“He had a CD that was like a bluegrass festival kind of thing,” Platter recalls one afternoon over beers at Brothers Lounge, the venue that will host a CD release party for Platter’s terrific new EP, Long Road Ahead
. “[My upbringing] was heavy on the classic rock stuff and singer-songwriter stuff. That made me want to play guitar and harmonica and write love songs and songs about trees.”
In Buffalo, Platter played with the Fatbacks, a group that he says “played around a lot” and hit up regional festivals. At the time, he worked a day job and would re-invest his money into the band. But his band mates didn’t have the same mentality, so he decided to move on. He left Buffalo and arrived in Cleveland a few years ago. Though the two cities are very similar, Platter’s profile has increased since coming to Northeast Ohio.
“Once I moved here, I found it easier to promote myself,” he says. “Coming to a new area helped some too. But when I first moved here, it was going to be a stepping point. We were going to go to a bigger city like Chicago or Louisville or Nashville. But after moving here and meeting people in the music scene here, I realized it was starting to flourish into something. I decided to base everything out of Cleveland. In Nashville, everyone there is fighting for the same dollar there. And you don’t have to do that here. There’s still great talent here.”
In 2013, he issued Looking for Sunshine
, an album of songs that he’d written over the course of the previous decade. For his new album, Long Road Ahead
, he went to Blue Buddha Studio and worked with local producer Jim Wall, the guy who owns the Cleveland-based studio. The disc showcases his crisp vocals, which recall masters such as John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett or Willie Nelson. The song’s arrangements draw from bluegrass and folk but don’t strictly to traditional structures and allow his stellar band that includes bassist Matthew Charboneau and mandolin and fiddle player Bill Lestock to really shine. Two session players — Paul Kovac and Tommy Hannum — also contribute.
“I pitched the idea of doing an all acoustic recording,” says Platter when asked about his approach to recording. “It might be called bluegrass because you have banjo and mandolin and fiddle and upright, but they aren’t bluegrass songs.”
His original idea was for the band to record in the same room. Instead, Platter was in an isolated booth and the other three guys were in the recording room and they tracked it that way.
“I went back through and threw better vocals on it, as one does, though I wanted the least amount of edits,” says Platter. “Tommy Hannum, a famous Nashville session player put the dobra on and we put some effects on it to make it sound a bit more freaky on some of the songs.”
The album opens with the twangy “Lake Erie Shore,” a tune written by Patricia Zook that features a fair amount of mandolin and banjo and suggests the album will be a collection of traditional-sounding bluegrass songs. But the album clearly steers clear of traditional bluegrass.
“I would like to be in the alt-country vein,” says Platter. “The music could be called newgrass or some modern version. I consider bluegrass to be the Statler Brothers and Bill Monroe. That’s what I like about Americana as a genre. You can be a little bit of everything.”
“Josh’s Manifesto,” a song he co-wrote with local musician Josh Stevens is the classic break-up song. The two collaborated on the tune one night in Platter’s basement.
“I love the story that he tells in the song about getting inebriated and then going to tell a girl he isn’t in love with her anymore,” says Platter. “I added another verse to fill it out and changed the arrangement just a little bit. It turned out really nice.”
The album centerpiece, “Ride,” comes off as “creepy and dark.” “Headed east, looking for a place to lie,” Platter sings in the song’s sparse opening before an eerie sounding dobro emerges in the mix.
“It’s a fight or flight kind of song,” says Platter. “I used to write more about myself and now I try to put myself in other places. I had a buddy that was going through a break up. Even thought it’s not about that, it’s more about the crazy girl he was involved with. We routed the dobro through a rotary speaker.”
The group is in the process of recording a new “electric band record” that should be out in the spring of next year. Platter says he hopes that that disc, like Long Road Home
, will reflect what his band sounds like live.
“I want to capture the talent of our live shows,” he says. “When I listen to the album from 2013, it’s not representative of what we’re playing right now. Everyone is really talented on that album and there are different people on this one. It’s reflective of the cohesiveness that we’ve gotten over the past couple of years. This new EP is more representative or what our live show is. Like this one, the next one will have a little bit of everything on it, and some banjo and fiddle too.”
Thor Platter, 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 11, Brothers Lounge, 11609 Detroit Ave., 216-226-2767, brotherslounge.com.
Born and raised in Buffalo, singer-songwriter Thor Platter received a good dose of classic rock as a youth when his sister introduced him to her record collection. She had albums by guys such as Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. His mother's love of traditional Irish music and her Beach Boys obsession left a lasting impression too. Platter also dug into his father’s collection of bluegrass and blues, giving him a fairly eclectic musical background.