The Optimists: Steve Morrison, Rick Gercak, Dave Klug and John Young.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Optimists are halfway hopeful
■ "We like to kid that our name is half true, half ironic and that only two of us are truly optimists."
We don't need John Young to name names about who the pessimists might be in The Optimists, a new band of old scene vets specializing in a power-pop sound "with influences ranging from The Replacements to Bruce Springsteen to Buddy Holly to Husker Du."
The band reunites Mr. Young with Steve Morrison, a fellow singer-songwriter-guitarist he shared stages with as part of Fusebox in the late 1980s.
They've written together since then and worked occasionally as an acoustic duo, but, says Mr. Young, "it just seemed like whenever one of us had a band break up the other was involved in a good project that it didn't make sense to disrupt. This time, the timing was just right. My group, Paperback, disbanded just about the time the Aviation Blondes had to call it a day. Steve and I played some duo shows again about that time and just looked at each other one day and asked why we weren't adding a rhythm section to bring the songs more fully to life."
They found a natural one in bassist Rick Gercak (Paperback) and drummer Dave Klug, whose long resume includes Hector in Paris, The Spuds and the Aviation Blondes.
"I think the band works because we all create an open, positive, creative environment together," Mr. Young says. "We all like a wide variety of music and bring that to bear on our ideas for arrangements. We're willing to try anyone's thought about how to proceed with a song, and very few ideas seem to end up getting rejected -- we trust and appreciate each others' musical instincts and abilities."
You can hear that loud and clear on The Optimists' lively self-titled debut album, one flush with nuanced lyrics, melodic hooks, ringing guitars and passionate vocal harmonies.
"Playing music in a band just gets more and more enjoyable as I age," says Mr. Young, a Mt. Lebanon school teacher. "We're not fooling ourselves that we're kids, and we're not trying to recapture some sort of imagined past glory. I think we all just enjoy being in the moment and making music that means something to us."
The semi-acoustic release show is at Panza Gallery, 115 Sedgwick St., Millvale, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5.
Anatomy of a Kickstarter
■ By now, you've probably been hit up by a friend who has a band with a Kickstarter project. Generally, the band just wants to record its album and put it in a decent package.
The Anatomy of Frank is taking Kickstarter, well, to the ends of the Earth.
The self-described Virginia-based "post-pop" band is hoping to raise $15,000 to record an album on every continent on the planet.
The local angle is that the band's keyboardist is Jimmy Bullis, a Cranberry native and Seneca Valley grad who hooked up with the other members while studying poetry at the University of Virginia.
The band, which released its debut album, "Pangaea," last year, has made it a habit to tour with an emphasis on hitting small towns, from here to Alaska and Yukon.
"The continents project has its origins with our singer Kyle [Woolard's] obsession with people living in extremely cold places, namely the polar regions," Mr. Bullis says. "He wrote a few songs about Antarctica six years ago before The Anatomy of Frank was even an idea in his head, and he has had a dream of going there and recording ever since."
Clearly, the South Pole would be the most inhospitable place for recording an album.
"Kyle studied astrophysics in his university days and does actually know some people doing research based out of there, so we have had some preliminary talks about feasibility," Mr. Bullis says. "Bands have played music there -- Metallica for one -- and I know of a band based out of a British research station in Antarctica as well, so it is not some impossible undertaking."
The singer is planning a solo trip to Morocco in June, which could help lay the groundwork for a recording venture on the African continent.
"I know South Africa and Cairo have well-established music scenes and recording studios also, so logistically, it shouldn't be too much of a struggle," the keyboardist says. "I anticipate there may be some complications in traveling to certain places, but it all can change so fast, I don't want to rule anything in or out just yet."
The plan isn't for The Anatomy of Frank to suddenly morph into a band that sounds indigenous to those areas, but, he says, "We do anticipate the material being shaped by where they are recorded. I know our daily practices can be shaped by even the weather, so I would expect some effect on the recordings based on how we are feeling about a place, whether we want to be subtle with certain aspects of the songs or more ornate or dramatic.
"We're not planning on forcing Samba beats into songs for South America or something like that. We just want to stay true to the heart of the songwriting and not be too gimmicky about how we approach it."
For more on the band, go to www.kickstarter.com/projects/theanatomyoffrank/an-album-for-north-america.
Mac and Rostrum part
■ Mac Miller is a free agent.
After two albums on the label, the Pittsburgh rapper is parting ways with hometown Rostrum Records.
He told MTV that his contract expired and will not be renewed.
"Rostrum is my family. That is forever," he said. "No matter what, we will always work together. We moved mountains, and I can only see them continuing that tradition. I am grateful for everything I learned and am always here for whatever."
Miller signed to Rostrum in 2010 on the success of his independently released "K.I.D.S." The next year his "Blue Slide Park" became the first independently distributed debut album to top the Billboard charts (with 144,000 sales) since Tha Dogg Pound's "Dogg Food" in 1995.
Last year, he landed at No. 3, right behind Kanye West and J. Cole (at 102,000) with his more experimental "Watching Movies With the Sound Off."
Miller's label mate and fellow Allderdice grad Wiz Khalifa issued his first two albums on Rostrum before signing a cooperative deal with Atlantic Records.
Rostrum president and CEO Benjy Grinberg told MTV, "Mac is an incredible artist and has a bright career ahead of him. We are proud of the historic run that we had together and we will continue to support him in any way that is needed. We wish him nothing but the best in the future."
Wiz on his uncle
■ Wiz Khalifa spoke with MTV this week about the loss of his 20-year-old uncle, Imani Porter, who was killed in a shooting at the Steak 'n Shake at the Waterfront, Homestead, on Jan. 8.
Interviewed at his home in LA, the 26-year-old rapper told the network that he will remember Porter for having "the biggest, biggest smile."
He went on to say, "Being from where I'm from, Pittsburgh, it's an up-and-down type of place. Right now, it's not really a good time, and unfortunately, it hit home, so we're all sad."
-- Scott Mervis, firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg
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