I had almost forgotten about This Could Be the Day, an alt-rock trio that wowed me at the 2015 La Crosse Interstate Fair Battle of the Bands, which I had the pleasure of judging. The band had some stiff competition from a couple other bands (I recall Moth Mountain and Nailed Down) but came out on top.
It was the first time I’d seen them, and they struck me a little like the early Talking Heads mashed up with Nirvana — a quirky and lyrically snarky, with more precision than Kurt Cobain’s crew, like maybe they’d listened to Rush or studied music.
Surprisingly, winning the county fair band battle did not kick the band into a higher-profile orbit in our local music scene, partly because This Could Be the Day doesn’t take the whole rock band thing too seriously. I can’t remember seeing that they were playing anywhere around town since the band battle, and I usually try to pay attention to those things.
“It’s a hobby,” said guitarist, singer and chief songwriter Matt Stryker. “We chalk it up to that.”
When I saw the band had an album release show planned for Saturday at the Pour House in Holmen, I was a little excited, but when I actually got a chance to have an advance listen to the album, I was amazed.
“The Speakeasy Trials” is the band’s fourth album, the first done entirely in a studio, recorded at Natural Recording in La Crosse with Chris Wardwell at the sound board. The title of the album is a nod to JB’s Speakeasy, a North Side La Crosse bar (now The Verse) that provided opportunities for TCBTD and other local original bands to perform. The cover features a photo of Speakeasy owner Jeff Brennan in fancy judicial garb. In payment, Brennan got to keep the costume.
This Could Be the Day’s new album is not for those lacking in attention span. The first track, “Circumstantial Evidence,” starts with a simple guitar figure and builds for about 2½ minutes — the full length of a lot of radio-friendly pop songs back in the day — into a full-band roar before Stryker’s striking voice kicks in. The first time I listened I was doing warmups for a workout, and the guys got me whipped up into a lather in record time.
The whole album crackles with all the indie attitude and energy that characterized their first three albums, inspired largely by 1990s grunge and alternative rock bands (see if you can catch the salute to Nirvana), with some 1980s pop/new wave thrown in.
They didn’t go overboard in the studio, limiting the arrangements to the guitar/bass/drums attack, but there are subtle flourishes and surprise vocal harmonies that we haven’t seen much on previous releases. As a result, the new record really pops, with the vocals prominent in the mix. That’s nice because the band’s artfully written lyrics are worth listening to and contemplating further to uncover deeper meanings.
Stryker said the recording of this album was a more collaborative process because of the studio setting, which resulted in Stryker and bassist David Bashaw working up more vocal harmonies and counterpoints. Bashaw, who plays bass in The Allnighters, also wrote a couple of the 10 songs on the album and sings lead on those tracks.
Matt Gaworski, who grew up with Stryker and sat next to him in the trumpet section in La Crescent, Minn., school bands, propels the songs on this record with a steady but aggressive hand on the drums. The album is dedicated to the memory of Gaworski’s father, Ken, who died last summer. He would let the band use his bar for practice space whenever they needed it and took an interest in their endeavors without meddling.
What’s really amazing about this record to me — on top of how much it rocks — is it was done with little thought to commerce or advancing the band in a musical career path. They did it for the love of making music. Stryker teaches high school math in Tomah and both Gaworski and Bashaw have rewarding jobs in the WORKS program at WisCorps, helping young adults find meaningful work experiences while finding a career path.
For entirely selfish reasons, I kind of wish they would quit their day jobs and spend all their time making records, but then again, maybe not. I can find other good stuff to listen to, and they’re making a great difference in the world, both in their day gigs and their music.
“The Speakeasy Trials” official gets released on Saturday, but the band was kind enough to let the Tribune put it up on our website for a “first listen.” I hope a lot of people took advantage of that, and I hope we can do more of that in the future with our local artists.
I also hope people who like good, smart rock music will buy This Could Be the Day’s album. They don’t have a well-oiled distribution machine, so if you miss the album release show, you might have to go on the band’s Facebook page and ask them to send you a hard copy or go on its Bandcamp page to buy a digital download.
Rock on …