Teddy Duchamp's Army was supposed to have an album out on Eyeball Records, the label that launched the careers of Thursday, My Chemical Romance and Murder by Death.
Voice in the Wire
With: The Loves Ones, The Minus Tide.
Where: Mr. Roboto Project, Wilkinsburg.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
But breakups happen.
As former guitarist Mike Rock says, "Things were going great, but all of us were getting to that age where it was finally sinking in, like 'How much longer can I do this?' We were all in our late 20s and people were getting to the point where they were like 'All right, I have to make other commitments in my life and being on the road for most of the year? I can't do that.'"
Thus began a process Rock looks back on as the "weeding out" of the committed.
"I respect everybody's decision to do what they feel is important to them," says Rock. "But I think the one lesson most of us learned is that the only way to be successful is to be out on the road constantly, to be constantly hitting every city, being accessible to these people so they can hear the songs and buy the record."
Those who were willing to put in the road work -- singer Zack Furness, guitarist Stephen McMillen, recently added bassist Jake Reinhart and Tabula Rasa drummer Jeff Kopanic, who had sat in on their final shows -- returned to active duty as Voice in the Wire, whose debut album, "Signals in Transmission," hit the streets on Eyeball Records Tuesday.
"As soon as we sort of disbanded Teddy Duchamp's Army," Rock says, "I called Alex [at Eyeball] to let him know what was gonna happen and he was just like, 'Look, I know that you and Steve wrote all the songs. And I love your writing. Just find other people, and I'm behind you 100 percent. Go find some other dudes and put something together.' "
The writing Eyeball loved has changed, but Teddy Duchamp's Army was already moving toward the more sophisticated punk assault of "Signals in Transmission" just before the breakup.
As Rock recalls, "When we were writing the record we were gonna do at the end, it was starting to become more mature because when TDA first started, it was my first band and I wrote the first batch of songs, so it was sort of a learning experience for me. And then, after we had played together for a couple years and everybody started joining in on the writing process, I grew a lot and we all grew together and learned how to write with each other."
But some things are markedly different, starting with the new attention to dynamics triggered, Rock says, by Kopanic's drumming.
"The kid has just an amazing sense of songcraft and dynamics," Rock explains. "And we really didn't have that in TDA. I thought we always had catchy parts, but Jeff really knows how to arrange things and how to bring certain parts out in a song. So I think the writing is definitely a lot more mature than it was in TDA"
And that includes the lyrics.
"Once we got together as Voice in the Wire and Zack started writing a lot of the lyrics," he says, "the lyrics are definitely a lot more serious. They actually have something to say. We're definitely more socially conscious now. I don't want to call TDA a joke band, but it definitely wasn't a serious project. We had songs about our dogs and goofy songs like that, whereas now our singer, Zack, is a communications professor at Pitt, and a lot of his lyrics are based on ideas he uses in his teaching."
One of the album's more serious moments, "Steel Town Fight Song," started as a Rock song, inspired by his childhood as the son of a local steelworker who lost his job when the bottom fell out of the industry in the '80s.
"My dad worked in the mill for close to 20 years," he says. "And when that happened, he lost his job, and a lot of those guys, they fell into alcoholism. At the time, my mom had just had a baby, my little brother, so neither of them were working and it had a deep effect on what was going on in our family. It made a lot of things hard around the house, and I didn't understand it at the time because I was young."
The song, he says, is his "coming to terms and making peace with the troubles that happened in our house when I was younger and realizing what my dad was actually going through, the struggle he had."
The lyrics really hit home for Furness, whose father, Steve Furness, had been a Pittsburgh Steeler during the Super Bowl Dynasty years.
"You've got this guy who's a Steeler and all this stuff, and he's supposed to be the big tough guy," says Rock, "but when [stuff] happens, you're supposed to be this big strong character and you have a family to support and emotionally you might not be prepared for that. His dad was always this big gladiator-type person in his eyes but it wasn't always the perfect situation at home. And his dad ended up passing away, so working on the song was him sort of coming to grips with his father passing and both of us realizing that there's emotion behind that male stereotype. It's not just this big tough character that's totally unbreakable. It's just us looking at different perspectives of these fathers and the men in Pittsburgh in general, this blue-collar, working-class town. These guys have feelings, have lives, have children, have families that not everyone sees when they look at the Pittsburgh stereotype of these big tough working-class guys."
Rock's parents have a copy of the record -- and younger brother Dan chimes in on backing vocals -- but they haven't talked about the song yet.
"They know it's about my dad," he says, "But I don't know if they've had time to let it really sink in. But it's there and whenever they feel like responding to it, cool."
It's one of several songs on the album to feature references to both "the past" and "regrets," two natural recurring themes when you consider everything the members of the band were going through while coming up with new material.
"It's kind of funny," says Rock, "because at the time that Teddy Duchamp's Army broke down and died out and this new band was starting, Zack and I went through very similar experiences, where we had been in relationships for years with people and they both ended right then and so did the band and all that stuff came crashing to a halt in both of our personal lives. And within the next couple months, we started the beginning steps of Voice in the Wire. And it was sort of like a new beginning. There was new life. Everybody was excited. I think where he was coming from with a lot of that stuff was sort of like exorcising some of those demons. 'OK, [stuff] has happened. We've weathered the storm. Let's put it behind us, move on and be psyched about what's happening.' Everybody has to deal with bad stuff. And everybody goes through those rough points and hopefully now the storm's over and we've got some clear and open road ahead of us."
It doesn't hurt, of course, to have a label as solid as Eyeball in their corner.
"We were at the Eyeball offices a couple weeks ago," says Rock. "We played New York and hung out for the day with Alex and the one-sheet was sitting there for the record and it says right there on the one-sheet, 'This is Eyeball Records' priority release.' We're getting full-page ads in Alternative Press and Skyscraper, Punk Planet. They're totally backing the record 100 percent. And Alex has been behind us from day one. It's always been, 'OK, let's go full force with this.'"
And Eyeball going full force tends to get results.
As Rock says, "Last year's big push for Eyeball was Murder by Death and they're doing great now. They're on every tour out there, doing very well, selling a lot of records. The year before that, it was My Chemical Romance. They're huge now. They sold, like, 60,000 records in a month and a half. And right before that, it was Thursday and Thursday's gigantic. So every band that Eyeball has decided to make the priority has taken that next step to be a fully functioning force to be reckoned with in the grand scheme of things."
Ed Masley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1865.