It’s no surprise that the members of the atmospheric rock quartet Aberdeen City found one another while attending Boston College in the late ’90s. “It was like ‘Where’s Waldo,’ ” jokes drummer Rob McCaffrey over beers at Davis Square’s Sligo Pub. “You find three people not wearing Abercrombie & Fitch.”
But it is remarkable that McCaffrey and two of his mates, guitarist Ryan Heller and singer/bassist Brad Parker, were reunited at BC after having grown up together in the same Chicago neighborhood. All three decided to attend the school separately, but McCaffrey had played in bands with Heller in high school and had known Parker. Their reunion was the definition of serendipity. “I remember thinking back in high school that I wanted the music thing to really keep on going, but it was just unreasonable, everyone was just going in different areas,” McCaffrey says. “But it was refreshing to get to school and be like, ‘Wow, I have someone I’m really familiar with musically, someone I really respect,’ which is Ryan.”
This Friday, Aberdeen City celebrate the release of their full-length debut, The Freezing Atlantic (Dovecote), with a show at T.T. the Bear’s Place. The disc’s songs are steeped in melancholy but also cut through with the sly humor suggested by the song title “God Is Going To Get Sick of Me” and reflected in the “Pretty Pet” line “Sometimes regret makes a great pet.” The wise-guy sensibility along with the live-wire guitars and booming drums balances the band’s moodiness with irony and tension. That’s something they achieved during two and a half weeks of concentrated isolation in the dead of winter. They holed up with producer Nic Hard at the Ranch, a former-C&W-hangout-turned-recording-studio in the Catskills.
And the fourth Aberdeen City member? That would be guitarist Chris McLaughlin, a BC freshman and local DJ whom they brought in after Heller hired him to spin at a campus party. Not only did his playing become essential to their burgeoning sound, but so did Boston. The older trio have graduated; the band have signed to the NYC-based label Dovecote, and they’ve played 11 shows in NYC so far this year. Yet, McLaughlin says, “Everything we do is Boston. I think if we ever moved anywhere, we’d still be a Boston band.”
Actually, McCaffrey-Heller-Parker-McLaughlin wasn’t the original line-up. When their former bassist, another BC alum, grew tired of band life last year, Parker learned bass, and that’s given them a new sound. “I don’t know how to play the bass,” he explains. “I write bass lines like a guitarist, so the bass just turns into another voice. From the absolute center of everything, it changed the sound of the band.”
“It [our sound] is not really a choice,” McLaughlin adds. “It’s a product of who the four of us are.” They point to the way McCaffrey’s hard-hitting rock style complements Parker’s bass lines and their emotional lyrics. There’s also the interplay between two very different guitarists. Keller prefers intricate, Edge-y figures; McLaughlin’s grungier approach has at times led him to grind his guitar on the ceiling upstairs at the Middle East in order to achieve maximum feedback. It’s a combination that distinguishes Aberdeen City from so many new bands who’re working with the same influences these days, from the Killers to Interpol.
“Whether one’s heard the song before or not, or heard the style before or not, you can pick out a good song,” Parker says. “Focus on that and don’t worry about where it ends up getting classified. And it’s not incidental that it gets classified with a lot of these other things. But it’s also not shameful. It’s not derivative. Because we’re proud of it. It means a lot to us, and that’s what makes a song good in the end — it’s that the people who created it sat together, thought together, and created something that they’re all proud of.”