Unlocked: Darren Schlappich on the unexpected origins of Ataloft

Photo courtesy of the artist

“The last thing I was looking for was to start another band,” says Darren Schlappich. “It just kind of worked out that way.”

In fall of 2012, the singer and songwriter behind the new Reading-area six-piece Ataloft didn’t know Ataloft was going to exist a year and a half later. He didn’t know that it was going to release a fantastic pop-rock production of a debut LP, a far cry from his country-Americana roots. Schlappich was wrapping up a long stretch of activity with his other band, Frog Holler, in support of 2009′s Believe It or Not. He was pretty content that he’d kick back and take time to himself with no looming musical pressures, when his friend Bruce Siekmann gave him a call.

He had some free time in his Fleetwood, Pennsylvania studio, Amoeba Audio, and asked if Schlappich would like to record anything. Intrigued, Schlappich and his Frog Holler bandmate Michael Lavdanski showed up with an unrecorded tune called “Warning Signs.” It had a midtempo bounce and worked in a contemplative lower register; they recorded some guitar parts and vocal harmonies, then left for the day.

“A couple weeks later Bruce sent me a copy, and he’d added bass and keys, fleshed it out a lot,” says Schlappich. “And then it was another year before we talked about it again. He got in touch and said ‘Hey, did you want to revisit that song? It’s not really finished.’”

Schlappich, Lavdanski and Siekmann reconvened to put some finishing touches on “Warning Signs,” then moved on to another song – the plaintive “Heart Attack on the Holidays,” which kept things very tightly focused around acoustic strumming, an electric lead, and an understated bass part.

“I remember Bruce putting the first bass notes on it,” says Schlappich. “I was like ‘wow, we’ve gone outside of Frog Holler now.’” Continue reading →


Unlocked: Take a look inside the studio where Ataloft came to life

Ataloft | Courtesy of the artist
Ataloft | Courtesy of the artist

If you had to boil it down to a place, Amoeba Audio in Reading is where Ataloft came to life. As we’ll hear in tomorrow’s interview, Frog Holler members Darren Schlappich and Mike Lavdanski went into the studio owned by their friend Bruce Siekmann to mess around with recording some unreleased songs. The initial meetups went well, and the group kept returning until there was a full album and a new band in tow.

Earlier this month, the Reading Eagle met up with Ataloft to profile them upon the release of the self-titled album, and brought a video crew inside Amoeba to watch the band – now a six-piece – play live in the room where the music was born. Check out a performance of their very summery song “Old Jones” below, and get psyched to see these gents perform at Ardmore Music Hall on the 3rd of May.

Ataloft is the featured album in this week’s installment of Unlocked. Download “The End is Nearer Than We Know” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review and check back later this week for an interview and more


Unlocked: The Key’s review of Ataloft’s self-titled debut

a3607964194_10Darren Schlappich might be known as the lead guy in one of the region’s  Americana staples, Frog Holler, but that doesn’t mean Americana is his whole world.

The singer-guitarist has an evident appreciation of expansive pop-rock productions stylists like Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and John Brion, and while those leanings might not always get a chance to shine in his main project, his new band does an admirable job of scratching that itch.

On the debut LP from Ataloft, released on ZoBird Records earlier this month, Schlappich explores tones and takes chances with his music that he might not have in Frog Holler. Banjo player and multi-instrumentalist Mike Lavdanski also made the jump from Holler to Ataloft for the project, and it’s clear that the two have a very distinctive writing style. We hear it in “Bucket of Blood” – the midtempo shuffle and the twangy chord changes – as well as the delicate “A Heart Attack on the Holidays,” a plaintive solo acoustic number. Indeed, these were selections from Schlappich’s songbook that he wrote thinking that they may wind up being Frog Holler tracks, but here they’re dressed up in different tones and textures, aided by third-member and studio guru Bruce Siekmann, who sparked the collaboration. Continue reading →


Unlocked: Download “The End Is Nearer Than We Know” by Ataloft

Ataloft | Photo via Facebook
Ataloft | Photo via Facebook

For almost 17 years, Darren Schlappich and Mike Lavdanski have performed in the Reading-rooted Americana outfit Frog Holler, a band that has developed a loyal following regionally and beyond through engaging live shows and expressive albums that crystalized the the five-piece’s energy as performers into a handy plastic disc.

For these musicians, the new Ataloft came about kind of in reverse. A casual recording project with Bruce Siekmann of Amoeba Audio in Reading clicked in ways the players didn’t expect, and what everybody thought was a one-off collaboration spawned a full album, and a new band.

Though Schlappich regards the two groups as “first cousins,” by working outside of the Frog Holler label, he was able to explore sounds and sonic territories he might never have before. The resulting self-titled album is at once reminiscent of Brian Wilson and John Brion in its lush arrangements, ethereal orchestrations and big sounds – but tips the cap to the roots of these musicians with little florishes, like the banjo we hear on the moving album opener “The End Is Nearer Than We Know.”

We’re exploring the album all week long on Unlocked, The Key’s regular spotlight on new and significant releases from Philadelphia-area artists. Tomorrow we’ll bring you a record review, we’ll spotlight a video on Wednesday, sit down with Schlappich on Thursday, and more. To start things off, download “The End Is Nearer Than We Know” below, and just imagine how haunting it will sound when the band performs it at their Philly album release party May 3rd at Ardmore Music Hall.


Unlocked: Check out an album of photos from Pattern is Movement’s self-titled record release show at Boot & Saddle

Pattern is Movement | Photo by Mark Schaffer
Pattern is Movement | Photo by Mark Schaffer

Our week closes with a triumphant homecoming for Pattern is Movement. Supported by their fellow Philadelphians Busses and Brooklyn-based Hometapes label mates Yellow Ostrich (featuring ex-We are Scientists drummer Michael Tapper), Pattern is Movement played the penultimate show on their first support tour for Pattern is Movement to a rapturous audience. Tearing through songs from the new record with an ideal balance of hit-by-hit perfection and erratic fluidity (mainly thanks to Chris Ward’s J. Dilla-inspired breaks and Andrew Thiboldeaux’s acrobatic live vocal runs), the band have proven that the gambles they took with their new record are starting to pay off.

Significant praise also goes to Busses and Yellow Ostrich, both of whose idiosyncratic takes on psych rock set an appropriate atmosphere for Pattern is Movement’s ecstatic return. Check out this gallery of photos from local musician and photographer Mark Schaffer.

Pattern is Movement has been the featured album on this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the song “Suckling in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, learn about their videos for “Untitled and “Little by Little in Wednesday’s post, read yesterday’s interview, and stay up to date for future editions of Unlocked.


Unlocked: Pattern is Movement see their mission statement come to its fullest realization

Pattern is Movement started out as a Christian rap group. You heard it here first.

Well, that’s not completely true. But understanding this side of keyboardist/singer/composer Andrew Thiboldeaux’s and drummer/producer Chris Ward’s experience, rooted in strict Pentacostal practice (the same faith in which Marvin Gaye and D’Angelo nurtured their prodigal musicianship), might explain a lot. It certainly makes the eccentricity inherent to Pattern is Movement’s music – occasionally frantic, layered with intense stimuli and popping with vibrancy at every beat – a little easier to understand. Far more importantly, it allows us to understand the motivation behind what they have tried to do with their new self-titled album. The band celebrate the release of their album tonight at Boot & Saddle.

“Andrew and I started making Christian rap when we were 14, and we were in a Christian rock group when we were teenagers. We were so connected to music that…I think for me, as a 35-year-old musician who’s been doing it for 20 years with this guy, I wanted to go back to the roots of my childhood and figure out why I loved music so hard when I was a kid,” explains Ward over a crackling phone line. He and Thiboldeaux have just pulled into Austin, right on the cusp of an extremely ambitious South By Southwest schedule, but that’s not quite where he’s at mentally. “Rather than running away from that past experience – which was very painful and traumatic – I tried to embrace it and see what about it was positive. One of the things it gave me was this intimate musical relationship with this guy, and I hear a wonderful conversation between the two of us in this record,”

Through these artists’ eyes, the message behind the record becomes clearer and clearer. Past the surface-level complexity is a strong communicative purpose that has been the hallmark of all great music; that said, when Pattern is Movement’s history is looked at under the microscope, their gravitation towards RnB makes perfect sense. RnB as we know it is born of desire to bring the pulpit to the concert hall, to equate ecclesiastical power in a non-sacred setting, to find God in human passion. The genre’s greatest luminaries, folks like Marvin and D, all grew up and became artists in church. The power of music to bring people together in the service of something omniscient and massive is certainly not lost on Ward or Thiboldeaux.

“Chris and I like church, but we’re not so interested in Jesus, so we like the emotion and ecstasy of RnB music,” explains Andrew.

“I started challenging my beliefs and thought that all the stuff I saw – the speaking in tongues, the emotions that I had in service – that all of that was false. And as I got older, I started realizing the opposite. Like, yeah, maybe there is no God, maybe all the stuff they were telling me was bulls***. But the feelings I had in those church meetings were TRUE. My brain was registering it, I was high as a kite. There’s something about RnB and hip-hop that resonates with me as a result,” adds Ward.

This desire to create something ecclesiastically powerful is one of a few missions that guided the new record, but those implications resonate throughout the other circumstances that brought the record about in this form. In the six years between this record and 2008’s All Together, Ward went through a difficult divorce and picked up a full-time job doing bookings at Johnny Brenda’s that he still maintains. These events, mixed with a strong urge to get away from the record-tour-repeat cycle that made their previous albums feel stagnant to them, precipitated a need to step back and re-evaluate. Even though they started tracking songs in 2009, they ended up scrapping a whole mix by 2011, re-recording into 2012 (tracking separately, for the first time in any of their records), and spending 2013 getting things prepared to be played live. They essentially made a record in the way most bands don’t anymore, and they’re fully aware of the sea changes that have happened in the broader world during this time – changes that they, as an indie group authentically embracing RnB and hip-hop, are better prepared than ever to handle.

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Unlocked: How Pattern is Movement’s videos anticipate their evolution


Artists use music videos to further a number of different aims. The most ambitious weave epics that read like short films, attempting (and often failing) to communicate a vision that would elicit comparisons to the greats of long-form film. For most artists, however, the goals are much simpler: to create the atmosphere in which the viewer understands some version of the artist’s present. This is why many rappers shoot videos in expensive cars, or why the “performance vid” has become a near-obligatory measure of a rock band’s credibility: they seek to bring you into their life, using the camera as the lens for you to see their life as they wish for you to see it.

Pattern is Movement doesn’t make too many videos, and a cursory search of the duo’s name on Youtube elicits a lot of random live videos that are either put up from touring shows or released under the auspices of other video series’ . But when they do make or officially sanction videos, they put a subtle twist on archetypal music video conventions by highlighting their innovation and eccentricity; instead of portraying the idealized version of their existence, or making some profound directorial statement (which they leave to established film directors), they bring the focus to their collective headspace, highlighting the path towards their artistic progression.

Continue reading →