The Backyard Committee
Gig Seeker Pro

The Backyard Committee

New Haven, CT | Established. Jan 01, 2010 | SELF

New Haven, CT | SELF
Established on Jan, 2010
Band Rock Jam




"Backyard Committee: Part Of Two-Day Emerge Fest At Outer Space"

There's a class of musician who lives for studio time, who finds safe haven among the desktops and mixing boards, who believes take after take, edit after edit will lead to timeless, sonic perfection — and for whom live performance is, at best, a distraction.

Mike Sembos, whose floating-membership band the Backyard Committee plays the Saturday 11 p.m. slot at this year's Emerge Festival, is not a member of that class. Sembos' thing is performing live; it's what got him interested in playing music in the first place. And if his stage time suffers — either because there aren't any available players for a gig, or because he has to edit a vocal part on a recording — he gets antsy.

"Being in a studio is great, but there are so many times when nobody's really playing the song all the way through," Sembos said. "Everything can just be fixed, so nobody's performing, which is what I like about music, what people put out naturally. All your time is spent editing, not even playing full takes. It loses the fun for me. It sounds boring. It's all computer editing and not playing."

Sembos, who until recently was an employee of The Courant, is a restless musician, but he's able to commit long-term. He currently plays bass in Sun Dagger, an instrumental psych-rock outfit, and with the hockey-themed Zambonis. For 10 years, he played guitar and bass in the Alternate Routes, a Bridgeport-based band. In 2009, he formed the Backyard Committee to give his original songs an outlet; they've since released two studio albums of swaggering, improv-heavy country rock, with Sembos' high, clear voice and nimble guitar work serving as dual focal points, on songs that recall mid-'70s Crazy Horse or later bands like the Jayhawks. Still, he insists, "It was more of a backburner thing then."

No longer: last year, Sembos played his final gig with the Alternate Routes and turned his full attention to the Backyard Committee. Now, he said, "I have enough songs and resources to do what I want. I can create different setlists every night. You need to have a back catalogue to do that."

Sembos figured if he taught enough people his songs, there might always be a lineup ready to play. "Everyone I know is in five different bands," Sembos said. "It was another project where I was sick of turning down gigs." When a gig pops up, he can call any one of four or five drummers, three or four lead guitar players, a keyboard player and a pedal steel player. Every position is flexible, and all the musicians know the songs — even Eric Donnelly, the Alternate Routes guitarist. "Eric has done a lot of shows, and he came on the last tour."

The added bonus: the music sounds different from show to show.

"I got sick of being in bands that play the song the same way every time," Sembos said. "The fact that you play with one player one week and another person another week, that keeps it fresh."

On a recent tour of the Midwest, Sembos dragged a laptop and extra microphones to every gig, creating a multitrack document for each stop of the tour. He plans to upload every one to while reserving outstanding takes for an official BYC live album. Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport is currently mastering a set of songs for a vinyl release this summer, which is around the time the BYC plans to tour the Northeast. (One track will be from a recent session for Daytrotter, a popular website that features up-and-coming indie bands.)

If the sound quality of BYC road recordings can't match what you can do in the studio, it more than makes up for it in vibrancy and freshness. You'll hear the occasional, endearing flub or two, which Sembos refuses to edit out. "I'm not anti-studio," Sembos said. "It's just what I like listening to right now: music with mistakes and feelings. We just want an overall feel. It's nice to be able to tap into whatever vibe is being produced when everyone is playing together. Pro-tools is so easy now. Everyone can sound perfect."

The Emerge Festival, now three years old, has raised money for Connecticut-based musicians who want to tour; this year, all funds (after expenses) go to Hartford's Interval House, a non-profit dedicated to combating domestic violence. The 2015 festival takes over two stages — the Outer Space and adjacent Ballroom in Hamden — on Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7. Other highlights include EULA on Friday night, and Winterpills, headlining Saturday.

The rest of the lineup for the Backyard Committee's Emerge Festival performance, which takes place at the Ballroom, will be drummer Nick D'Errico (his first gig with the BYC), bassist Tim Walsh (the Stepkids' drummer) and guitarist Chris Cavalier. And yes, it'll probably be recorded.

"Hard-drive space is cheap and the lifespan of bands is short," Sembos said. "I'd rather have everything on tape and then worry about it later."

THE BACKYARD COMMITTEE performs at the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Hamden on Saturday, March 7, as part of the Emerge Fest. Showtime is 11 p.m. Tickets are $12 to $20. Information: - The Hartford Courant

"Featured Artist: The Backyard Committee"

“Improvisational roots rock” band The Backyard Committee, the brainchild of leader Mike Sembos, is a fantastic representation of the kind of band this world needs more and more of. The group is a sort of conglomeration of some of the most talented players in New Haven, Connecticut, a rotating committee of band members focused on putting a unique spin on songs developed by Sembos, coming together to make music with influences from 60’s and 70’s rock.

The current interchangeable lineup (Sembos, Eric Donnelly, Chris Cavaliere, Stephen Chopek, John Stavola, Mike Skaggs, Pat Jones, Brian Larney) includes a bunch of guys who have played together in multiple other projects, allowing for seamless integration of players from show to show. While the band personnel is indeed dynamic, they’ve come together to make a brand new record, their sophomore effort titled Festival. We asked Sembos to tell us all about it – he said, “Every year, the four-day ‘Gathering of the Vibes Festival’ takes place in my hometown of Bridgeport, CT…much of the imagery from Festival was drawn from experiences there. Every year has its own unique personality, but it’s consistently been a magical event…I’ve experienced the fest from many different perspectives, as a performer, a member of the press and a paying customer camping out in the mud, and it’s always a blast. With Festival I was trying to encapsulate a weekend at Vibes, in a roundabout, scattered way.”

The Backyard Committee will stay busy in 2014, playing shows throughout the northeast and showcasing what they’ve created with Festival. Click to to keep up and learn more. There’s still so much to get into, so read on for all the answers to the XXQs below.

XXQs: The Backyard Committee (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out from others in your genre?

Mike Sembos (MS): I call what we do “improvisational roots rock.” I hesitate to say “jam band” because that evokes certain stereotypes, but we play straight-ahead, melodic guitar rock like a garage band in the early ‘70s might have played, and we improvise within that context. These days jam bands tend to have electronic elements and effects and whatnot, but we have a pretty stripped-down approach and stick closer to ‘60s & ‘70s sensibilities.

PEV: Hailing from New Haven, Connecticut, what kind of music were you all into growing up? Do you remember your first concert?

MS: We’ve got so many rotating members — the lineup for each show is often slightly different than the show before — that every genre is somehow represented. I grew up listening to a lot of punk, power pop and rocksteady. Our lead guitar players Eric and Chris both studied jazz in college, and they bring some of that flavor to the group. One drummer, Stephen Chopek, listens to quirky indie rock and experimental stuff, and our other drummer, John Stavola, also plays in a funk band. Lots of what we do these days is influenced by Dylan, Neil Young and the Dead, but not everyone in the band even listens to those guys. It’s a very mixed bag of tastes.

My first concert was Tony Bennett at Seaside Park in Bridgeport. I was 5 or 6 (I grew up in Bridgeport, but live in New Haven now).

PEV: What was it like trying to break into the music scene in your hometown when you first started out as a band? What was your first show like together as a band?

MS: With The Backyard Committee, many of us had already been in various other bands together, so it was more of a continuation than a beginning. There are four of us who had our first band ever in high school, and we’d play teen centers, house parties and hall shows. There were lots of other kids doing the same thing, so it was a supportive environment. Our first show was at our drummer’s father’s bar, and we were pretty awful. But we were all very underage at the time and the crowd, seeing that, was mercifully kind.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live The Backyard Committee show?

MS: They can expect a minimum of theatrics and showmanship, but lots of musical exploration and adventurous guitar playing. We’re going to try and make something spontaneous and cool happen every time we play, like say, interludes connecting songs or open-ended solos that no one knows how we’re going to get out of until it happens. Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t, but we’re always going to be reaching for something outside the box. Hopefully crowd members will sense that and feel nervous that we won’t land on our feet.

PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage?

MS: I try to get into the same headspace we’re at when we’re practicing. It’s easy to become a character on stage, to get wound up and to overplay to the crowd, but I want us to be ourselves on stage. I just want to do what we always do, just like when no one is watching, and hopefully people will like that. It’s a laid-back operation with lots of subtlety.

PEV: How is playing in The Backyard Committee different from working with other artists or projects in the past – for example, The Alternate Routes?

MS: This is the first project I’ve been in where I write all the songs. Since I’m the one who organized the whole thing, I’m ultimately responsible for steering the ship, making sure everything sounds good as a whole and everyone is happy. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s great to hear your own songs come to life the way you want to hear them, but then it’s also your own fault when things go astray.

PEV: What is the underlying inspiration for your music? Where do you get your best ideas for songs?

MS: Each song is kind of a disconnected, dreamy moment. Anything could be a song, but whatever you sing about is a topic you’re going to end up dwelling upon every time you sing it, so may as well be something amazing or interesting. These days I’m into music that makes you feel better, in some way or another.

PEV: Do you ever look back on your career and think about how you’ve arrived where you are today?

MS: Looking back is fun, but what lies ahead is always more interesting. If you think about the past too much, it’s easy to get bogged down in it.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of The Backyard Committee?

MS: Our drummer John Stavola is a mortician by day.

PEV: What can fans expect from your sophomore album, Festival? What is the story behind the title?

MS: Every year, the four-day Gathering of the Vibes festival takes place in my hometown of Bridgeport, CT (at Seaside Park, where I saw my first show ever). Much of the imagery from Festival was drawn from experiences there. Every year has its own unique personality, but it’s consistently been a magical event. It’s something you can just feel in the air when you’re there and you’re committed to giving yourself over to it. I’ve experienced the fest from many different perspectives; as a performer, a member of the press and a paying customer camping out in the mud, and it’s always a blast. With Festival I was trying to encapsulate a weekend at Vibes, in a roundabout, scattered way.

PEV: How do you feel after an album is complete and you can sit back and listen to it in full?

MS: It’s always satisfying to finish any project, but there’s also an immediate desire to start working on the next one because for you the new album is already old, so there’s little time for reflection. It never ends.

PEV: How do you feel after a song is complete and you can sit back and listen to it being played the way you envisioned?

MS: That’s probably one of the best feelings as a musician. When that thing you heard in your head becomes a reality, and it actually sounds pretty sweet, there’s nothing quite like it. It doesn’t always work out that way, so when everything clicks into place, it’s something special.

PEV: Is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?

MS: I’d love to go to Japan someday with the band, but for now I’m content to play the Northeast circuit and build up something special close to home.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play in your hometown?

MS: They seem to think it’s an interesting thing to do, I hope. Shows in my current hometown of New Haven are always a good time. It’s a social and small city where you walk down the street in the afternoon, see people you know everywhere and stop to have all kinds of conversations on the way to wherever you’re going. It’s fun to have friends from different circles converge at our shows to see how they interact together. New Haven is a big social experiment in my mind. And everyone here plays in like five bands, so it’s less of a big event and more a matter of course to play shows.

PEV: What can we find each of you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?

MS: I’m into Scrabble and budget traveling. Stavola and our pedal steel player Matt Wilson are into motorcycles. Pat Jones, one of our bass players, rides his bicycle crazy-long distances. Our other bass player Mike Skaggs has a band called Modern Merchant that’s doing pretty well, and he likes taking amps and things apart and putting them back together. Chopek goes on meditation retreats where he can’t talk for over a week at a time. Our keyboardist Brian Larney likes old amusement parks and roller coasters and their associated memorabilia.

PEV: Name one present and past artist or group that would be your dream collaboration. Why?

MS: A current artist would be The Flaming Lips, because I don’t feel like they have anything holding them back artistically. They do whatever they want, and aren’t trying to please anybody but themselves.

I would’ve loved to play with Levon Helm because he held the groove down like no other. I got to see him play a bunch in his later years and went to a Midnight Ramble in his barn, but I never met the man. For a little while when I was with the Alternate Routes we were both on the same label, Vanguard Records, which doesn’t really mean much, but it’s fun to say.

PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?

MS: I’m a big fan of Blake Mills. He used to be in the band Simon Dawes along with the guys currently in Dawes. His solo stuff is killer and though he’s been around for a little while and has something of a cult following, I think more people need to hear him play.

PEV: If playing music wasn’t your life (or life’s goal), what would you do for a career?

MS: I’m a writer too, and that’s what mainly supports me financially. So…a writer! Making a living off of music would be great, but it’s nice to not have to depend solely on it. Sometimes when money gets involved, it makes things less fun. I’d rather work for a living and keep the music joyful than have to depend on it and make compromises to stay afloat.

PEV: So, what is next for The Backyard Committee?

MS: We’re going to be touring the Northeast on a regular basis, and then we’ll start hitting up some festivals. There’s nothing like playing outside in the summer in front of thousands of crazy, happy people who want to have a great time. That’s where we want to be as often as possible. That’s where it’s at. - Pen's Eye View

"The Backyard Committee"

There is a sound reminiscent of the smooth running sound of 70's/80's Folk/Pop. A sound to remind you of the outdoor festival sunshine and simple free and easy living amongst the crashing waves of the economical organ grinder we know as work. And with that outdoor sunshine in mind I proudly present The Backyard Committee. In a nut shell I would condense an analogy to Dylan meets The Beatles with decorative flecks of the Small Faces.

My admiration of Backyard Committee's work comes from the fact they give you no more than you want or need. there's no need for the self fulfilling of talent that we see and hear so much with countless bands. There are no screaming cries for attention from the vocals, no over powering pounding of percussion and no sellout soloing from the strings. Everything is just as it should be and I humbly state that only a fool would ask for more. I am privileged to find and hear so many revivals go The Backyard Committee takes my personal first place. All that is missing in my opinion is the gentle crackle from hearing their soothing and relative words roll off of a vinyl pressing, because if you're going to indulge in the "Golden Age" of modern music, you've gotta do it the way it was done then... And these guys do their part impeccably.

Musically, as stated, the balance of musicianship is tailored for the band’s character but I have to mention the great application of musical theory in their uses of modulation. Barely noticeable amongst the fluidity of their works but ever present, this adds with ease the need for knowledge of The Backyard Committee. Nothing prides me more than to not only hear good musicians, but to also notice a firm grasp on what makes the beauty of what music is. I will buy their works, I have no doubt, but that is my opinion… So I encourage the readers now to see for themselves whether I am right or wrong…Regardless of outcome I hope you enjoy the auditory ride their festival provides.

Festival, the band's second release, is a cohesive record that explores a multitude of genres including bluegrass, rock, and pop. Hailed by Oomph Music Blog as "a hodge-podge that actually works," The Backyard Committee breaks the mold by shifting genres as often as they do band mates. Keep an eye out for more from The Backyard Committee and listen to their latest single "Festival". out now! - Revolution 360

"Backyard Committee: Festival"

Though the title Festival might suggest an upbeat romp of an album, Backyard Committee’s second release actually captures eight relaxed, jam-worthy songs perfect for performing live at a summer festival. The New Haven, CT-based group creates roots rock that leaves plenty of opportunities for improvisational jamming at live shows, making the title fit perfectly. The group, consisting of Mike Sembos and a rotating lineup of his musician friends, is best compared to a modern-day Grateful Dead (the electric piano even comes out on a couple of songs.) Sembos writes all of the songs, provides the vocals, and plays guitar.

The guitar is the star of this album; it takes the lead on each song, it even takes the spotlight off of the vocals at many points and distracts from all of the instruments making up the background. It gets a solo in most of the songs, which is where there could be some great improvisation and experimentation at live performances (“We Had Our Fun” even acknowledges improvisation with the line “Forget the tune and play what’s in your head.”) Despite being considered an improvisational roots rock band and leaving that room for jamming, the songs are well-defined and succinct, they don’t devolve into disorganized experimentation. The songs are perfectly timed at around three to five minutes each.

Though the album is mainly roots rock, there are some other influences present. The electric piano-heavy “Cicadas” (the one song where the guitar isn’t at the forefront) has a pop sound. It starts out sounding like late ‘90s soft rock/pop (and has an inexplicable sample of someone gargling) but soon gets better and the timing of vocals on the chorus make the song unique. “I’ll Never Be” has a touch of bluegrass to it; it reminds me of a much more relaxed, folksy version of “Rusholme Ruffians” by The Smiths. “4am Blues” is a gritty blues track that really conveys that tired feeling at four in the morning. The vocals don’t come in until about two minutes into the song; before that the guitar gets to set the dirty, late night tone. “Will Not Know” is pared down with just vocals and guitars: an acoustic guitar takes the lead while an electric guitar stays in the background. “Avalanche” is like roots rock mixed with power pop; though it wasn’t my favorite song, its energy made it a total earworm and I found it stuck in my head for about a week.

Despite the fun-sounding title and the laidback sound to the songs, the lyrics seem to suggest being worn-out. Even the title track says “The festival was more than you could handle, even though you said that you were fine.” It goes on to describe commuting between New York City and New Haven, a grandfather’s urging his grandson to find an occupation, and things that would wear on a person (not quite the subject matter you would expect in a song called “Festival.”) Many of the songs are written about a time after a performance or tour is done: “We Had Our Fun” is mostly in the past tense; “Avalanche” describes rushing home after a tour; “I’ll Never Be” is about traveling between cities overnight; the title “4am Blues” kind of says it all, but the gritty track takes place “after the afterglow” and having to leave after making memories and drinking beer; “Will Not Know” says “I don’t want to see backstage anymore” and notes a bad dream about being late to the show. Despite the lyrics about being worn out or the time after a show, I get the impression that Sembos and his friends love what they’re doing. It’s a relaxed, feel-good album overall. The lyrics in “Lost Weekend” put it into perspective: “You’re working overtime, while everything’s half-broken we’ll pull through.” - Surviving the Golden Age

"Backyard Committee Takes Wistful Turn in 'Festival' Video"

“Melancholy” isn’t necessarily the feeling we associate with the end of a festival — exhaustion and relief are usually more like it — but that’s the mood the Backyard Committee sought to capture in their recent video for “Festival,” which leader Mike Sembos says he was inspired to write by annual visits to Gathering of the Vibes, of all places.

The clip features a display of hula hooping from Courtney Jeane Roy in, um, a backyard, intercut with performance footage of the band (and shots of Sembos in a hammock, engaged in some light summer reading). The song comes from the Backyard Committee’s excellent 2013 album, also called “Festival.”

And speaking of festivals, the New Haven group will perform April 26 at this year’s annual Daffodil Festival in Meriden, Conn. The two-day event in Hubbard Park will also feature the likes of Mark Mulcahy, Violent Mae, Lys Guillorn and plenty more. - Listen Dammit

"The Backyard Committee's New Single "Festival""

Improvisational roots rock band The Backyard Committee release their new single “Festival”, the title track off their recently released sophomore album, Festival. Led by industry veteran Mike Sembos, The Backyard Committee is a cross-genre musical collective that spans Americana, folk, and blues rock, all while capturing the spirit of jam bands like the the Grateful Dead and Umphrey’s McGee.

The Backyard Committee was born out of a collection of songs Sembos wrote while touring with his former band, The Alternate Routes. Seeking a new outlet for his work, Sembos recruited musicians local to his hometown of New Haven, CT to become a part of the rotating cast of instrumentalists that now make up the band. The band released their self-titled debut album in 2010, which was met with critical acclaim throughout the blogosphere. They have since made a name for themselves on the summer festival circuit, most notably with their performance at Hartford’s BOMBFest in 2011, where they performed alongside artists like Weezer, the New Pornographers and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. Known for their unpredictable yet polished live shows, The Backyard Committeedemonstrates a talent for improvisation while maintaining structure and melodic direction.

Festival, the band’s second release, is a cohesive record that explores a multitude of genres including bluegrass, rock, and pop. Hailed by Oomph Music Blog as “a hodge-podge that actually works,” The Backyard Committee breaks the mold by shifting genres as often as they do band mates. Keep an eye out for more from The Backyard Committee and listen to their latest single “Festival”, out now! - Grateful Web

"The Backyard Committee Releases New Video"

New Haven, Conn. jam band The Backyard Committee released a video for the title track of their latest album, Festival.

The video, which features the band and a hula-hooping fan, is about the feeling one gets at the end of a music festival.

“The song kind of approximates the melancholy feeling you get on the last day of [The Gathering of the Vibes, a music festival in Bridgeport, Conn.], a mixture of exhaustion, satisfaction and regret at having to return to the real world,” frontman Mike Sembos said. The Backyard Committee cites varied artists such as the Grateful Dead, Guided By Voices, Neutral Milk Hotel, Van Morrison and Pavement as influences on their genre-bending sound.

The band’s self-titled debut album and Festival are available to stream or download here. - Elmore Magazine

"Lonesome Preview: The 2014 Willie Nelson Birthday Bash"

The Backyard Committee – Big things are brewing for this band and for good reason. In a state littered with some truly amazing alt country/Americana acts, The Backyard Committee are one of the best around. - Lonesome Noise

"Lonesome Preview: CT’S Fauxchella Indie Music Festival"

New Haven’s Backyard Committee are as Americana as Fauxchella gets. Their brand of roots rock reminds one of lonely, dusty roads and picket fences in some back water burg. They are also a stellar live act and the perfect band to listen to on a beautiful late Spring evening. - Lonesome Noise

"The Backyard Committee: A Hodge-Podge that Actually Works"

When Mike Sembos of Connecticut indie-rock band The Alternate Routes contacted me to let me know about his Other Band, The Backyard Committee, I have to admit I was a little wary. Here’s why:

“…part of the concept is a constantly rotating cast of musician friends, each who brings their unique voice to the project.” (quote from Mike Sembos)

When I see phrases like “constantly rotating cast,” I get the picture of a loose-knit collective of musician friends who are just getting together to jam–which is cool, and lots of fun, but usually doesn’t add up to making good records because as a general rule, there usually isn’t enough structure in it to make it work.

Meet the exception to the rule. This is a hodge-podge collective that actually works.

Yeah it’s a little sloppy in parts, but nothing like I would have expected. Yeah, it skates across a few genres (a fact which Sembo admits), but overall it stays close enough to the folk-Americana category that it doesn’t lose its audience. The end result is a sort of jam-session garage band you’d actually want to sit and listen to–like somewhere in Connecticut is this bunch of musician neighbors that get together for a barbecue or something, and actually sound really, really good.

And here’s the best part: you can download the whole album, right now–and forevermore–and you don’t have to pay for it. Says Sembo, “…[another] part of the band concept is that it doesn’t cost anything for anyone to own our music.”

So I’ve shared a couple of the tracks below to give you an idea about The Backyard Committee, but you can go to the band’s Bandcamp site and download the whole dang thing right now, for free. IMHO, it’s worth owning. And if The Backyard Committee ever decided to charge for the record, it would still be worth owning.

Alls I’ve got to say about it is if this is a backyard committee, this is a neighborhood I’d like to live in. - The Oomph

"The Backyard Committee"

This album starts off with the welcoming country twang of “Red China.” Track two, “We Can’t Stay,” cranks it up like Jesse Malin’s kid brother. Sold. Mike Sembos has been part of the CT music scene for a while and plays guitar in The Alternate Routes. But The Backyard Committee is his project, helped out by a rotating cast of musicians. Sembos’ strained vocals on “Give Me Nothing” (all 1:03 of it) again remind of Malin at his punkiest, but elsewhere the vibe is generally more laid back, as on the gentle, drumless “Doesn’t Mean A Thing,” and the country less pronounced. If you like the extremes, “Red China” and “Give Me Nothing,” you will enjoy the rest that falls in between….

And best of all, the band’s letting you download it for free at Bandcamp. - No, Your Product

"The Backyard Committee - s/t"

The past few years have been a marked explosion of Americana bands in CT. There's been some great new bands emerging out of this, and one of the big players is The Backyard Committee.

The band is the brainchild of Mike Sembos, who is no stranger to the local scene. He plays guitar in the long-running Bridgeport band The Alternate Routes, played in Skipping Stones outfit superfallingstars and probably a bunch more projects that I'm forgetting at the moment. He sings beautifully, plays a mean guitar, and is a hell of a songwriter. This is the band's self-titled debut, and it shows he's more than capable of simply writing a tune, he's got a complete grasp on how the album should sound on a whole.

The band itself is more of a rotating collection of artists that are all working on contributing to the album, bringing their own unique voices to the table, but still allowing Sembos' songs to shine.

The real joy of this album for me is the production. The instrumentation fits the vocals so perfectly it's mind-blowing. The songs have the ethereal undertones of a typical Daniel Lanois production, and still maintain the minimal folk sense of something Rick Rubin would do. Listen to the guitar solo in "Once in a Blue" and you'll find they dialed up just the right amount of crunch for a sharp single-coil pickup. Listening to "So Long Ago" the windy, gritty organ is absolutely perfect, and adds a low layer of ambiance and noise to what would otherwise be a squeaky-clean late era Jeff Tweedy-esque tune. The super low-end tones of piano on "Winter Trip" sound like they'd be right at home on Cash's American IV.

You can catch them Monday the 17th at Daniel Street playing with The Capstan Shafts. - CT Indie

"CD Review: The Backyard Committee's self-titled debut"

Musical ability is easy enough to spot, but it can be tricky trying to pinpoint the less tangible qualities a player brings to a band. That said, Bridgeport roots-rockers the Alternate Routes would be a lesser group without guitarist Mike Sembos.

Sembos, who plays a supporting role in the band founded by Eric Donnelly and Tim Warren, is fully in charge of the Backyard Committee, a New Haven-based side project with songs he spent several years chipping away at before releasing them on a self-titled collection available online for free.

The guitarist and singer displays a knack for crafting solid pop songs shot through with bits of folk and country, for a warm, pleasingly worn-in sound (due, in part, to the ministrations of Greg Giorgio, who mastered the album at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport).

The tunes mix acoustic and electric guitars, bass and drums, veering toward soulful country-rock on the 6-minute "Silver Sands" and stripping down to bristling electric guitar on the blustery "Give Me Nothing," which lasts just 63 seconds: verse, chorus, finished.

With rickety charm, "Doesn't Mean a Thing" drops the drums, letting a full, round bass line and layers of guitars imply a beat beneath a blanket of sound topped toward the end with a repeating piano figure.

Sembos sounds comfortable on the microphone, singing in an affable, distinctive tenor. His lyrics often include the pronouns "we" and "us," giving the songs an air of camaraderie and, on "Winter Trip," benevolent co-conspiracy as dark, plinking piano notes splish-splash around a strummed acoustic guitar and Sembos' wistful vocals.

Whatever ineffable attributes Sembos brings to the Alternate Routes, there's no mistaking what he has done with the Backyard Committee: he's made an inviting album of songs that linger after the last note fades.

The Backyard Committee performs with Capstan Shafts and Fatal Film Monday at Daniel Street, 21 Daniel St., Milford. Tickets are $8 for the 830 p.m. show. Information: 203-877-4446. Download the band's album at - Hartford Courant


  • "The Backyard Committee" LP [12.08.2010]
  • "Festival" LP [10.23.13]
  • "Midwest 2014: No Filter" [Summer of 2015]



The Backyard Committee is a psychedelic indie rock band from New Haven, Connecticut. It's sound is derived from the place where '90s indie rock acts like Guided by Voices and Pavement meet the improvisational world of the Grateful Dead and Neil Young. 

Members have also played in nationally-touring bands The Alternate Routes, The Stepkids, The Zambonis, Goodnight Blue Moon, to name a few.

The band has opened for the likes of the Felice Brothers, Miracle Legion, American Babies, Ryan Montbleau Band, Jesse Malin, and Crooked Fingers.

Band Members