Oh! Pears
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Oh! Pears

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Band Pop Folk

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"The Next Movement"

Corey Duncan is passing sheet music around the living room of a West Philadelphia apartment when a guy with a cello laughs. Duncan asks what's up, and Andy Jurkiewicz points to the transcription for "Singers," the song they're working on presently. Jurkiewicz's part is a few bars, repeated about 25 times; rather than using notation to indicate this, Duncan has written out every single repetition.
He chuckles, shoots a sheepish grin and explains. "Yeah, I'm still really new to writing out music like this."

Duncan, former guitarist of heady rock combo Pattern Is Movement, is joined by two cellos, two violas and an upright bass. It's the first sectional rehearsal for his new band Oh! Pears' record release show on March 13. Strings today. Tomorrow is percussion, later in the week is choral/flute and finally full band.

As things get cooking it becomes evident that, to whatever extent he's not used to music as a written language, composing and arranging come naturally to Duncan. Though understated, the string parts add rich potency to his trilling acoustic guitar, swelling and surrounding it. They double his melody, occasionally branching off, and Chris Stober's bowed upright creates a robust center.

These simple, smart arrangements don't surprise cellist Joel Blecher. He did sound for Pattern's very first shows in the early 2000s and played with them often in his band The Perfectionists. He was continually impressed by Duncan. "He's so precise, the way he plays guitar," Blecher says.

After a few passes through the song, Duncan remarks, "I'm digging the bass!" and smiles. This isn't his full string section; at the show, he hopes to add two more uprights, an extra cello and a violin.

The next night we're in a small studio apartment off South Street with drummers Avi Glickman and Andrea Kuhar. They're standing behind two unconventional kits; Glickman's bass drum is flipped on its back, tympani style (or Moe Tucker style, if you prefer), while Kuhar just has a floor tom. Both use a snare (Glickman's is unclipped, so it sounds like a tom) and a few cymbals and snares.
After filling the room with the sharp rimshots and sonorous center hits of "I'm A Forest," Duncan takes a break to flip open his PowerBook and show them the cover art of the Fill Your Lungs EP. It's an immediately striking design: a very retro and abstract arrangement of pastel green, white and black polygons into a pyramid. Glickman points out that it looks like a Q-Bert screen; Duncan says it's actually a nod to the classical LPs he saw growing up. His grandfather, Vilem Sokol, was director of the Seattle Youth Symphony, which released annual albums that looked, more or less, like this.

"This record, and this band in general I guess, are an homage to my upbringing," he explains.

Sokol isn't the only musician in Duncan's family tree. His mother, Becky, is a violinist; his aunt and uncle play in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. He grew up surrounded by classical music, but didn't really embrace it until moving from the Pacific Northwest to New Jersey at 19. He came East in 2000 with a guitarist friend, George Krail, who introduced him to Chris Ward and Andrew Thiboldeaux; the three eventually formed Pattern Is Movement, and Duncan says his newfound fixation on Tchaikovsky was informing the guitar sounds he tried to achieve in that band.

But their manner of writing was very much based upon a collaborative hashing out of parts and ideas that were ultimately synthesized by Thiboldeaux. "It was definitely a rewarding experience," Duncan says. "But I still, in the end, wasn't sure if I could write a song from start to finish."

Ward concurs. On the phone from his tour van, the burly Pattern drummer says he could see how his friend grew frustrated with compromising his ideas in the band. "It was natural for him to want to spread his wings and be in charge," Ward says.

In 2007, Duncan left Pattern and began studying composition at Community College of Philadelphia. New songs began to take shape, and he slowly started recording them with Ward at Gradwell House studios in South Jersey.

The initial recordings were just Duncan, overdubbed and playing multiple guitars, with Ward adding drum flourishes. Oh! Pears grew into an orchestra when he was offered a one-off show at Art Star Gallery and needed to quickly assemble a band. He asked Jurkiewicz, a friend from his day job at Theodore Presser Music in King of Prussia, to play cello. Jurkiewicz rounded up other strings, and as they rehearsed, Duncan began to see his songs as more expansive, elaborate pieces.

Ward encouraged him to take things slowly. "I told him you have no label, nobody knows who this band is," he says. "You don't need to rush this. What you should worry about is how great you sound."

Over the next year and a half, Oh! Pears became a 13-piece ensemble. Duncan expects more than 20 players to cram onto (and around) the Johnny Brenda's stage this weekend.

It's not just the instruments surrounding him that are a salute to his upbringing. The album's themes are also personal; "Singers" is about Duncan and his brother Jesse forging their own identities amid intense Catholicism. "The Hall" touches on a relative's gradual loss of sight, and how he learns to adjust his life to the change.
"A lot of these songs, really, are identity songs," Duncan says. "Who my family is, who my friends are."

And, for that matter, who Duncan is as a musician who seems to have barely scratched the surface of his abilities.

(john.vettese@citypaper.net)
- Philadelphia City Paper


Discography

Fill Your Lungs EP

Under The Olive Trees (single) Kanel Records

Photos

Bio

Oh! Pears is the brainchild of Philadelphia’s Corey Duncan, a thrilling new voice whose work draws equally from the worlds of indie-pop (Beirut, Grizzly Bear) and classical composition (Ravel, Tchaikovsky) to create enchanting songs with transformative power.

Fill Your Lungs finds Duncan exploring a sound a lifetime in the making; setting stunning orchestral arrangements drawn from his family’s long lineage of classical musicians to urgent, three-minute perfect pop nuggets not far removed from the stylings of his previous outfit, Pattern Is Movement. It’s an engrossing sound that places Duncan in a class of high-minded American songwriters like Van Dyke Parks and Jeremy Enigk.

The songs on Oh! Pears’ debut Fill Your Lungs EP deal with startlingly personal themes; “Singers” is about Duncan and his brother forging their own identities amid intense Catholicism. “The Hall” touches on a relative’s gradual loss of sight, and how he learns to adjust his life to the change. “A lot of these songs, really, are identity songs,” Duncan says. “Who my family is, who my friends are.”

The band has recently completed a European tour, playing with such bands as TV On The Radio and Buke And Gass. Duncan is currently recording a full-length record.