Music » Homespun

Bounce House Embraces a Synth-Pop Sound With Its Debut EP Starter Home

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Album release shows can be a fraught proposition. After months or years of writing, recording and entombing your songs on wax (or CD, or a string of zeros and ones), a release show can feel like the culmination of something rather than the beginning. Should a band treat it like just another show, or try to throw a gala event in honor of the album's debut?

For Cory Perkins, singer and keyboardist for synth-pop band Bounce House, her CD release show happened to coincide with an international celebration of recorded music. Bounce House used its set at Vintage Vinyl's party in honor of Record Store Day to drop the Starter Home EP, and playing under the shop's storied marquee gave the quartet a chance to make new fans of Loop-dwelling passersby.

"It was sweet — I got to be on an endcap!" Perkins says of the event and of her record's placement in the store. "Our performance went really well; I think our band does well at gigs where people can come by and groove."

Perkins notes that while many listeners are likely to encounter Bounce House through streaming services, the band felt strongly about putting the album out in a physical format. "I guess it feels more official to have something tangible. If nothing else it's a good business card," she says. "But it's complicated; there are a lot of CDs out there that go straight to the landfill." To stave off that possibility, the band put in a modest order of a few hundred — "whatever the nearest price break was!" Perkins laughs.

Bounce House has its roots in the band DinoFight!, which featured Cory on bass and lead vocals and her brother Cody Perkins on drums. That band leaned more into a pop-punk dynamic, so when the Perkins siblings were looking for something new, they decided to more or less split vocal duties evenly; on most songs, the pair will sing at each other, or right past each other, rather than aligning in traditional harmony. This gives the songs a conversational facet, not unlike the energy and approach of early Mates of State releases.

And since Cory set down the bass in favor of the synth, the low end is now supplied by Justin Mills, who played with Cody in the band Mariner. Johnathan Olson rounds out the quartet on keys as well, often lending fleshed-out piano runs alongside Cory's monophonic leads.

To record Starter Home, the band went to Ryan Wasoba's Birdcloud Studio; he's remained an in-demand engineer, and his role as a founding member of So Many Dynamos gives Wasoba a higher-than-average fluency with Bounce House's mix of dance-punk drums and squirrelly synthesizer leads.

"We just wanted to put together the best-sounding record that we could, so we went to somebody that we trusted," Cory Perkins says. Beyond engineering and recording, Wasoba's role included homing in on song selection and vocal harmonies, a crucial element of the band's sound.

"Ryan helped us fill out some songs and layer vocals, and I got to do this differently than I ever have before," Perkins says. "Having your engineer be excited about your stuff makes it fun."

Coming at the five-song EP's midpoint, "On&On" serves as the apotheosis of Bounce House's sound. A rattling bassline gives a nod to the players' roots in punk rock while the kaleidoscopic synths give a new range of color, and the Perkins siblings' competing vocals seem to offer two versions of the same story. But immediately following "On&On" comes the slower, slinkier "Distort Yourself," which places the groove back onto the drum kit and suggests a sizzle where the rest of the EP pops.

Perkins notes that the move from punk to synth-based music was influenced by a few different sources. "I think Cody was listening to Sparks a lot when we started jamming," she says. "I try to look for a lot of inspiration locally, and Middle Class Fashion was a huge inspiration."

Bounce House keeps up a regular in-town gigging schedule (including a show at the Heavy Anchor on May 1 with the Cincinnati duo Lung) and hopes to extend its reach with a small midwestern tour this July. Perkins notes that playing in a band with a few interesting relationships — not only is her brother the drummer, but she and bassist Justin Mills are a couple — has some specific challenges.

"It can be tricky with band dynamics," Perkins says. "We all love and respect each other a lot, even when we don't get along, and that comes through. Since we spend so much time together, there's always this element of it being family — we'll figure out a way to work this out."

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