Hear volcano!'s Full Kaleidoscopic 'Pinata'

Chicago trio explain how pop radio inspired their third album

volcano! / Photo by Stephanie Bassos
volcano! / Photo by Stephanie Bassos
WRITTEN BY
Alyssa Noel

For the first installment of their tongue-in-cheek YouTube video series debuting new songs from their third album, Piñata, out June 12 via the Leaf Label, Chicago art-rock trio volcano! choreographed a dance. In the clip, Aaron With, the band's singer and guitarist, turns from tapping a tambourine to explain the (fictional) origins of "Fighter," a herky-jerky pop track that includes the line "I wish I could turn my hands into knives."

"We had a dance that we did in silence called the Knife Hands Dance, and we had to do our dance in silence because we didn't have a song to go with [it]," With deadpans. "We wrote the song "Fighter" to go with the dance."

Naturally, the camera cuts to the group, clad in jeans and white T-shirts, demonstrating the ridiculous steps. "It was actually really hard," Sam Scranton, the band's drummer, says, laughing. "Even though it doesn't seem like there's much going on, it took us three or four hours to come up with those extremely repetitive dance moves."

The rest of the series, dubbed "Seed to Flower Thursdays" after their release day, and the official video for the album's title track, are similarly goofy. Scranton explains that the group wanted to move away from the seriousness of their past records to reflect their true, kooky nature while, at the same time, avoiding Weird Al territory. "It's becoming more natural for us, over time, to incorporate that," he says. "It is a delicate thing for the songs to not sound like a joke. It's finding relatable struggles that people can identify with, but not taking them too seriously. What prevents [the songs] from sounding jokey is that they're performed with total sincerity."

Escaping their demanding (and wildly varying) day jobs — With is editor-in-chief at the popular online coupon website Groupon, Scranton is a new dad and a grad student studying music composition, and synth/bass player, Mark Cartwright, is working toward a PhD in computer science — the group holed up for a week at a live-in studio in southwest Michigan to record the album, their first in four years. "You would think we had maybe taken some kind of hiatus, but it just takes a long time," Scranton adds. "Even though these are our new songs, we've had them for over two years. We've just been working at a steady clip."

Though the tracks are punctuated by With's frenetic, Dirty Projectors–like melisma and Scranton's aggressive beats (he's afraid of using high-end equipment because he breaks pieces of his aging kit so often), they were inspired, in part, by the simplicity of Top 40 music. "We've been listening to pop radio a lot," says Scranton. "There's that kind of focused element of pure enjoyment. On this record we were striving for things that would lock in in a predictable fashion. We were thinking about trying to make something fun, but also with our spin on what that means."

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