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Photo by Clarke ToltonThe first few bars of the LedZeppelin-esque riff on Innaway's new self-titled album are what make me ask the question: Umm, so, are you guys stoners?
I'm meeting with three of the band members at the Harbor House restaurant in Seal Beach. None of them break a smile. Then the guitarist—with the unusually stone-y name of Barry Fader—opens his mouth. "Yeah, well," he says. Pause. "Pretty much."
Yes! Honesty takes the day. And now we know for sure: Innaway will be the band who will save stoner rock from all its cotton-mouthed excesses.
Sure, the first song, "Threat Hawk," starts with yawn-worthy reminiscence of "When the Levee Breaks." But their music soon breaks free from the tranquilizing prog and the unimaginative cock rock that stifled the creativity of a generation back in the 1970s.
Instead, Innaway soars with a new reading of Pink Floyd's psychedelia, Neil Young's dour humble pie and Led Zeppelin's hippie boogie. It's less arena rock than a midnight showing of The Wall, partly because the guy who mixed it happens to be one of the kings of indie rock: John McEntire, drummer and multi-instrumentalist of the jazzy post-rockers Tortoise.
The band flew to McEntire's studio in Chicago over 2004 Halloween weekend, expecting wisdom from the indie-rock yogi. They almost came up with zilch. He barely talked with them. They didn't have the money to wait for him to get a little more sociable. So they gave him a deal: "Do whatever you want," Fader remembers saying. "And his eyes lit up."
It was mayhem. McEntire took panels packed with sonic equipment from his studio walls and ran into the hallway, where he started fiddling with some wires. Almost anybody else would have the good sense to call the cops. The Innaway guys were paralyzed with anticipation.
Soon McEntire unveiled his masterpiece. In anybody else's hands, it would have sounded like a festival of farts. But with McEntire's guidance, the song "Golden" sounded like an urgent message from a distant time fed through a static-clogged TV. Innaway had found their man.
And it couldn't have been any other way. These guys are too determined to let their music get butchered. They started in 2001, when singer and guitarist Jim Schwartz heard his buddy Fader left his former, unnamed band, so they started jamming and immediately writing songs. They recruited drummer Gabe Palmer, bassist Darrick Rasmussen and Schwartz's girlfriend Maori Konishi to play keyboards. When she went back to Japan to work at her family's English-language school in 2003, they got mechanical engineer Reid Black instead.
Their talent quickly got them a residency at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa. Top brass from New York-based Some Records flew out to their show to check them out, and (after Schwartz allegedly smoked them out) they got signed.
With a $5,000 advance, they built a studio in an industrial section of Huntington Beach, next to a Boeing office. They spent eight months writing and producing eight songs they were satisfied with. Some Records got in touch with McEntire, and now Innaway gets serious.
Their self-titled album is scheduled to be released in March. Some Records will then use it as a calling card to sign them to a concert tour. Will their soft-spoken take on stoner rock be able to survive in a world obsessed with the porno, teenybopper pop of Britney Spears?
Sure, says Black. Their work ethic will prevail. Just like that other stoner band, Black Flag: "We work hard, like Black Flag," Black said. "But we don't sound like them."
Innaway with Loma Lynda at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St. Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600. Thurs., Jan. 27, 9 p.m. $5. 21+.