Orlando musicians Jason Kupfer and Tierney Tough were bandmates before they were friends. Not that they didn't like each other; but their relationship started as a professional one in the band Vostok, the friendship growing from a mutual creative respect that ultimately lasted longer than the band that drew them together.
I chatted with Kupfer and Tough by phone last week about their current alt-pop trio, The Pauses, which is gearing up for the national release of their first studio album with two soft release parties this weekend, in Ybor on Friday and in their Orlando hometown on Saturday.
After Vostok dissolved in 2006, Tough stopped playing music for a few years and focused on interior design, eventually deciding she wanted to return on her own terms, "writing my own music, because I was just playing bass in that band. And I asked Jason to come back and help with some songs, because he's my personal Jon Brion ..."
They formed The Pauses in 2008, began working on material and endured the usual member changes until they found the right formula with Nathan Chase, a drummer Kupfer met pre-Pauses. "Nathan just seemed like the perfect person to not only be able to handle complicated, intricate drum work but really understand the electronics that need to be triggered," Kupfer told me.
The Pauses drummed up funds to record their LP via Kickstarter.com, a site that artistic types use as a fundraising platform for their creative endeavors, and where a growing number of bands are successfully raising money to record (like Tampa's own Auto?Automatic?? and Clearwater-based Rise of Saturn). Their first attempt failed. They were more prepared the second time around with a crafty promotional video and a huge motivating factor: the chance to work with J. Robbins (Jawbox, Against Me!). "When we first started talking about making the album, there wasn't another person that we ever discussed," Kupfer said, and Tough explained that while they could have easily self-recorded the album, "We really just wanted to go somewhere else where we didn't have to worry about the daily things and work with someone who we admire and appreciate."
Kupfer said they were more than a little surprised when Robbins not only got back to them the same night they contacted him, but had already listened to their Myspace demos and was interested in working with them. "It was just mind-blowing that he actually wanted to do it."
Tough said at that point they went full steam ahead and put all their efforts into making a great Kickstarter video. "And it definitely helped. It was put on the Kickstarter home page and they Tweeted about it and a lot of our friends donated, among others."
Once the campaign was over and they'd exceeded their intended $1,000 goal by more than half, they headed to Baltimore to record at Magpie Cage Studios with Robbins, who not only produced, engineered and mixed the album with them over seven days, but enlisted several of his own band members and even his wife to play on the disc along with guests like Office of Future Plans cellist Gordon Withers, who sits in with The Pauses this weekend.
The resulting instrumental embellishments (trumpet, cello, analog synths, whistles) bring a lushness to indietronic pop that's imbued with '90s alt-rock influences and trip-hop flavors. Tough leads the mix with dulcet-toned vocals that can be tantalizingly sweet and girlish or husky and seductive, but at all times warm and shaded with appealing vulnerability, her Rhodes arrangements and bass playing enhancing or winding around her piping melodies. Kupfer brings angular suppleness and grungy distortion on guitar, sometimes setting the tempo with strumming, plucking dissonant runs of notes that contrast against Tough's melodies, or brightening up the sonic textures with chiming footbells, ukulele, electro blips, glitches, whirls and whatever else he programs into the mix. Chase rounds out the sound with dynamic beat-keeping that presses forward with aggressive drive, eases into relaxed and airy grooves, rollicks and bounces then slows back down to subtle and simple, at all times tight, perfectly-paced, occasionally complex and augmented by triggered electronics and percussive flourishes. "He does more than a usual drummer does," Tough asserted.
The band's mature compositions stretch beyond the simple songcraft of traditional pop with unexpectedly intricate instrumental breakdowns, noisy electro synthesized explorations and lift-offs and a consistent use of opposing sonic themes — melody and dissonance, quiet and loud, cutesy playful and dark moody — all throughout the album, which closes with a hidden track, old school style.
The Pauses hooked up with Keith and Susie Ulrey at New Granada Records to promote and distribute A Cautionary Tale. "I just respect them, I think they're genuine people, they do so much for the music scene over there and also in Orlando, too," Kupfer said. "So it was really cool to be able to team up with them at the last minute and have them help us out with distribution. New Granada came along just in time."
Even though the Friday night show at New World is a soft release, the band will be offering hot-pressed copies of A Cautionary Tale for sale. "We just got them yesterday. We ambushed the UPS guy ..." Kupfer laughed.
"It was like Christmas. We literally ran down to him when he arrived," Tierney added.
"He was less excited than we were," said Kupfer.
"He was not excited," Tough agreed.
A Cautionary Tale will be released nationally via New Granada Records on March 8.