After meeting with three-fourths of local dance-rock outfit the Bureau at its central command center, one thing immediately becomes clear: The quartet easily has the most fitting name of any band in town. Its practice space is lined from floor to ceiling with boxes of files, old computer monitors and office furniture the band shares space with a law firm.
These dossier-laden surroundings make sense, though, because after listening to the Bureau's debut full-length, We Make Plans in Secret, the same kind of noir-like images instantly come to mind. The use of distant, reverb-drenched guitar lines (think Interpol) enhances this shadowy premise; languishing melodies frame lyrical motifs of isolation and longing, while touching metaphorically on broad social issues in the context of deeply personal relationships. The final result is a collection of twelve diverse songs that are dominated by Mike Cracchiolo's dark, endlessly catchy basslines and tastefully supported with heavy synth lines; high-velocity, danceable drum beats; and even string accents.
Shae Moseley: You recorded We Make Plans in Secret with Carl Amburn (Riddle of Steel, Traindodge)?
Mike Cracchiolo: We recorded basic tracks at the end of August last year, so it's been almost a year since we started with Carl. We tracked bass and drums in the orchestra room at Forest Park College. Then we came to what is now the Bluebird when it was just vacant space and did guitars, keyboards and vocals. I guess now every time a guy takes a piss at the Bluebird, he can be safe in the knowledge that I recorded the vocal tracks for our album in there.
Somewhere during the course of making the album, you guys went through some lineup changes.
Cracchiolo: We realized once we had gotten through basic mixing that [guitarist] Jon Laufersweiler was no longer going to be in the band due to how much the rest of us really wanted to tour. Then Bobby Duebelbeis came aboard [on guitar] almost immediately [after Jon left]. When we knew that Jon was leaving, I was sort of freaking out about it. We had these grandiose plans to try and audition people, but through talking to Bobby through e-mail, the message he sent back was exactly what we needed to hear.
Jamie Toon: [jokingly] And then we heard him play and we're like, "Oh, shit."
Cracchiolo: No he was really dedicated and willing to work on learning the material. During that time a friend gave me some good advice: basically, that you can get a lot of different people to do the job anybody can learn to be a good guitar player where as an asshole is always going to be an asshole.
Bobby Duebelbeis: I'm just glad you guys don't think I'm an asshole.
Cracchiolo: Well, you are an asshole, but that's a little different.
Soon after Bobby joined the band, you guys went through another lineup change with your drummer James Wilke.
Cracchiolo: Yeah. James called and was like, "I know you guys are going to tour, and I have kids even if I take a couple weeks out of the year it's going to be too much, because I'll never get that time with them back." The original plan was for him to make it to the CD release, but in May of this year he fell and chipped a bone in his arm and found out that he had to have some tendons cut and reattached. So he decided to go ahead and get it taken care of. He ended up playing an out-of-town show and then one last show here. He played both of those shows with his arm broken.
So who has taken James' place in the band?
Cracchiolo: Paul Wood from the band Murder Happens is on board now.
Is he officially a member of the band or just filling in for the time being?
Cracchiolo: We're not really sure ourselves, [but] Paul is doing a great job.
Duebelbeis: The coolest thing about having to re-examine the whole [band] structure is allotting that time to restructure the songs. Mike and Jamie had to come together and re-evaluate the whole record at that point. I think it's a better record now because of it.
Cracchiolo: And with Bobby on guitar, I think we just have someone better suited to the direction we've been trying to go towards. This band started as a side project a few years ago, before the Faint and the post-punk revival, and before new-wave was a big deal again. Back then it was a big fucking deal to have a keyboard in your band.
So that being said, I still think you guys are playing music that is a little...
Cracchiolo: Played out?
No, I don't think so not in St. Louis anyway. What is the reaction you get to playing dance music in this town? Do people get it?
Cracchiolo: It's funny, I just had a conversation with a sound guy last night who was like, "The first couple times I mixed you, I just didn't get it at all. I didn't know what you were trying to do. And then the last time, it just clicked." That could be an indication of how naïve we were starting out, because we wanted to write songs that could be dance-y or synth-heavy or darker. And it really was a reaction to St. Louis initially. We thought it would be fun to do something different, stuff that sounds like the Cure or Joy Division or whatever.
There's a pretty wide range of styles on the album. There are uptempo, danceable tracks, but also some rockers and a couple melancholy ballads.
Cracchiolo: Well, I write in phases, and I always try to write a crop of songs that's different from the ones that came before. For me, the post-punk time is so apt because this really is just more complicated punk rock. If I hear a band and it's straightforward and uptempo...I mean, I'm not talking about bratty, screamy punk-rock shit. I'm talking about stuff that's a little smarter and more mature than that. That's the stuff that gets me really excited, but by no means is it all that I listen to. And it all finds its way into the writing at some point. I mean, Jamie loves Steely Dan. I love Steely Dan.
That reminds me I've heard rumors of some impromptu Steely Dan sing-alongs when you guys get together...
Cracchiolo: That's true.
Toon: I don't know what you're talking about.
Cracchiolo: OK, it's not true. [Laughs] The way Jamie and I joined the band was that we worked at a comic book store together, and between the two of us and our manager at the time, the place was basically like a non-stop rock opera. It was ridiculous. Like, parody lyrics to Rush and Queen and the Doobie Brothers constantly.