Those words coming out of anybody’s mouth — a friend, a lover, a bandmate, a manager, Ross, Rachel, whoever — are never good ones. They’re met with sorry, forlorn faces or the most awkward pair of raised eyebrows you’ve ever seen. They’re bum-rushed with “Awwww”-es and “Noooo!”-es and “You’re fuckin’ better off, dude”-es. They’re loaded with implication and unfortunate circumstance, and they’re liars, those four words — “We’re on a break” — because they typically refer to a brief spell away with an end date instead of an inevitable end.
Except when they don’t — and with Mount Peru, this “break” from each other as the band they once knew was what they needed in order to become the band they want to be.
Last spring, MOUNT PERU played a residency at the Davis Square Theatre, and shortly afterwards announced an indefinite hiatus as members of the Bostonian alt-country outfit figured out what would become of their current arrangement. Bassist Mary Flatley, (vocals/percussion) and Curtis Wyant (pedal steel/guitar) and Matt Bowker (trumpet/keys) all started work on a side project, Cat Sounds, and Thom Valicenti, the man whose napkin scribbles at a bar would later turn into Mount Peru’s first songs, spent some time traveling and writing on his own.
Fast-forward to April 2013: Mount Peru’s back with a new drummer and a spit-shined set of never-before-heard material ready for the riffing at the Rock and Roll Rumble. There, they barreled through a set that showcased songs off their new EP, Is This Thing On?, which drops this week and will receive a proper debut at their T.T. The Bear’s Place release show (where you can pick up the record on vinyl) on Thursday night, May 16, with Aloud, Parks and Nurse & Soldier.
“I feel like the lineup of this band right now is what I’ve been looking for for five years,” says Valicenti. “I’m psyched about it. It felt like before, we were kind of taking a stab at different things, and playing around a lot with genres and stuff, but maybe it was too diffused. Now I feel like we’re coming into our own with our identity as a band.”
This creative concentration spikes adrenaline and interest levels on Is This Thing On?, especially when compared with Mount Peru’s last full-length, My Sweetheart The Destroyer.
“It’s something we used to worry about more,” says Valicenti of Mount Peru’s indiscernible place on the Boston music genre spectrum between albums. “We’re not that worried about it. I still feel like we’re a little bit hard to pigeonhole, but I feel like we have enough in common with enough disparate musical streams in this town that I feel like we can sort of slip on a bill with anyone from Coyote Kolb to Parks to Eddie Japan.”
Lo-fi country licks, inventive instrumentation, tinny percussion and a bluegrass-gone-garage jangle of flavors were ever present on Sweetheart.
The new stuff — namely “Old Mountain Home” — shows us a louder, prouder and slightly stronger side of Mount Peru, one that delivers an unapologetic, amorphous take on pop rock that isn’t afraid to throw on a pair of cowboy boots every once in awhile. Instead of a handful of solid songs that stem from a multitude of directions — handclaps! Earnest guitar solos! Dreamy soundscapes! — Is This Thing On? provides an uncompromising, twangy hybrid that processes, unifies and reinvents their influences in one fell swoop. They’re eager to get the vinyl version of their new baby in your grubby little hands, and they’re totally okay with the facial expressions they get when they deal with the whole “But you guys broke up!” thing.
“Every time I’ve talked to someone and I’ve mentioned the band or the EP coming out or whatever, they’ve said, ‘Oh, cool! I didn’t know you guys were still together!’” says Valicenti. “The reaction has always been a pleasant surprise, which is fine. If that’s what it’s going to be for a lot of people, a pleasant surprise that we’re still around, I’ll take that. That’s great.”