When pressed, most up-and-coming rockers can cite a proper litany of influences, but the young members of Oakland-based power-pop quartet White Like Fire (including two brothers) adopted a more discerning approach to songcraft.
"We picked specific songs we liked, such as 'I Think We're Alone Now' by Tommy James & The Shondells," explains guitarist/backing vocalist Blake Clawson. "Our goal was to write catchy music so contagious you forget about the moment."
Citing examples as disparate as Yes' "I've Seen All Good People" and The Chariot's "Evan Perks," White Like Fire's emphasis doesn't draw from band catalogs but rather the visceral impact of chord, melody and excitably shouted rock lyrics. "We chase emotion," adds Blake. "It might sound analytical, but it's organic in that way. Sometimes I hear a song, like 'Lasso' by Phoenix, that I build from to adjust our sound."
"We each have our own style," affirms drummer Joe Killian. "One of my favorite drummers is Questlove [of The Roots] but another is Dave Grohl [Nirvana/Foo Fighters], more for how he hits than his songwriting ... groove-heavy drums that aren't too busy but support the music."
White Like Fire's all-angles effort stems from their small-town roots in Shippensburg, not far from Three Mile Island. "[My brother] Tyler and I had to dig deep, because nothing was going on there," recalls Blake. "If you're creative, you yearn to be around similar people. We can't relate to blue-collar Beatles from Liverpool or grunge bands from Seattle. Interacting with people is important because that's the depth we look for."
During frontman/bassist Tyler's freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh, White Like Fire played its first show in 2011 as a trio in a South Oakland basement. Both Mr. Killian and newcomer rhythm guitarist Evan Cresswell attended that debut as loyal fans.
Their self-titled first EP was placed on sale last year at iTunes, Amazon and Spotify, as well as at shows. The band funded a video of the anthem "Desperate," filmed two months before Wiz Khalifa's "Work Hard, Play Hard" in the same Carrie Furnace location. Blake admits it didn't go viral in the same fashion.
Undaunted, the band's "Lies" EP, available later this month, was recorded with producer David Klug (not the Pittsburgh illustrator), whose meticulous approach fit with their aesthetic. "He picked apart every song and wasn't afraid to be critical," explains Blake, "so it was a monthlong process. The goal was to come out with four solid songs where the energy doesn't slip and there's no distraction."
What emerged was laser-honed, propulsive power-pop with infectious vocal harmonies and tightly wound guitar riffs, evoking '80s icons Elvis Costello, The Knack, Nick Lowe and Squeeze as much as recent treadmill-runners OK Go. Though the band potentially appeals to several generations, there are certain things they shun: synths, samples, laptops or autotune and obvious product shills (a la the band fun.).
"We want to put as much blood and sweat in it as we can," says Blake. "It'd be nice to get paid once in a while, but we can't relate to iPad commercials."
Maybe so, but the EP's final track where Tyler wails in a higher register does seem like it could complement pop-punkers The Death Set in a Chromebook ad. Meanwhile, his brother's hopeful for the near future, knowing music-industry types were impressed with the first video and EP.
"On that album cover, we were wearing leather jackets in a mirrored cube and standing on a field of grass in Shippensburg, and they mentioned that contrast."
"They liked how we're young and don't have facial hair, and it was unanimous that they liked the sound but didn't hear a single. They didn't think we'd been around long enough to make a solid investment. So I was told on the phone to keep at it and play more shows outside Pittsburgh."
White Like Fire makes good on that promise in the next week by cracking the college scenes of Morgantown, W.Va., and Athens, Ohio, while also headlining in Bloomfield tonight. "Our goal with this EP is to show that we can be consistent in our delivery. We're sticking around for our friends and our fans, and we'll work our asses off."
Manny Theiner is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.