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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: townsppl

Humble instruments can make spectacular music when they find themselves in the right hands and that is quite evident on the new record from Alexader Stanton's project townsppl.

Stanton recently spoke with WYEP's Joey Spehar.

Mark Knobil

What’s your musical history up to this point?

I’ve been writing and recording as townsppl since 2011 and "Beyond the Garden Wall" is the third townsppl album. I started playing guitar in high school and played lead guitar in more of a rock setting for a number of years. I started townsppl as my ‘bedroom’ project where I would do most of the playing, production, etc. myself, and ended up collaborating with Jake Hanner from Donora.

How do you describe your sound?

In 2011 I purchased a Harmony parlor acoustic guitar on Craigslist for $60. I was struck with the janky, toy-esque quality of the sound and it sort of inspired the whole vibe of townsppl. At its core it’s pop music, inspired by OG’s like The Beach Boys and The Beatles, but I would also call it indie folk, or bedroom pop (?) maybe? "Beyond the Garden Wall" has a fuller sound than the previous two records, with more layers, more chords, more changes, longer songs, etc., although it’s still fulfilling the original vision in the way it combines humble instruments and sounds like the parlor guitars with fuller, lusher timbres.

Tell us more about the song "The Neighborhood." What inspired you to write it and what does it mean to you?

I wrote “The Neighborhood” sitting at my kitchen table on that original parlor guitar. I got really hooked on the rhythm. It felt like it had a sort of urgency to it that I tried to put into the lyrics. It's one of a few songs on the album that plays in the near-future dystopia space, although weirdly the lyrics were written pre-pandemic. It was a lot of fun trying to create the ‘stadium’ vocal sound on the choruses, we ended up piling on Jake and Casey from Donora and Kiki from The Buckledowns, and I did it about 50 times, haha.

Another thing that was musically very important to me on the whole record, and this song too, was to create interesting chord progressions, spelled out with melodic bass lines. When I first started writing the songs I had just learned “God Only Knows” to play at a memorial. I became kind of obsessed with trying to make chord progressions like that (and OK another song on the record, “Man of the Future,” borrows the “God Only Knows” verse chords a little bit). So, “The Neighborhood” came out of those inspirations, plus an earnest use of vibraslap!

What was the first album that really changed your life?

It was without a doubt Green Day’s "Dookie." I got it in 5th grade, a full 5 years before I even started playing guitar or thought about writing songs. One of the things that it taught me that I still look to it for is how mysterious and nebulous ‘pop’ is, like something could have a pop sensibility and be wrapped in any package you could imagine. I feel like "Dookie" could be a Beatles album with a different instrumentation.

Who are some other Pittsburgh artists you think more people should listen to?

One of the best parts about my job at Sunburst is getting to work with kids and then seeing them blossom into real musicians, especially now that it’s been over a decade. A few of our grown-up former students who are making awesome music right now: Times New Wrestlers, Madeline Jo and Friends, and Nolan Jack.

Any other super interesting things about you we should know?

I started Sunburst School of Music in 2011, and we’ve helped thousands of Pittsburghers young and old discover their passion for music.

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.