The Westward Trail
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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


"The Wire, Jan 18, 2006"

The Westward Trail
By Joe Gilbert
January 18, 2006
Joe Wawrzyn was wearing the name of his band, The Westward Trail, long before the electronic indie-pop duo was an official act. When he and his partner in crime, Jake Dempsey, started crafting songs together in their apartment almost three years ago, they found themselves ready to play shows but still lacking a name for their project. The solution came in the form of the belt buckle Wawrzyn had acquired at a flea market—a massive piece of metal with images of three pioneers on horses and the phrase “The Westward Trail.”

“I just came home from work one day and realized I’ve been wearing it on the crotch, man. It’s been staring us in the face!” he says. “Then we questioned why my crotch (was) staring us in the face.”
The two have been playing together in various bands since 2000, including a five-piece version of Cassette with current Cassette singer Nate Bluhm when they all lived in Pennsylvania. Now in Boston, Dempsey and Wawrzyn are enjoying modest success as The Westward Trail and are branching out to other parts of New England. On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the duo returns to The Spark at the Muddy River in Portsmouth, where this past November they played a show they describe as “one of the best ever, if not the best .”

“We’ve played some big shows in Boston, but I haven’t felt like we’ve gotten (as) positive of a response (as the Portsmouth show),” Dempsey says. “People were really digging it.”

Essentially two frontmen with no backing band, most of the traditional sound roles—drum rhythms, bass and synth parts—are sequenced by Wawrzyn on a Mac G4 laptop. Dempsey writes lyrics and melodies that Wawrzyn often harmonizes to, and both play Epiphone hollow-body guitars.

Says Wawrzyn, “Sometimes I like to play with bands that are a little more strictly rock, because it feels like a bit of a challenge for the audience. And then when we get up there with two guitars and we have, like, an iPod running through an amp, they’re like ‘What the f— is this?’ But I think there are definitely times that we’ve won those people over. The fact that it’s only two of us up on stage means we have to work that much harder making it somewhat of a live spectacle.”

“The great thing about the sequencing, no matter how drunk and off we are, (or) should we be struck down ... or take ill,” adds Dempsey humorously, “(is that) the sequencing is still interesting.”

Wawrzyn and Dempsey both started as guitar players, then found their way to electronic music. The guitar background consistently adds a thicker, edgier rock tone to their sound than one might normally expect from electro-pop.

“And since (the hollowbody guitars are) really the only two organic things played live,” Wawrzyn says, “It opens up the sound a lot more than two solid-bodies. A little warmer.”

Dempsey acknowledges the influence of the 1980s in their interest in synthesizers and sequencing.
“We were just starting to grow up when New Wave was fading out, and synthesizers were becoming nasty monstrous things that made awful, mediocre sounds that are on ’80s metal recordings.”

But Wawrzyn and Dempsey aren’t afraid to use the liabilities of synths to their advantage.

“At the time they were invented,” Dempsey says, “they were trying to actually emulate real sounds…. (Synthesizer pioneer) Bob Moog thought that synthesizers would replace natural instruments, and as technology improved, they would sound like real instruments. But as they start(ed) to sound like real instruments, the less interesting they became, and musicians then discovered that aesthetic in their own way with their own incredible, strange sounds, unusual, unnatural sounds, that can be made even on very rudimentary sound cards and old game machines. And there’s something good and interesting about what you can do with them when you take it and use it for something other than what it was meant for.”

Wawrzyn continues the thought.

“You can always make great sounds from (bass, guitar, and drums),” he says, “But I love electronics because it gives you a new opportunity to create sounds that, theoretically, have not even existed up until that point. ... I think it’s just an incredible thing, to always be creating new sounds just by tweaking various electronic components.”

“I feel like a lot of people have gotten kind of hung up on using ’80s sounds in an ’80s way, just rehashing New Wave,” Dempsey says. “But I’m finding, through just playing with computer programs, that you can still get vintage synth, and you can go and sample it and you can run them through all sorts of strange effects. The potential is just limitless now, even with just a computer, downloading freeware, you can take synth-pop into new areas, create new sounds, mess with them, destroy them in ways which were, before, never possible.”

Their choice in naming their act, though seemingly arbitrary, is a fitting one. While others are content to stay where things are comfortable and well established, these two young men feel the itch of exploration on their posteriors along with their saddle sores. They have taken only the essentials, packed them onto their horses, and headed for unknown territories to establish something new, discover something unique, and rock a few saloons in the process.

The duo is working on a tentative spring release on Post Meridian records. In the meantime, they continue to sell a four-song EP at shows; it can also be heard on their Web site, www.westwardtrail.com. Mark your calendars for The Spark at The Muddy River in Portsmouth on Jan. 24, with The Westward Trail, Tiny Whales and Birth Rites.


- The Wire New Hampshire


"Oregon Trail"

Remember that computer game Oregon Trail? The idea was that you were pioneers trying to go west, but it was really hard because the wagon axles kept breaking and your oxen kept fucking dying. Nowadays, you have The Westward Trail: two dudes who play guitars and sequencers, and make electropop music without being too fruity. Seeing The Westward Trail live will be way more fun—and a lot easier—than trekking cross-country in a wagon.
- The Weekly Dig


"Tangents review"

Westward Trail: Circle Of Bone
I first heard the Westward Trail a couple of months or so ago when a four track CDR arrived in the mail. It pains me to say I have been remiss in mentioning it before now, but better late than never, right? So to that aforementioned list of East Coast Pop Renaissance groups, you can now add this Boston guitar/electro-pop duo. Infectious, intelligent and reminiscent perhaps of the first Future Bible Heroes album in terms of its clear understanding of how to build contemporary gems that fizz with a spirit of classic ‘80s electro-pop without sounding laboured and overly referential or reverential. And if this was the early ‘80s, then I would be expecting to see The Westward Trail doing singles for FAST alongside 2.3. Someone ought to give them a proper release in 2005, and soon.
- Tangents.co.uk


"TAKING YOUR WEEKLY PILL"

Your nights of rocking in Allston are not behind you. The Pill presents fun new rock, Britpop and other tunes every Friday night at Great Scott, and tonight is no exception. Local duo the Westward Trail offers cool electronic indie pop rock - think Talking Heads, Belle and Sebastian, with hints of Postal Service, new wave and other sounds you can make with a guitar, drum machine and synths. Preview their tunes at www.myspace.com/thewestwardtrail, then head to Great Scott at 9 p.m. with $7 to get in. - The Boston Herald


"Go, Westward"

For as much credit as the local indie-rock scene gets, Boston has been especially adept at nuturing stellar electro-pop acts. If you crave roller-skate jams and keytars, there's Cassette. If you need a dollop of Michael Jackson-style funk, there's Cyanide Valentine. And if you want less kitsch, more angular guitar lines, and a clutch of catchy choruses, there's the Westward Trail. With Jake Dempsey sharing vocal duties with Joe Wawrzyn (who also sequences), the Westward Trail plays as part of the Pill at Great Scott tonight at 10. - Boston Globe, Sidekick, Cover


"Bring da hard drive!"

Bring da hard drive!

The Westwood Trail blazes at Toast

by Mary Hamilton

The Westward Trail is not the first group to try and meld the electric with the emotive.
Plugged in, gone electric, amped, wired, electropop: whatever you want to call it, musicians have long been exploring the artistic boundaries of electricity.

How can a voice reach an audience and express the depths of despair, the drama of desire or the ecstasy of love if it is framed by synthesized sound? Musicians from Bob Dylan to Madonna, Miles Davis to Devo have brushed aside these considerations and experimented with the musicality of electricity.
Nowadays, bands like Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service, relying on sampled beats to accompany live musicianship, mark a resurging embrace of electronic technology in music: here comes electropop.
Local Somerville musicians Joe Wawrzyn and Jake Dempsey and their band The Westward Trail have been compared to these projects, and the parallels are there.
The Westward Trail is not engaged in imitation, however. Rather their songs are an attempt to adapt to a re-emerging musical landscape. As such, they auditioned countless musicians, ultimately deciding to fly on their own, with wings built on a Powerbook.
Joe Wawrzyn runs the computer during the shows and doesn’t quite embrace the electropop title. “People aren’t going to expect whatever sound we have,” he explained.
But he agrees that there are aspects of electropop in The Westward Trail sound. However, he said concentrating only on the electronic aspect of the music takes away from their live energy. “We can rock out during our live shows,” said Wawrzyn.
Wawrzyn and Dempsey had known each other and played music together for several years before morphing into the current duo. Their friendship allows for an understanding between their voices so the harmonies and breaks all make sense. Without competition between the two voices, the songs become a sort of misery-loves-company therapy session.
The band’s new demo features a re-worked version of “Sign Here / Haunted Streets,” which is a bare take on an earlier version. The demo’s standout song is the first kick to the listener’s ear, “Circle of Bone.” It also proved to be The Westward Trail’s most dynamic live performance. As polished as the song has become and as familiar with it as they may be, the group does not betray its lyrics and performed it with appropriate desperation.
Friday night at TOAST was an opportunity for The Westward Trail to work out the kinks in their live show. Starting out playing for friends at backyard barbeques, the two are now finding themselves with a small and loyal following; gaining gigs throughout the Boston area. A last-minute replacement for The Somerville News at TOAST, The Westward Trail played a set of new and old material culled from a year and a half of writing together.
The new songs were still developing when played live, but showed promise. Broken strings and missing equipment didn’t stop them from attempting to step beyond playing just for their friends to stepping into a solid performance. “Right now, the goal of the band is to get more of a fan base,” said Wawrzyn. Then they will move on to bigger goals, but for now, he said, “I just want to make music I enjoy.”
Electropop is a genre of music that is much like the generation currently performing it. The songs are happy and controlled on the outside, but the words are bruised and flawed and come from within. The bulk of The Westward Trail’s audience is 20-somethings well out of college yet only so far away from their family’s grasp. They can identify to this group’s music because of the volatile struggle between independence and reassurance. They are allowed to dance and smile in the room. Surrounded by the red lights and dark walls of Toast, they absorb the words and feelings wrapped in the electric currents. Stripped of the computer the songs wouldn’t be without their impact, but it is with the shield of the cold synthesized sound that the heat of youth is allowed to burn. - Somerville News


"Gifted review"

So, we went camping in the desert this weekend. And what better locale to be rocking out to the sweet electronic sounds of The Westward Trail. There's definitely an 80's vibe going on here, but it's not what you think - the vintage synth lines, drum beats and melodic bleeps have been reprocessed and reconfigured into a totally contemporary sound - though at a few points in each song, you may find yourself strangely reminded of something that happened in third grade... see, these are the sounds embedded in your subconscious - the music you never really listened to, but somehow this is all oddly familiar, comforting, and just right. Be the first kid on your block to be bumping "Sign Here" out of the car stereo...

- http://www.materialcultures.org/gifted


"Copacetic Review"

Westward Trail is two young, earnest-seeming fellows from Boston, and on this debut 4-song EP they serve up some laptop-driven, retro-sounding electro-pop, with keyboards aplenty, dancey drum-machine beats, and driving guitar. The songwriting is very good, and there are really strong vocal harmonies throughout. This stuff wouldn't be out of place on the Teenbeat label (if you're listening, Mark Robinson). One kind of refreshing thing about these guys is that their vintage-80s sound isn't wink-wink ironic, nor is it just a fashion stance (the boys look more like emo nerds in their photos, even wearing complimentary argyle sweaters, for crying out loud). In fact, it might be completely accidental, since the only non-contemporary act in their list of self-professed influences is Talking Heads (which I totally don't hear—I would have guessed New Order). So that's nice. There's only one misstep out of these 4 songs: track 3, "Sign Here/Haunted Streets," unfortunately suffers from some cheesy lyrics. But the boys redeem themselves with the final track, "Recognition Systems," which is really a knockout. I'm definitely looking forward to more from these guys. (mike.09.05)
- Copacetic Zine


"Pulse Review"

Up and Comers
Bands You May Not Have Heard of Yet…But You Will!

By Armeney Derderian

Want To Get Your Dance On? The Westward Trail will show you how…
December 2005 - I’m sitting on an awkward, backless red seat, forced to lean forward towards the couch in front of me. Sitting on that couch is The Westward Trail, 2 guys who have the physical appearance of grown men but the honest eyes and fidgeting hands of 13 year old boys getting ready for their first school dance.

This initial impression made me tilt my head and go, “Huh?!” But then when I asked the two enigmas about their infamous argyle sweaters, their rolling eyes and chuckles of “Oh man, not again” made me inexplicably more comfortable. Their music has the same vibe, that same kind of effect on first-time listeners. With all lyrics and music written by Joe Wawrzyn and Jake Dempsey (the only two human components of the band), the music has a certain familiar feel that’s semi-nostalgic and puts a semi-secretive smile on your face. But there’s a difference between the normal nostalgic soundtracks that we’ve all heard and the band The Westward Trail. And that one difference would be…everything.

Honest, but with a hint of something still hidden, the duo uses surprisingly few tangible instruments to produce such an originally radiant sound. This “object minimalism” is the very thing that allows these guys to travel around New England as much as they do, hitting Worcester hotspots like Lucky Dog and Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner with increasing frequency. Armed with only two guitars and an IPOD (which holds their home-made synth beats), The Westward Trail blasts the audience with a wave of danceable beats and beer requests. The audience returns the energy with plenty of dancing and excited participation, and why wouldn’t they? The lyrics contain no blatant advertising or cheesy one liners that some teenie bopper girl would put in her profile or in her diary.

Despite listing influences like Talking Heads, Guided by Voices, and Belle and Sebastian on both their MySpace page (www.myspace.com/thewestwardtrail) and their regular website (www.westwardtrail.com), their sound is “nothing like any of those bands.” So again, I looked at the guys with that same “Huh?” Jake explained, “Our influences aren’t so much what we think we sound like as much as they are the bands that have become so much a part of us that they are permanently running through our subconscious…and hold that subliminal influence on our overall lyrics and sounds.” Despite not feeling that their sound can be considered “like” another band’s, they do admit that the comparison to The Postal Service is arguably a reasonable one, something they “…accept with both respect and doubt.”

Like true musicians, Jake and Joe’s goal is to be original in their sound, not just “some generic MTV byproduct.” The verdict? They’re achieved their goal in spades and give an original live show that is anything but derivative or processed. Gone is any sign of shyness or fidgeting ~ these guys are beyond energetic on stage from start to finish.

So if you’re wondering who still dances at live shows, I’ll tell you. The Westward Trail fans do…catch one of TWT’s shows and you’ll know why!

The Westward Trail: December 23rd at Ralph’s Diner, 9pm 21+

- the Pulse


"The Wire"

There were about 30 people at the Muddy River by the time I arrived to check out “The Spark,” a weekly event booked by Mike “Sparky” Phillips. Before the music started, I watched as two members from Boston’s The Westward Trail leaned over their tuners, their matching red and green epiphone hollow body guitars slung over their shoulders. I figured the rest of the band were grabbing a drink. Electronic buzzes, pops and snaps emanated from the tall black speaker stacks that framed the stage almost all the way up to the club’s low tin ceilings. Then the two players turned their faces into the red and blue stage lights that illuminated their microphones as synthesizer bass notes thumped along with a drum machine. “Oh! This is the band!” I realized. What followed was an energetic set full of mostly melodic, well-put-together songs that sounded much like New Order and Depeche Mode’s 1980s stuff. Their catchy pop number called “Circle of Bone” got more than a few feet tapping. Guitarists/singers Jake Dempsey and Joe Warwzyn harmonize well together, and almost all of their songs showcased their excellent guitar and vocal interplay. As I looked around the room during the set, everybody was watching The Westward Trail do their thing.
- The Wire, New Hampshire


Discography

EP1 - self produced.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

(Guitar + vocal harmony)x2 + laptop = The Westward Trail. During early 2003, Jake Dempsey and Joe Wawrzyn (soon to be called The Westward Trail) began sketching ideas for songs with two guitars and a drum machine in the shared bedroom of their small Boston apartment. They eschewed a traditional rhythm section, complementing their penchant for guitar interplay and vocal harmony with glitchy walls of beats and jittery synthesizer lines c/o a G4 PowerBook. Using synthpop, indie rock, and hip-hop as influences rather than blueprints, The Westward Trail bring the sweet and the heat - catchy hooks and body-moving beats. As a performing unit they have built a solid following in the clubs of Boston, making up for their slim roster with energy, charm, and sweat.