As a student at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, Trent Dickerson would engage in the time-honored tradition of all sensitive, musically inclined young men and make bedroom recordings. He went through a Bright Eyes phase, and we can only guess at the content of the songs. But when it came time to share them through Soundcloud, he chose the name Holy Posers as his handle.
A few years later he was living in St. Louis, playing bass in a few bands and running sound at venues around town. A rotating collection of friends — some from Truman, some fellow transplants from around his hometown of Perryville — coalesced into a live version of the Holy Posers. Its current incarnation made its debut at the Livery about two years ago, and the band is to release its debut, Are You Sure You're Having Fun?, on January 24 at the Bootleg at Atomic Cowboy.
No longer a solo singer-songwriter project, the band now comprises six people, including a horn section. There's an indie-groove vibe to many of the album's eight tracks and a heavy love of R&B, which Dickerson intensifies with a strong falsetto delivery.
"For me, it's a fucking dream," Dickerson says of playing with a horn section. "I grew up listening to the Bee Gees and Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire.
"I think I just like really ornate composition," Dickerson continues. "You can get really bored playing guitar, so having horns just makes it different out of the gate. They're sounds that aren't usually in south-city D.I.Y. music."
For these bandmates, that's no knock on their contemporaries; in fact, most of the sextet does time in other bands. Trumpeter Philip Zahnd plays drums in Golden Curls, Dickerson and drummer Aaron Essner play in Jailbox, and keyboardist/harmony vocalist Ashley Byrne performs as a solo artist, often with a few Posers backing her up.
"Trent has always been someone I admire, and I was excited to learn and soak up some of his ability," Byrne says of her decision to join the group.
Dickerson notes that the band has a lot of flexibility along with some hardcore musical training; both Peter Graham (saxophone) and Brian Thompson (bass) studied music in college, and most everyone else plays multiple instruments.
"I'm really into arrangement," Dickerson says, "and even if the song starts on guitar, I'll tear it all away and color it." He thinks of the horn section as offering "an element of emotion," and Tom Pini, who helped produce the record, says he was drawn to the band's "dynamic and expressive" sound.
At first listen to the new album, though, those multifaceted arrangements are set aside for a more low-key, guitar-and-strings introduction to the band. That first track, "Born," is one of Dickerson's most recent compositions, and one that he feels sets an auspicious tone for what follows.
"I knew when I wrote it that it was gonna be first," Dickerson says. "Even the name of it, it's the beginning of the cycle. Maybe it fits in the least, but I think maybe 'Born' requires a little more listening to really enjoy it more than the other tracks."
Dickerson notes that in concert, the band leans harder on the "upbeat, groovy ones," and indeed the rest of the record gives a nice push-and-pull to the band's rhythmic and compositional leanings as well as Dickerson's more nakedly personal lyrics.
"The second song is 'Little Every Day,' which I think is the best song that summarizes the fact that we have six people," notes bassist Thompson. "It highlights the horn section, it highlights the composition. We found that 'Born' worked better for Trent to play it like a singer-songwriter by himself and then join him at the end."
Dickerson and company know that Holy Posers doesn't quite fit in with the sound of their St. Louis contemporaries, and that a love of '90s R&B is going to have its own flavor when played by a gaggle of indie kids and music-theory scholars.
"I really like the idea of an R&B project but with some of the narrative elements of other music that I like," he says.