellingly, this EP was also recorded nearly two years ago but the material that Pela has just finished recording for a full length will assuredly deliver.

I sat down with Nate and Billy in the Magician, an unpretentious, regularly empty bar on the Lower East Side. Both were gracious and appreciative that someone cared enough to sit with them and discuss their music. But throughout our conversation, I again sensed the anxiety. After establishing a devoted local fanbase and scoring some envious opening slots (like Sleater Kinney, The National, Feist), the band feels that there should have already been a tangible next stage.
"I've got nothing else," Swanson says. "This band is the only thing I really want. I'm not gonna find a full-time job and make a career now."
Martinez nods along in approval as Swanson finishes his beer.
If passion is a meter of success, then Pela has nothing to worry about it. The anxiety will subside in due time and Pela will have its day.

For more on PELA, please go to their website.


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