Maybe it was those spiraling Britpop guitars or the exquisite vocal range of John Schisler or the overall grandness of the music, but New Invisible Joy seemed to be on the fast track from the moment the band appeared on the local scene just less than 10 years ago.
- With: Wolfy.
- Where: Rex Theater, South Side
- When: 8 p.m. Friday.
- More information: 412-381-6811
Here was a Pittsburgh band that seemed suited to the current appetite for Radiohead, Coldplay and the ageless U2, and the buzz was all about good reviews, New York showcases and major-label interest.
Major-labels, though, usually want Britpop bands to actually come from Britain, and so New Invisible Joy ended up self-releasing two CDs and an EP between 2000 and 2004, while becoming a popular club attraction at home and on the East Coast.
Then, without a word, New Invisible Joy became ... invisible.
"I think there were some people who thought we had quit," guitarist Mike Gaydos says, and right he is.
Gaydos explains that after releasing "Trust" and working it through March '05, "it hit everyone like bricks that we were exhausted, tired of nonstop playing and recording since '98."
"Almost everything about our personal lives revolved around the band," he adds. "When are we rehearsing? When's the next gig? When are we going out of town? Did you rent the van yet? Always, always, always. And then you realize, wow, we're in our 30s, and there are these girls who have been putting up with our [stuff] for years who would probably like to get married at some point. So we thought, let's take a break and let life happen a little bit."
Gaydos threw himself into his family's granite business, Schisler focused on photojournalism and New Invisible Joy was on hold, at least visibly, but still working behind the scenes.
The band now reappears with "Kontakt," a new 12-song CD and a show that will be the band's first in two and a half years. NIJ originally hoped to make "Kontakt" some time on late '05, but it didn't come easy, partly because the band wasn't playing out.
"Most bands, when you're writing and playing live, when you get into the studio you know what chords you're playing, what pedals you're hitting, all that stuff," Gaydos says.
When they went to record, they actually had to relearn the songs they had written.
The other part of the delay was the band wanting to expand its sound.
"It's hard when you get to your fourth record to bring something different to the table," Gaydos says. "A lot of local bands don't even put out a fourth record."
The solution to growing the sound came in the form of a simple music-store purchase: a synthesizer that adds even more atmosphere and intrigue to the sound. Gaydos, bassist Evan Handyside and drummer Brian Colletti composed the songs over six months in '05 and laid down the basic tracks without much input from Schisler, who was surprised by the keyboard addition.
"It changed the whole dynamic of the band and the songs we were working on. By the time Schisler got in there, he was like 'My God, what are you guys doing in here?' "
Once he figured it out, Schisler got to work and wrote a lot of the lyrics right in the studio.
"John did a great job on this record, not just lyrically but vocally," Gaydos says. "He never sang like this on any of the other records."
"Kontakt" has the sheen of a major-label record with seamless playing and soaring anthems like "Where Is It Written" and "Close Your Eyes."
To pull it off live, New Invisible Joy has added a fifth member in Phil MacDowell, former singer-guitarist for the Buzz Poets, who came on to play keyboards about nine months ago.
When they play Friday night at Rex, the band will not only be playing its first show in years, but also playing the new songs live for the first time. Naturally, there's some "nervous excitement," Gaydos says, but they're also excited to be unveiling something fresh upon their return.
"Local bands have to write it and then on Friday they go out and play it out. We're not afforded the luxury of signed bands go off to some cottage out in the Scottish countryside and write your record and record it and everyone's hearing it for the first time. Most local bands, by the time you get the record you've already heard all the songs."
As for where they go from here, they consider New Invisible Joy to be back as a working band -- not concerned at the moment about labels and national attention.
"Maybe something will happen but it's not like before, where we were sitting around waiting," he says. "There was so much interest in the band out of the gate. For us to be that young, making our first record and having it start the moment we walked into the studio -- the studio saying 'we think this record is going to be big' and then it getting good reviews -- that was tough. I'm not complaining because I loved it. When you start having these labels telling you things, it makes it hard.
"Originally we were just trying to play rock music. And I don't there's anyone that's serious about playing that doesn't think about making a career out of playing music. I think there was this misconception that New Invisible Joy was sitting around waiting for a deal and the longer it went the more depressed we got. That wasn't it. But the more it went on, the more it became hard for us to re-find our path."
Those difficulties make "Kontakt" all the more rewarding for the band.
"We were happy to have the opportunity to make this record, because there were times during the break, when it seemed, not that we didn't want to do it or people didn't like each other, but everyone was tired and it seemed there was the possibility that maybe we wouldn't get around to getting the record done. When we got the discs and were holding them in our hand, we were just so happy to have the record done, and hoping that people in Pittsburgh were still interested in what we were doing and would come out and check us out. It's a chance to connect back with the fans."
Scott Mervis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2576. First Published September 20, 2007 4:00 AM