Whatever you do, don't call Lo Tom a "supergroup." Band leader Dave Bazan, for one, is embarrassed by it.
"Supergroup made us all laugh," he says. "'Cause if the record gets announced as a supergroup thing, people will expect something that sort of... implies intention on our part. And I think with this project all we ever intended to do was just have fun together."
But the other three members of Lo Tom—who released their self-titled debut album in July—are TW Walsh, Jason Martin, and Trey Many, all staples of the Christian indie-rock set brought forth by Tooth & Nail Records in the 1990s (the label is now headquartered in Seattle). Bazan played in Pedro the Lion, Walsh in Pedro the Lion and the Soft Drugs, Martin in Starflyer 59, and Many in Velour 100 and Starflyer 59.
Over the years, Bazan, Walsh, Martin, and Many have frequently played in one another's bands (like Bon Voyage and the Headphones) and solo projects (T.W. Walsh and David Bazan). In fact, there's so much crossover that they needed a flow chart. So why not admit to being a "supergroup," then?
"I guess it didn't really occur to us when we were doing it that it would be seen that way—like this is Dave Bazan's new band, or people are reuniting, or these bands are coming together to form a Mega Voltron of indie rock?" jokes guitarist Walsh.
"I think it was definitely more of a side project for us," says Walsh. "Especially considering the collective number of records that we've sold over the years, the whole 'supergroup' thing is kind of hilarious."
Still, between the four members of Lo Tom, it is a bit like a reunion. Back in the day, the group of friends gravitated to one another while on tour or around the scene.
"We always sought each other out. The four of us would play cards, we played a lot of this really great gambling game called Skipjack together in lieu of poker, and we just had so much fun," says Bazan.
Beyond the fun was also a creative opportunity to make music in a way that felt easy and painless—and to bring their collective 125 years of music-playing experience into two extended weekend hang sessions in Orange County studios—one in 2014 and the other last spring.
"All of us have individually and collectively to some degree been making so many records over the years," Bazan explains, "and there's not that many opportunities for that expertise that you build up to come to bear on a project in a way that is fast and fun, and also kind of lubricated by the fact that everybody just really, really loves hanging out."
What's funny is that this low-key melding of the minds resulted in eight songs that sound a lot like what would happen if four indie rockers from the 1990s all made some music together: fuzzy, guitar-heavy hooks, that nostalgic "alt" feel (ah, remember when "alt" meant something else entirely?), and the occasional ironic nod to guitar rock gods Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. It's a return to basics, maybe, but also a great-sounding album that was relatively effortless to make because Lo Tom's members are such seasoned musicians.
"Overboard," for example, brings all the poetry of Bazan's lyrics forward with crisp, hammering bass and Many's slow and steady drums. "It just takes a while for me to unfeel a thing," sings Bazan. I mean, that sounds pretty '90s to me!
"It wasn't really a conceptual choice. It wasn't like we're going to do the meta version of '90s rock band," says Walsh. "You've got to do something that everybody is going to agree on. And what's the shared vernacular that we have? What we have is that we were all playing guitar music in the '90s."
And, of course, Skipjack.