For all the good that community theater can offer — family-friendly entertainment, a chance for amateur thespians to tread the boards, Waiting for Guffman references — the medium isn't usually the proving ground for rock & roll bands.
And yet the seeds of the smoky, moody quartet the Fade were sewn in the pit of a local musical. A few years ago roommates Devon Kirsch and Christopher Bachmann were strings players who had begun teaching themselves bass and guitar, respectively, and they wanted to put their new talents to use. Percussionist Anne Stevenson was in the same production and agreed to play drums in their nascent group.
The band suffered many failed attempts with three or four different vocalists, Bachmann explains. But it turns out their elusive lead singer was hiding in plain sight — Ryan Spriggs was, at the time, living in the same neighborhood as Kirsch and Bachmann.
"And it turns out Ryan was our neighbor — we would see him coming in and out of his house with a guitar case," Bachmann continues. "We jammed in Ryan's attic and it took off from there."
Comprising four Metro East residents, the Fade released a debut EP in 2016 and just dropped a full-length, Good Dream Gone. Like that first EP, the new album was recorded by the band at Kirsch's basement studio. A number of the bandmates have taken recording and engineering classes — Spriggs says that he's been tinkering with recording since before he was a teenager — and the lessons of trial and error led to a tighter product this time around.
"We started realizing how expensive going into a real studio was, so we started off buying a couple of cheap microphones and an interface to get us started," says Bachmann. "We recorded it in Devon's basement, and we saved a lot of time and money that way.
"Well, maybe not time, but we saved money," he offers as a corrective, to the knowing laughter of his bandmates. That DIY ethos carried over into the overall sound of the record, which mines the barbed guitar interplay and detached cool of bands like Spoon and the Strokes.
"We wanted to go a little bit cleaner than the last one, but not go totally clean," says Spriggs. "We want that kind of garage-band kind of sound."
Bachmann agrees, noting that the lyrical content matches the feelings on the songs — feelings of frustration, anxiety and work-a-day stagnation. It was up to Spriggs to sell that in his vocals, which are often captured on these tracks with a pleasing lo-fi distortion.
"The emotions on this record are a lot more raw, a lot more in-your-face in a lot of ways," Bachmann says. "They're about things you don't necessarily want to talk about. Catching that in the vocals really helped to get that across."
"I think we felt like this was a darker record than the first go-round," says Stevenson, who contributes lead vocals on the spiraling track "So Many" as well as harmonies throughout. For Gone, all members shared in the songwriting, both in lyrics and composition. The band's shared responsibility for its songcraft is one of the things Stevenson likes the most about playing with the Fade.
"This time I'm much more involved in the songwriting than I have been in the past, so it's been interesting for me to learn to bring something and let it go," she says. "It's definitely not the kind of band where it's a showpiece for one person and they're directing everything."
Stevenson says that one of her offerings, "All That for This," started off as "literally a Casio keyboard recording." It was up to her bandmates to give it shape.
"It almost sounded like a haunting Halloween tune. It was kind of dark, with an echoing organ, and it's not at all like that now," Bachmann says, turning to Stevenson. "I don't want to say we destroyed your baby, but we took it and did something completely different with it."
The resulting track opens the record, coating descending guitar arpeggios in an aqueous vibrato while Spriggs uses a stomping, glammy chorus to move from ennui to fervor. "All That for This" lays out much of what follows on the remaining nine tracks — dark-tinted guitar interplay, dynamic contrast, and Spriggs' bruised and haunting vocals, which sound tailor-made to be sung into a cheap microphone in a darkened bar.
For Spriggs, the act of songwriting and performing remains a vital part of his identity, even as the band members juggle family obligations, day jobs and the rest of the weight of adulthood that runs counter to the promise of rock & roll.
"You've just got to do it, or you'll die," Spriggs says of playing music. "I know it's just something I have to do. And I feel like if you don't do something and let it go, it will always be haunting you, whatever you're working on."