The scruffy members of the Cleveland rock band Debussi look like your stereotypical indie rockers who couldn't give a shit about tuning and care less about rehearsing. But that's far from the case. Frontman Matt Kaz has played piano since he was six. He also gives piano and guitar lessons to burgeoning students. Plus, bassist Dylan Jones is proficient on drums and guitar too. The group's musical dexterity, which comes across on their debut EP All the Same, separates them from the indie-rock pack.
"When I first moved here, I was taking vocal and guitar lessons at the Fine Arts Association in Willoughby and met some great teachers," says Kaz over beers at a Cleveland Heights bar that's walking distance from his home. "I just think you can always get better. My sight reading now is great because I give lessons, but back in the day it was crap."
While the band's music doesn't exactly sound inspired by classical music, their moniker suggests influences that extend beyond the basic rock parameters. "I'm fascinated by the whole Romantic period and by composers like Debussi and Chopin," says Kaz, adding that he's been writing songs in different time signatures and "studying" the Beatles and Radiohead.
"There are classical elements hidden in our music," adds guitarist Alex Beck. "It's like Tenacious D says: It's the 'classical sauce.'"
The band's roots go back to Erie, Pennsylvania, where Kaz and Beck met while students at Mercyhurst College and formed their first band Dirt Herbert. "We played mostly covers and sprinkled in a few originals," recalls Kaz. "We had so much fun with the band that we just wanted to keep it going."
The duo moved to Harrisburg, adding and subtracting bandmates before settling in Cleveland three years ago and renaming the group Debussi. They've slowly solidified the line-up that now includes drummer Dan Underco and guitarist Jeff Farmer in addition to Kaz, Beck, and Jones. "I feel more confident about something happening with this line-up," says Jones. "We have a solid grasp on what we want to do and how we want to do it. Now we just need the money to do it."
And thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, they were able to finance All the Same, which was recorded at Suma Recording, the Painesville studio owned by Paul Hamann where the Black Keys recorded Attack & Release. "When we were flat, [Hamann would] be like, 'Do it again,'" says Jones. "He doesn't tell you what to do, but anything that had to do with technicalities, he would know exactly what to do.
All the Same's opening track, "Passenger's Mind," features Radiohead-like textures, winding through a simple synth riff that slowly builds, adding hushed vocals and then percussion and then guitar. The group takes a few liberties with the bluesy "Grinnin' in Your Face," a Son House track that begins with a sample of an old interview with the legendary bluesman. The EP's other four tunes sound more sophisticated than the typical indie rock.
"We're all into Phish and the Allman Brothers and stuff like that," says Jones. "But when it comes to the writing style, there's a lot of structure behind the songs, and some of it isn't right there in your face. Sometimes we structure things so that they sound like chaos, but in all reality it's something that we have practiced and worked on."
After selling out the Beachland Tavern earlier this year, the band feels like they're finally gaining some momentum. They'll celebrate the new record's release with a show in the bigger Ballroom this weekend before hitting the road for a regional tour that they hope will expand their fan base. "We'll have to harass our friends to come and check out our show," says Beck. "But once we finally convert someone and they finally come to a show, they say, 'Wow. This really wasn't what we expected.'"