NEW YORK, N.Y. – Nowhere is there a better sign of how far the rock trio The Record Company has come than in the difference between where the group recorded its first and second albums.
The trio made its debut in the bassist’s unassuming living room in Los Feliz, a hillside neighbourhood near Hollywood. The band had to contend with barking dogs, neighbours unhappy with the sound of crashing cymbals and even the mailman’s daily interruption.
The second was recorded at Boulevard Recording, a studio on Sunset Boulevard where rock’s royalty has worked, including Ringo Starr, Carly Simon, Billy Preston, Art Garfunkel and Alice Cooper. Steely Dan did most of the basic tracking for “Gaucho” there. It was where Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” was finished and mixed.
But if you expect the massive studio upgrade to have made the trio now frighteningly pretentious, you’d be out of luck. Guitarist and lead singer Chris Vos, bassist Alex Stiff and drummer Marc Cazorla are as down-to-earth as their blues-based rock is honest.
“We’re still dudes, you know?” says Cazorla with a laugh. “We’re still the guys psyched to get assigned Group A boarding on Southwest Airlines. It’s like, ‘Cool, I get a window seat.'”
The Record Company is back this month with its sophomore album, “All of This Life,” which continues its spare and heady mix of rock, roots and blues, one both respectful of the past and yet fresh sounding. The first single, “Life to Fix,” has reached No. 2 on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart.
“We wanted to take a leap lyrically, musically, sonically. We wanted to have that natural evolution,” says Stiff. “It really was us challenging ourselves to come up with the best songs that we could.”
Expectations are high after the band earned a Grammy nomination for its first album, were invited to tour with John Mayer and got its songs used in commercials for Coors Light, Subaru and Miller Lite, as well as shows like Showtime’s “Shameless,” ABC’s “Nashville” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
One of the new songs, “Goodbye to the Hard Life,” might appear to be the band bidding farewell to the grind of touring and struggling, but it’s actually about hitting rock bottom.
“It is funny that you could construe it as, you know, ‘Oh, we’re now on yachts now.’ It’s not quite that,” says Stiff, who notes the band is currently staying at a Hampton Inn a few blocks from the Holland Tunnel, hardly glamorous.
Voss explains that the song is really about letting go of addiction, or bad love or self-doubt: “You’re saying, ‘I’m done. I’m evolving. I’m moving on,'” he says. “Once you say, ‘This is over,’ the clouds part and you realize that you were very much in control of your destiny.”
The members of The Record Company came together as friends before they became bandmates. Vos, who grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and met Stiff and Cazorla, who had been in a bunch of failed bands together.
The trio hung out for a year until one day they were inspired to jam while listening to the John Lee Hooker-Canned Heat album “Hooker N’ Heat.” Within days, they recorded some songs in Stiff’s living room. It was such a makeshift setup that Stiff was mostly in a hallway because his headphone cord didn’t reach far enough. Nevertheless, they made magic.
“It sounded like something right away. That very first day, we sat on my patio and I cranked the volume up,” says Stiff. “So we had a good starting place and, from there, it was up to us to work hard at it.”
Part of their success is due to a demand to make sure whatever they did could be reproduced live and that they decided to challenge themselves with their choices of instrument. (Cazorla was normally on keys, Stiff was a usually a guitarist.)
Naming the band was a little harder. The threesome soon had four or five songs but no identity yet, a fact that was beginning to wear on them. Inspiration finally came to Stiff.
“I was taking a nap with my dog and I woke up in a daze and I just said to myself, ‘You’re going to get the name. You’re going to get it right now.’ And the words ‘The Record Company’ popped into my head. It’s very weird,” he says.
Stiff quickly checked to see if it had been taken by someone. It hadn’t. “It’s so right in front of you but nobody pinpointed that that could be a band name,” he says.
They think it fits them. They don’t want to be a singles band and they don’t apologize for sounding old- fashioned. They still like putting on a Rolling Stones record and soaking it all in.
“The focus isn’t ‘Listen to how sweet this guitar solo is.’ It’s ‘Listen to this song. Listen to the vibe of this thing,'” says Vos. “We kind of all shared that from Day One.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits