By Melanie Stangl
Photo(s) by Maranie Rae
It might not be the New Year quite yet, but for Evan Mulgrave and James Conley of Turnpike Gardens, it’s just the right time for reinvention. Along with There You Are’s Tom Chorba, the two have just released the first single, “Burial,” from their new band, John Wayne Gretzky. The lineup features Conley on drums, Chorba on bass and lead vocals, and Mulgrave, in his words, “playing guitar and yelling occasionally.”
The track is a noticeably heavier departure from Turnpike Gardens’ blues/classic rock sound, opting instead for an alternative/post-rock vibe. “James and I began gravitating toward more indie/alternative influences in our listening and playing, such as Built to Spill, Pixies, and Dismemberment Plan,” says Mulgrave. “We wanted to do something that wasn’t based in blues, and kind of opened up an opportunity to explore different moods and lyrical ideas.”
“Burial” certainly showcases that exploration. Fans of Stone Temple Pilots, Superchunk, and local band Old Game will all find a lot to like. The instrumentals vacillate between lightly moody and melancholy in the verses and crashing and intense during the choruses. Chobra’s vocals mirror this versatility, travelling from soft and contemplative to gritty and passionate, then back again. “Burial is probably our heaviest song,” Mulgrave explains, “but part of starting the new project was to have the leeway to play either really heavy or really soft. This song kind of hits both extremes.”
The group’s lyricism is also noteworthy; lines such as “I must still be sleeping/pressed flowers spell his name/Did you come to comfort/or did you come to blame?” and “You’re not foolin’ anyone/You made your bed, when he was here/can’t leave it, just ‘cause he’s gone” deliver grief and anger in a smart, concise package. Highlights include Chobra’s prominent bassline, as well as panicked, on-off guitar strums and a sharp uptick in tempo which add ferocity to the song’s bridge and outro.
All in all, it’s a promising sign of things to come—this track is only the beginning for John Wayne Gretzky. “Right now we have about an album’s worth of material that we are working through; our hopes are to have that out sometime next year,” says Mulgrave. “Our goal right now is just to make that record as interesting as it can be.” In late March, they also plan to attempt to land a showcase slot for South by Southwest in Austin, bringing their talent (and their wordplay) across state lines.
There You Are and Turnpike Gardens aren’t going away anytime soon, either. Their respective members intend to remain active in all bands—Turnpike Gardens has demos in the works for their next release, also due out sometime next year. “This is just a project we wanted to do alongside those,” Mulgrave says.
And as for that name? “One thing that makes James and I laugh is stupid wordplay,” explains Mulgrave. “We’re also really big hockey fans, especially teams from the 90’s (Go Whalers.) So when he came up with John Wayne Gretzky, I would not accept any other suggestions.”
The first show booked for JWG is on March 25th at Club Café, along with The Semi-Supervillains. They’ll likely play more local shows before then—hopefully, Mulgrave says, with their friends in Ugly Blondes. Follow the band on Facebook and Twitter to be in the loop for upcoming gigs. You can (and should) stream and download “Burial” on their Bandcamp here.