Formed in early 2007, Brooklyn band La Strada has quickly made a name for itself with raucous, foot-stomping shows. The quintet- James Craft, Devon Press, Ted Lattis, Brady Miller, and Daniel Baer- sports a grand yet playful sound, and the live lineup follows suit, expanding to include additional strings and horns. The band released a self-titled EP in 2009 on Ernest Jenning Record Co., the NYC label that is also putting out La Strada's debut full-length, New Home, on April 20. Inspired by a year of extensive tours and shows, New Home- produced by Kyle "Slick" Johnson (Cymbals Eat Guitars, Modest Mouse, Fischerspooner)- takes the EP's clever, eclectic sounds and injects them with the intensity of a live performance.
"Kyle encouraged us to let go and commit to our parts," says Craft, who was impressed with Johnson's work on Cymbals Eat Guitars' breakout debut album. "Why There Are Mountains was a very inspiring and raw record. After our EP, I knew we needed Kyle to take us in that direction."
Recorded at Miner Street Studios in Philadelphia and The Buddy Project in Queens, New Home features 13 tracks of raw emotion channeled into well-crafted pop songs. It's no surprise that Craft, the band's primary songwriter and multi-instrumental front man, has lived all over the world, including France, Romania, Indiana, Chicago, Northern California, and, since 2005, New York City. With influences ranging from ancient music to modern-day indie rock, the band has garnered comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel, Beirut, and Arcade Fire. Lyrically, the album revels in wanderlust and geography. It's about pushing on to see what's over that next mountain.
"Overall," says Craft, "the songs are about starting a new life - about that risk, and the yearning and excitement in it. The album is about being unsettled, but knowing that you're going in the right direction."
From the quirky pop of "The Traveler" ("You left your world behind") to the exotic and boisterous "Baptism" ("The train has left the station / I have to go") to the gorgeous ballad "My New Home" ("Hello strange familiar / you're my new home"), it's clear that New Home's characters are going through changes. New beginnings come up right off the bat with the album's first track, "Go Forward," which Craft wrote on a subway platform in Brooklyn. "I play the subway to test my material - just to play new tunes and see if they hit people," says Craft. "I'm always double-checking that I'm a gut musician, not a concept musician."
Playing on a subway platform isn't the only way that La Strada's immediate surroundings have influenced its music. Press, who arranges most of the beautiful string parts that float in and out of the full-bodied songs, admits that his and his bandmates' creations would probably sound different if they weren't from Brooklyn.
"We don't like to think that they would, but it's quite likely," says Press. "There are all these bands in Brooklyn now that have this great energy, and they're doing all this experimental stuff. We see them and just kind of subconsciously think, 'How can we give our sound that kind of energy?'"
As anyone who's seen the band's shows can attest, La Strada has been doing more than just taking mental notes on how to be spirited- it's starting to write the book on lighting up stages with a spectrum of international colors. The group has already toured much of North America with groups like Bowerbirds and Canada's Hey Rosetta! and Cuff the Duke, and with the release of New Home, La Strada is ready to personify its name and take to the road.
"We definitely played with many more acoustic instruments at first, but when you're playing a live show and going for a big sound, sometimes electric instruments just work a little better," says Press. "One of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to mix them together and get them to sound good live. It's an uphill battle, and we're still learning a lot."