It’s hard to believe that buying a split seven-inch in the summer of 1995 would lead me to meet bands and musicians that I’d still be following to this day. Such is the case with Sean Byrne, who first showed up in my record collection while in the band Lenola back in the mid-90s. He’s been creating music under a number of guises and projects since then – appearances with Mazarin, Azusa Plane, Matt Pond PA; as well as his own brands The Twin Atlas (with Lucas Zaleski) and Lazy Salon.
Earlier this year, he released an album of a project, called Camino Sound, that he has been working on with a local musician along with a longtime friend from college. This “band” got me excited again about the prospects of neighborhood garage bands and how there are always opportunities to connect with fellow musicians to make something awesome.
A refreshing sound emanates from the notes of Western Excuses, filled with myriad styles swirling together and played in a band environment. There are no genre boundaries here – the songs span multiple styles, even within the same song. The members of the ensemble – Sean Byrne on drums, Van Kapeghian on guitar and Keith Allen on bass – represent many years of playing in and out of scenes, listening to and absorbing a variety of influences along the way.
After checking out the album, I asked Sean and Van how the collaboration evolved into a full-fledged release: “Van and I had crossed paths a few times in recent years just playing with some other local musicians here”, says Byrne. “I was aware of his solo music-making, mostly loop-based & guitar effects things I thought sounded really cool and could imagine drumming along with. I was really getting the itch to just play drums again with folks, having done the Lazy Salon project solo for a bunch of years. ”
Van adds cheekily, “Sean and I met through a group of friends that get together a few times a year to drink as much beer as humanly possibly and butcher cover songs with a tenacity unforeseen by mankind. “
After Sean & Van worked out some initial ideas in the summer of 2019, The neighborhood duo was rounded out with Keith Allen on bass – a friend of Sean’s from college in the 90s. “We were able to coax Keith (who lives in Northern New Jersey) into traveling down to join in on bass and fill things out last fall”, adds Byrne.
Recording the album
The songwriting process used some of Van’s short guitar loops and ideas he had written, then working them out and expanding on them, “eventually with all 3 of us shaping & arranging things into full songs with more structure, adding in some bridges and additional elements as needed.” Sean continues, “we still tried to keep a few of the songs open to improvisation or with a flexible structure or solo sections that allowed some degree of freedom, but overall these were pretty well defined & written prior to recording.”
Luckily, they were able to get the majority of the album recorded – in Sean’s living room – before things started shutting down earlier this year. “After that it was just a matter of adding a few final sonic touches and mixing it all down”, he adds.
The album really has it all – some post-rock, some surf, a little dub. All instrumental and ready for the soundtrack for your next backyard party (or virtual happy hour). The opener “Schadenfreude” enters with a lumbering post-rock wistfulness that slowly builds intensity, with Van’s guitar soaring above the rhythm section’s foundation.
My other favorites of the bunch include the highly percussive and dubby “You Are The Map”, and the airy “Turn The Camera” – which gives a nod to other Jersey indie bands like Real Estate. “Beer Ghost” is a fun one, apparently inspired by supernatural behavior involving a beer bottle during the recording sessions.
The soaring guitars return for the finale “This Is Happening”, leaving the listener with an overall positive vibe, which is hard to come by these days.
According to Sean, the group has another batch of songs in the works, which he says are about 80% done. Entitled Ruby Casino (“which was almost the name of the band at one point”), they are shooting to get that out by the end of the year.
Camino Sound guitarist Van Kapeghian has also been busy with his own project, furiousBALL, releasing an album this past August called Axiomatic – a titled inspired by a book written by Sean’s dad Pete. “Pete has written three great books about his own life growing up in Northern Philadelphia, serving in the army, and then finding his way in the working world after leaving the service. I have absolutely loved them. The second book had a chapter titled ‘Axiomatic’. That word fascinated me, and I realized how distant that concept of an undeniable truth is these days with the current political climate. It’s impossible for the pandemic not to creep into everything, but the album title, Axiomatic is where my head was”, says Van.
The album covers a vast array of styles and genres – some with vocals, others instrumental, and on Bandcamp carries tags like “indie”, “experimental” and even “weird”. Mixed in, you will hear tinges of surf and metal – the sounds of someone who thoroughly enjoys playing guitar.
I asked him what influenced him in that direction: “I started on piano when I was 12, and it all stemmed from my mother buying a really, really nice baby grand purely as a piece of furniture. I took lessons, and absolutely fell in love. That same baby grand is in my home today. I fell in love with guitar after realizing how complex, difficult, and beautiful that instrument is. And then I discovered guitar pedals…”
This mix of guitar tones and textures can be best summed up with the closing track “Idyll” – he concludes, “there is a heavily distorted guitar that I washed completely out with reverb. That kept the prettiness of the song, but had a slight hint of the heavier tracks like Gnosis, Zoetrope, Hoax, etc.”
Look for a new release from furiousBall due out on October 2, entitled Ouroboros, which he intends as “a love letter to music I played in my Ford Probe in the mid to late 90s (think Wilco, Teenage Fanclub, etc)”.
Lazy Salon & xPOEMSx
Sean has also been busy with his solo project Lazy Salon, issuing an 8 song eponymous album back in May, that continues his journey down the path of electronic sounds and samples overlaid with guitars and bass.
A definite standout from that collection is the punchy yet melodic “Wild Travels” – if there’s a song I could point to that encapsulates LS it could be this one. I also enjoyed the dreamy closer “Hey Day”, with its loose combo of piano, standup bass, jazzy drums and pulsing guitars. Sends you off to la-la land.
He says there’s another EP on the horizon, of “spacey fingerpicking pieces I’ve been sitting on for ages”, but no guarantee by the end of the year.
As I was getting this article together, Sean has come out with yet another collaboration project – a new collection of “psychedelic loops” featuring guitarist Eric DeJesus called xPOEMSx. They released an EP back in August, called Hermione The Seagull, which includes a short-run pressing of 50 lathe-cut 8-inch clear vinyl records along with a novella about the titular seagull.
I would be remiss to not touch on the neighborhood these guys live in, Medford Lakes, NJ. From some of the photos that they post on their respective Instagram accounts, it looks like a deep woods summer camp.
“It is indeed a cool little town! Very woodsy but also has a neighborhood vibe, definitely feels like a bit of a throwback (lots of original log cabins in the neighborhood that go back to the 1930’s & 40’s)”, exclaims Sean – clearly exuding a loyalty to his adopted hometown. “I grew up about 20 minutes away but this town always had a very different vibe from where i was. Van is a local, and Keith (Camino Sound bass) actually grew up here in Medford Lakes too so, its definitely the band’s hometown, haha.”
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: there’s probably someone in your neighborhood right now that’s itching to make some music! Once you have the music itch, you gotta scratch it.
Just ask Van: “Speaking of that, there are these three PVC exhaust ports on top of the elementary school by Sean’s house that I have been meaning to ask him to record. When they are all blowing at once, there are these crazy chords and intervals being hit by the steam or whatever comes out of them. Thanks for the reminder!”