Not since the glory years of Electric Light Orchestra has the cello received front-and-center treatment in a rock band. Columbia, S.C.-based quartet Treadmill Trackstar, signed to Hootie & The Blowfish’s Atlantic-distributed Breaking Records, looks to buck that trend.
With its second album, “Only This” (released Oct. 28), Treadmill Trackstar takes the classic guitar-pop approach and tops it off with the wafting harmonies of Katie Hamilton’s cello. It’s the brain child of lead singer-guitarist Angelo Gianni, who longed for an unconventional sound in a “same-as-it-ever-was” rock world.
“The individual parts are fairly simplistic, actually, but there’s so much layering in the music that the cello fills out harmonically,” Hamilton said recently. “Everything fits together and intertwines. Most people who listen to it don’t get it at first, but after a few listens, they do, and after they walk away, they usually end up singing something. They’re hooked.”
Tracks such as “Shouldn’t I Take” and “Velveteen” and Treadmill Trackstar’s gritty determination won over Hootie, who made them Breaking’s first signing last year. They recorded the album last winter at Memphis’ legendary Ardent Studios, overseen by producer Joe Hardy (ZZ Top, The Hooters).
Carving their own niche was just “a bit of dumb luck,” drummer Tony Lee said.
“On our independent record, there were some songs that needed to be acoustic and not rockin’. So, we thought, ‘Let’s have a cello in there,’ ” he said. “We kept the cello and kept working with it, and it turned out really well. On the basic level, it’s another melodic thing besides the voice. Angelo’s not into guitar solos; we’re not that kind of band. The cello fills in all the spaces just right.”
It almost didn’t happen at all. After a short stint with Lee in another band, Gianni started Treadmill Trackstar in 1993, but since Lee had moved to Los Angeles, he was purely on his own. He assembled several musician friends to help record an independent CD, co-produced by Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan.
Still needing a band to support the album on tour, Gianni convinced Lee to return to Columbia. He then added Hamilton and bassist Chris Grigg.
“When Angelo and I first met, we clicked on many levels,” Lee said. “When I moved away, I really missed music in my life. I tried to play with some other guys in California; everybody I played with loved me and wanted me to join their bands, but I just couldn’t see it. I came back and recorded the CD with Angelo, and I thought, ‘This is it.’ So, when I went back to L.A., it started playing on my conscience and Angelo just kept riding my ass to join the band. One day I decided, ‘screw it, let’s do it,’ and I haven’t regretted it one bit.”
In record stores, a sticker on the cover of “Only This” calls it “cello-driven power-rock.” Lee prefers “colorful rock.”
“It’s lush in a lot of ways that rock music isn’t,” he said. “The artsy-fartsy bands of the ’70s, like ELO, Pink Floyd, in some ways, I guess we hearken back to them or evoke them. The songs definitely are adventurous.”
BWF (before we forget): Run with Treadmill Trackstar on the Web @ www.treadmilltrackstar.com.
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