The Red Western is:
Lauren DeLorenze – Guitar, Vocals
Sean Finn – Drums
Jonathan Gunnell – Guitar, Vocals
Jay Leon – Bass
If you’re one to judge a band by its name, you might make some assumptions about The Red Western — one might be that the Pittsburgh four-piece is a country band. And a few years ago you would’ve been mostly right. But in 2016, with its first release since former guitarist-songwriter Sean Soisson left to move west, The Red Western is an entirely different animal.
That’s not to say they’ve given up on country.
“No way!” says bassist Jay Leon. “The idea for The Red Western has always been to write the songs we were interested in at the time.” Sometimes that’s alt-country; sometimes, as on Sirens, the first half of the band’s new double EP, it’s absurdly catchy indie pop. The common bond is a breezy simplicity of sounds that makes The Red Western a fun listen, even when the music underlying is deceptively complex.
The band (Leon, guitarist Jon Gunnell, guitarist and primary singer Lauren DeLorenze, and drummer Sean Finn) has made its name as a live act to be reckoned with in its hometown of Pittsburgh, where it’s a staple of the indie rock community. After Soisson’s departure in 2013, the four-piece spent some time recalibrating, learning to write songs all over again, collaborating on some and mining Gunnell’s trove of unreleased solo material for new tunes.
“We had to spend a lot of time figuring out the best way to perform everything live, having one less member,” Gunnell explains. Then the project was developing a collaborative songwriting method, while workshopping some of Gunnell’s songs into Red Western material.
The result is The Red Western’s first new release in nearly three years, a “double EP” consisting of two shorter collections, Sirens and Arrows. Sirens is, by and large, supercharged indie pop, bringing to mind at different points Camera Obscura, The Damnwells and Old 97s. On Arrows, we find more complexity. The energy is dialed back in favor of mathy guitar parts and a more syncopated rhythm section; think chamber pop meets Rainer Maria.
On Sirens, we get solos with a J. Mascis guitar tone from Gunnell and straightforward vocals from DeLorenze, who at times brings to mind Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino — the songs, even when they’re wistful, carry a happy energy. On Arrows, the band exhibits a bit more emotion and nuance; there are ebbs and flows of volume and depth.
In 10 tracks, the Sirens and Arrows double EP gives us a snapshot of where The Red Western has found itself in 2016. Where other bands might have thrown in the towel after losing a primary songwriter, The Red Western regrouped and came back with material that’s notably different, but just as strong as ever.