J. Mascis, the guitarist and singer for the band Dinosaur Jr., describes their notoriously loud style as "ear-bleeding country."
You could safely paraphrase him by calling Missoula band Motorhome "ear-bleeding dream pop."
Their loud music, with pretty melodies and harmonies awash in distortion, effects and overtones, is soothing and affecting. Their debut album, "Magnets," summons memories of bands like Yo La Tengo or older dream-pop bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain that made the most of the salty-and-sweet combination of tunefulness and cranked guitars.
"It's therapeutic, I think," said Duncan Campbell, one of the group's guitarists. "There's something about loud music that kind of shakes you to the core."
James Caringi, who sings and also plays guitar, had a similar sentiment. He said singing, specifically about the shifts in your life, is cathartic. In your 20s and 30s, he said, everyone around you is getting married and having kids, but by by your 40s and 50s, illness and death become more frequent.
"For me, especially, there's something about that — lyrically singing about those things and having the pure vibrational element of a 1978 Marshall blowing you away," he said.
Motorhome is a relatively new band, but its members are certifiable grown-ups with careers both musical and professional — three of them are therapists.
Campbell is a psychology professor at the University of Montana. The other guitarist, Jim Caringi, is a professor of social work and department chair. Beth Brewer, who plays vibraphone, synthesizer and shares lead vocals, is a private licensed therapist and adjunct at UM. Her husband, Ben Brewer, plays bass and works for the city. Drummer/percussionist Joe Nickell works at Partners Creative advertising agency and is a former Missoulian arts reporter.
Caringi and Campbell came of age in the 1990s, when loud guitar bands were the dominant style in indie rock. Both worked out of the East Coast and toured around; Caringi had a punk band called Dirty Face and Private Plain. He's played at CBGB, the famed New York punk bar, and one of his bands flirted with a label. Campbell's group, 81 Mulberry, was part of the indie scene in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While they were on fringes at home, they had better luck in the U.K. They charted on NME and influential DJ John Peel selected their 7-inch "Ephedrine" as his single of the week. He said they started out somewhat straightforward before experimenting with odd time signatures and "atonal-ish" math rock.
The Brewers had a band, Horse of Course, in San Francisco before moving to Missoula. Nickell played with local bands Two Year Touqe, the Shiveries and Tin Can Genie. The sole trained musician in the group, he plays like one in Motorhome and performs with the Missoula Symphony Orchestra.
For his part, Caringi had given up on the idea of playing in a band — he'd tried to make a full-time living as a musician and never "wanted to be that old guy up on stage" who leaves the audience wondering why he hadn't quit.
He and Campbell became friends, and began playing together, and eventually expanding into a quintet.
Motorhome shows they haven't lost their worship of loud guitar bands. Some of the less obscure ones Caringi and Campbell mentioned are Husker Du, the Replacements, Buffalo Tom, Dinosaur Jr. and Swervedriver.
Motorhome's songs frequently build off a guitar arpeggio — Campbell favors a dropped-D tuning, which helps in creating familiar-yet-different combinations — with a hypnotic atmosphere from effects and Beth Brewer's vibraphone and occasional keys. Her bigger voice and sustained notes act as a counterpoint to Caringi as they trade lines or accent each other. The enveloping mood recalls Yo La Tengo's classic, "Painful," another loud-quiet-loud album by a group with a male and female vocalist.
They recorded with House of Watts, a local label run by Ben Weiss and Clark Grant, at Len Waters' studio in Butte, where they said the city's atmosphere seeped into the album. They brought their families and stayed at the Finlen Hotel.
They heavily overdubbed the guitars, which at times blend together with keys and vibraphone, an effect Campbell credits to Weiss' mixing. The guitars here and there transition from coherent riffs to noisier excursions and back again.
"Campfire" was originally about Caringi losing his father, but now when he sings it he thinks of Campbell's father, who died recently. Calmly sung lyrics about never having enough time give way to noisy guitar squalls.
The lyrics to "Magnets, 1994" hearken back to Caringi's formative years in that decade, when he was playing in bands and met his wife. It has some of the best guitar work on the album, with lines that have been overdubbed to give them a glowing quality, like watching a tube of neon flicker on.
At a gig at the VFW, Caringi said younger people in the crowd were impressed by their amps. Despite his ageist paranoia, some of them thought the band was doing something brand new, which he thought was funny since he was really doing something old again.
Someone asked him where they were from. He told them the "Westside." Of Seattle? No, he said, the Westside of Missoula.