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"Pittsburgh Calling: 6/1/06"

Sound: Melodic guitar rock in the vein of the Foo Fighters.

Formed: In 2002, after Tolentino's seven-year stint as guitarist with Seventh House, and after moving back here from New York in the wake of 9-11.

New CD: "My Best Friend" is the sophomore effort from the band, coming three years after "Turn It On." "Half of the songs on the record were done by the time the first record came out," Tolentino says. "The other half is a lot newer and more grounded, more the direction I was going in. The last record was a little sporadic. This is more focused in sound and songwriting."

Why the downtime? Part of it was a change in personnel with the departure of Tom Wolber and the addition of Zig (formerly of Mercury). "I don't know what bass players are all about," Tolentino admits.

Tolentino's playlist: Tolentino tells people his three favorite bands are the Beatles, Smashing Pumpkins and The Smiths: "Lyrically and melodically, Morrissey writes really great stuff. Sonically, Smashing Pumpkins is so driving. And I don't think it gets any better than Lennon, McCartney ..."

Foo feeling: All of those influences aside, you can hear a lot of the Foo Fighters in Strangeway. "They're a big influence," Tolentino says. "I would love to be compared to the Foo Fighters. I think every rock musician would love to be compared to the Foo Fighters."

On being a frontman: Tolentino spent all those years playing guitar and singing harmony for Sky Elobar in Seventh House. As a lead singer, he says, "It took me a little time to develop my voice. I think on this new record, I feel more comfortable singing. It took my some time to be a lead singer in a band."

Side work: When he's not with Strangeway, Tolentino can often be found playing guitar with funk-rockers Sho'Nuff and Rusted Root's Liz Berlin. "I want to kind of sponge off of everything. With Sho'Nuff, the different style makes me open up more as a guitar player, and I don't have to focus on my singing. With Liz, it's such a different texture altogether, and she's such a professional -- it opens up my ears a lot. Since I've been playing guitar, when I was 14, I've wanted to learn everything about it."

CD release show: 7 p.m. Friday at Club Cafe, South Side. $5 advance; $10 day of show. 412-323-1919.

- Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"Music Preview: Guitarist stretches his songwriting with Strangeway"

Friday, April 18, 2003

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

In a kinder, gentler variation on "How Do You Sleep?" John Lennon's legendary swipe at Paul McCartney, former Seventh House guitarist Walter Tolentino weighs in on the "seven years" he spent in "seven houses" on his new band Strangeway's debut album with a song called "Doin' Fine Without You."

WHERE: Club Laga

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

WITH: Transition, Loco Phylum, Instance of This

TICKETS: $7 at the door


Tolentino starts the song defiantly with lines that range from "You think that I can't find my independence but I can" to "Since I left you, I had to start things over/But do I need you?/I don't think so."

Then the second verse hits and he switches gears with "When I see you, will I feel disappointed 'cause I want to be your friend?" before returning to another chorus of "I'm doing fine without you."

The key to the song, he says, is the part about wanting to still be friends with bassist/singer/driving force Sky Elobar of Seventh House.

"There's no hard feelings," he insists, "that things didn't work out with that whole situation. In fact, it seems that I get along better with Sky now that I'm not in a band with him."

They even hung out recently in Los Angeles, where the bassist has already launched a new band, Insofar.

"He's still pushing it," Tolentino says. "If there's one thing I admire about him, it's that he keeps working, especially at his songs."

So has he played the song for Elobar?

"Not yet," he says. "I'll send him a CD this week."

He left the House in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The record deal we had [on the Atlantic-distributed Blackbird imprint] kind of fell through," Tolentino says. "And my heart wasn't in it the last year we were doing stuff. I was still living in New York City and we were still negotiating deals. But creatively, I wasn't happy with the direction Sky wanted to go in. I just wasn't feeling the writing that he was coming up with. Then, Sept. 11 hit and I was living in New York and that kind of just opened my eyes to the importance of staying true to myself."

He left the band on his birthday, Oct. 13, and was back in Pittsburgh by November.

"It was actually [Strangeway bassist Tom Wolber] who encouraged me to start a band," he says. "I wasn't really planning on starting a band. But he was a friend of mine for a long time and he just kept telling me I should write. In Seventh House, Sky was the writer. That's why this whole thing is new to me, because I never wrote a song."

He dove right in, though.

"We started rehearsing about the second week in April," Tolentino says, "and got our first gig the first week of May, so I wrote about 10 songs in a week so we could fill in time. It was cool. We rehearsed for two weeks and then played our first gig."

They started recording in August, and after six months of on-again/off-again taping in his room, a number of those 10 songs Tolentino wrote in one week wound up on the finished product. Several of the album's strongest cuts, in fact -- including "Undertow" and "Doin' Fine Without You" -- come from that initial 10-song blast.

The standout, though, is "Doin' Fine Without You." And it goes beyond the lyrics. If you didn't know the story, you could breeze right past the "seven years in seven houses" line and assume the song -- a Modern Rocker on the punkier side of Everclear -- was about his parents or maybe a girl.

And that's how Tolentino planned it.

"The first line I came up with in my head was 'Since I left the house,' which doesn't mean anything to anyone except, like, growing up and leaving your parents or something like that," he says. "I basically wanted to write a story that, if people know who I am, they would think it's kind of funny, but if they didn't, they would think it's just about a girl or someone's parents or whatever. So they can relate to it, too. It's just about severing ties and moving on with your life."

- Pittsburgh Post Gazette


"Turn It On" (2003)
"My Best Friend" (2006)



In 2002, after his seven year stint with 7th House (Blackbird/Atlantic), guitarist Walter Ino moved back to Pittsburgh to hone his skills as a songwriter and vocalist. Finding inspiration from his life on the road and the relationships that came and went, the songs seemed to flow out. From that point, he knew he needed a band. Before long, Walter stumbled upon the mad drumming skills of Ray Vaughn who understood the concept of the songs with quick resolve. Their partnership and understanding of each other grew rapidly - and soon after, their brains and ears worked almost as one.

Gigs and recording sessions soon followed, resulting in "Turn It On" - a self-produced, 12 song debut CD released in 2003. Walter and Ray soon joined forces with Zig Daniels, whose bass and backing vocal skills fill the soundscape, and David Lewetag, whose guitar texture completes the chemistry of the sound. Strangeway have consistently played throughout the region, sharing stages with the likes of Fishbone, the Exies, Flickerstick, Social Burn, The Clarks, King's X, Blue October, and Mike Campbell's band, The Dirty Knobs.

The band is currently touring to support their long?]awaited self?]produced sophomore release consisting of 12 new songs and titled: "My Best Friend". The tour includes ongoing showcases in New York City and Los Angeles.

Mix high energy, hooks, and harmony with a dose of honesty. and you'll experience rock?]n?]roll the STRANGEWAY.