“Ornery and catchy.” — Hampshire Life
“Rock served raw… Every song is solid.” — The Deli
“…straight-ahead Husker Du-esque rockers.” — Valley Advocate
“They can raise speedy hell.” — Daily Hampshire Gazette
“Exploded With Sludgy Guitar”
Ken Mauri, Clubland
Vocalist/guitarist Tom Pappalardo, ribbed the sleepy night’s small audience, mostly hovering quietly at the back and sides of the room: “I want you to stand as far away as possible, and I want you to sit.”
When he and drummer/vocalist Sturgis Cunningham blasted into their first short sharp rock song, the only people on the empty dance floor were three people with cameras taking videos, looking through their viewfinders, jockeying for a good shot — which, in a way, was a dance of its own.
The Demographic played material from its two albums, 2011’s “Verse Chorus Curse” and 2013’s “Listen Close,” plus some new songs, with most tunes over and done in two minutes or less. “Yep, they’re short and sweet,” Pappalardo told the crowd.
When the audience seemed surprised by one song’s abrupt crash of an ending, Cunningham punctuated the silence by saying “Sneak attack!”
The two friends have a kind of comedy team vibe onstage, with good-natured teasing; maybe Cunningham is Don Rickles and Pappalardo is Dean Martin. When another song’s sudden ending seemed to surprise the band members themselves — maybe someone forgot a verse? — Cunningham cocked an eyebrow at the guitarist and said dryly, “Shorter than I remember.”
“I have no witty retort for that,” Pappalardo replied, giggling into a plastic cup of beer poised at his mouth.
There was once a band called “bash and pop,” and that’s a good description for The Demographic’s music, though there’s sometimes a sadness hidden in the volume. “Letter” had some sections that exploded with sludgy guitar like Nirvana or Neil Young, and the lyrics were stark: “Would you like to write a letter? / put it in the mail / have it come back to you / ‘cause there’s nobody there / write a little note/ in a bottle set afloat / pour your sad old heart out / and throw it in the air / I finally wrote a letter / I hope that it’ll find you / dropped it in a gutter / I dropped it in a beer / do you think you’ll get it? / do you think you’ll read it? / hope this letter finds you / ‘cause nobody’s here.”
“Headlong” kicked in with a falsetto “doo doo doo” chorus that was both catchy and taunting. “Once there was a time we thought we were all right / everything is out-of-control so let’s have a good fight,” Pappalardo sang with a Dinosaur Jr drawl.
A late arrival to the show commented to a friend: “I love watching Sturgis play drums. He holds the sticks correctly. Someone has to!” The fan put down his beer and nodded his head to the big beat and sometimes, caught up in the moment, did a spastic air-drumming fill.
“Trashing A Hotel Room With A Light Saber”
Tom Sturm, Valley Advocate
Local duo The Demographic have rocked the Valley for more than a few years now, slinging energetic beats and sludge-laden guitar riffage in a passionate and fitful but still rather nerdy way, the musical equivalent of trashing a hotel room with a light saber. The heart of the band’s vibe lies somewhere between punk and proto-grunge/alt-country, eight times out of 10 kicking the tempo up to manic and two times taking a breather to wipe the sweat off while changing a guitar string. The band’s latest release, Listen Close, is making the rounds via various Internet and social media outlets, and their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” is getting some spins on 93.9 The River.
In true punk form, Listen Close oozes smarminess, with quite a bit of the (sometimes overdone) attitude, “Who gives a fuck?” Lyrics suggest a deeply jaded perception of the world and an obnoxious air that—genuine or affected—paints the general public as painfully obvious creatures, with an ironic dismissal, determined apathy and smug confidence. The combination of this needling, sardonic wit with catchy, distortion-saturated riffs creates a punky power-pop bullhorn that blasts a dejected but know-it-all frustration of Cassandran proportions. Both the snark and the catchiness of primary singer/songwriter Tom Pappalardo’s style might, in another era, befit a 1990s So-Cal alterna-misfit like Rivers Cuomo or maybe Perry Farrell.
In a break from the extreme cynicism, we are delivered “Ghosts of the Lower Barometrics,” a song that’s artfully done in almost every way, featuring cool rhythmic breaks courtesy of drummer/co-conspirator Sturgis Cunningham, ultra-fuzzed guitars playing great riffs and punky sonic hooks. Here, the words are mostly more narrative than observational, and less acerbic. Vocals are perfectly over-driven in that tasty punk/indie rock style that conjures visions of skinny, sweaty singers spewing saliva into an old-time square radio broadcast microphone with great volume, expunging internal demons. There are also instances when Pappalardo’s often stream-of-consciousness lyrics take the listener to cool places where it sounds like he doesn’t even expect to wind up when he’s writing them (“When I’m Dead,” “Simple Secrets”), a place where, as PBS painter Bob Ross might have said, “happy accidents” can and do happen.
The album art for Listen Close is (for lack of a better term) wicked cool, which isn’t surprising, considering that Pappalardo is a longtime visual artist and graphic designer (and the writer/artist of The Advocate’s weekly cartoon, The Optimist). For more eye candy, the curious can check out the video for The Demographic’s first single “Letter” (a rather softer offering), which combines high-contrast black-and-white exposure with lots of other cool video techniques to great effect. More about the band can be unearthed at Bandcamp.
“A Rare Acoustic Show”
Sheryl Hunter, Greenfield Recorder
When I saw that The Demographic and The Dire Honeys were sharing a bill at the Arts Block on Friday night, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m., it seemed like an odd pairing. The Demographic are a two-man band — guitarist Tom Pappalardo and drummer Sturgis Cunningham — who play a loud brand of rock in the manner of The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and Nirvana. The Dire Honeys are three women — Mia Valentini, Vanessa Kerby and Lena Schmid — who play a not-so-loud brand of old-timey Americana music that utilizes fiddle, mandolin and guitar.
But when I discovered that The Demographic were going to be performing a rare acoustic show, the teaming of these two groups not only made sense, it made good sense.
“The Demographic is normally a loud-rock thing, but for this set I’m playing acoustic and Sturg is playing his suitcase drum kit (which is exactly what it sounds like),” explained Pappalardo about the show.
The Demographic formed in Northampton in 2009. Pappalardo and Cunningham had previously worked together in the band No Shadow Kick, so when Pappalardo decided that he wanted to do something with a bunch of songs he had written, he called on his old friend. The two discovered that the duo format worked well and that with Pappalardo playing his guitar through two amplifiers and Cunningham playing a full drum kit, they could make a lot of noise. The band favors short, sharp songs that get right to the point with a quick bite. But don’t let that trick you into thinking that they are a punk band. This is a band that writes melodic, catchy songs and slips in lots of sludgy guitar, and even some country, into their music mix. They have released two EPs: “Verse Chorus Curse,” and earlier this summer they came out with “Listen Close.”
The Demographic don’t play out a lot because are both band members are busy with other projects. Pappalardo is a graphic designer/illustrator and cartoonist. You may be familiar with his cartoon strip “The Optimist” that appears in the Valley Advocate. He will also be performing at Transperformance this year with the band Unicorn, playing the music of The Replacements. Cunningham is an in-demand drummer who works with Martin Sexton, MC Frontalot and others.
Performing acoustic is something new for the band, and even though they are unplugging, don’t expect this to be a laid-back show.
“We’ve only played acoustic once before, so it’s a relatively rare occurrence that we’re trying to do a bit more,” said Pappalardo. “Less stuff to carry! We’re very excited to be playing with The Dire Honeys.”
Judging by the crowd’s response to the band’s performance at the Green River Festival, local audiences are excited to see the Dire Honeys. This up-and-coming trio released a new five-song self-titled EP last month, so don’t forget to grab a copy when you are at the show.
“A Noisy Conglomeration”
George Dow, The Noise
The newest release from Northampton, Massachusetts’, guitar and drum duo, the Demographic, is a noisy conglomeration of garage-rock and Neil Young-esque guitar work mixed with proto-grunge and alt-country. Yes—an odd mix, but delivered perfectly.
Maybe most interesting are Tom Pappalardo’s vocals. At one moment, on the most rocking tracks like “Building Buildings” and “Ghosts of the Lower Barometrics,” he sounds like the bastard child of Kiss’ Ace Frehley and Naked Raygun’s Jeff Pezzati. In the next moment, when they take the volume down, “Letter” and “When I’m Dead,” he’s a dead ringer for the Drive-by Truckers’ Mike Cooley.
“Lowbrow Cinemascope Grandeur”
Phil Rainone, JERSEY BEAT
Somewhere between The Who’s powerhouse, maximum R&B and The Pixies’ poppy, nasty, slow-as-fuck hard rock lays The Demographic. But here’s the cool thing about them: They’re just a guitar/drum duo! No frills maximum rock ‘n’ roll from Northampton, Mass, Tom Pappalardo (guitar/vocals), and Sturgis Cunningham (Drums/backing vocals), “Explode into a rock ‘n’ roll band” (thanks, Bruce), on these eight jangle-pop, murderously heavy songs about fuckin’ up, malls, death, and secrets. Not your run-of-the-mill stories and the music will suck you into the lyrics and vice-versa.
The Demographic breathe new life into a genre that’s in need of a tune-up. These eight angry, vehement cuts rely equally on Pappalardo’s acrobatic guitar lines and vocal rants as well as Cunningham’s at times pounding/brutally quiet drumming. A match made in heaven, as they say!
The last song “Simple Secret” ventures into deeper acoustic/electric territory. While Pappalardo drones on vocally (very cool), and Cunningham matches his slow cadence with stop/start/ drumming, they create a song that not only gets your attention, but it dramatically changes the way you look at the little things that are usually overlooked in life. “Listen Close” has lowbrow cinemascope grandeur, with precision and economy. I gotta check these guys out live!
“Pummel Their Instruments With Blunt Force”
Ken Maiuri, Hampshire Life/Tuned In
When guitarist/vocalist Tom Pappalardo and drummer/vocalist Sturgis Cunningham join forces, they become The Demographic. Priding themselves on bull-free rock songs, the twosome can pummel their instruments with blunt force … but even when they go “unplugged” and replace the electric guitar with an acoustic one and switch out the big bass drum for a small suitcase, the duo keeps its music intense.
The Demographic celebrates the release of its new CD, “Listen Close,” at a show tonight at the Elevens at 9:30. Also playing are Trucks, The Glad Machine and Easthampton Savings Band (and worth noting is that The Demographic isn’t headlining the quadruple bill; they go on around 10:30).
“We haven’t played loud since Valentine’s Day,” the band said on its Facebook page, so don’t leave home without the earplugs.
“Listen Close” was recorded at Sonelab with Mark Alan Miller and a single for the album was released last month: “Letter,” an ornery and catchy original, paired with a jittery cover of the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown.”
Kevin Finn, Noise Boston
The Demographic is a minimalist two-piece whose straight-ahead approach is reflected in the title of this EP. The band consists of a guitarist/ vocalist and a drummer, with a sound that leans toward the similarly constructed Japandroids, and showcases a love for both noise and melody. The songs are generally short and urgent, clocking in at around two minutes. For the most part, they are effective if not overwhelmingly memorable. The band is actually at its best on the longer “This Broken Place,” whose darker, more layered atmosphere contrasts sharply with the rest of the record. More of this experimentation would be welcome.
“One Big FU”
Alexander Pinto, The Deli
One big FU to the prevailing trend of gazey, synth covered, vocal-distorted indie music, the Verse Chorus Curse EP by The Demographic is rock served raw. In seven songs, most of which clock in under two minutes, the duo from Northampton MA callously gallop through early 80’s hardcore, Pixies-type angular guitar rock, and the kind of over-driven blues-attacks that White Stripes make at their edgiest. Heady band comparisons for sure, but the simplicity and directness of The Demographic really harkens back to landmarks in the post-punk milieu rather than posting incremental progress away from those purest forms. Every song is solid. Even if you don’t identify with punk rock per say, this is one of those local bands to be excited about just for their musical energy alone.
Tom Sturm, Valley Advocate
The Demographic—Tom Pappalardo and Sturgis Cunningham—is a guitar and drums duo that likes to keep it pretty raw. Punky influences rule on this seven-song EP, from Fugazi and Bad Religion to The Pixies and even locals like Pop*A*Wheelie and Broker, though there is a token country-ish tune tacked onto the end like a post-NASCAR event gasoline-flavored after-dinner mint. Brevity seems part of the mission for these guys; the album is only 15 minutes long and the shortest song (1:12) is called “Reducer,” a paean to the paring down of everything, as is “The Headliner.” All these lyrics could be perceived as a comment on things like layoffs and consolidation and/or the dumbing down of media and communication into moronic soundbites. Pappalardo’s voice has a distinct, Jagger-esque blues drawl that really makes the formula.
“A Duo Out Of Necessity”
Gary Carra, The Valley Advocate
… In other news… talk about job protection. Not only did former No-Shadow Kick bassist Tom Pappalardo trade up to six-string guitar proper for his current project, The Demographic, but he refused to hire another bass player in his stead?
“Yep, we’re a somewhat loud guitar and drum two-piece that cuts all of the bullshit out,” he explains. “We write short and concise songs with brief intros and zero guitar solos.”
Pappalardo is the first to admit that such stripped-down instrumentation appears to be the concept du jour, but he’s equally eager to note that his Demographic was by no means an effort to jump on the bandwagon.
“We’re a duo out of necessity and pragmatism more than [we’re] trend followers,” he says. “Myself and Sturgis [Cunningham] were in another band, and when our guitarist moved away, we decided we still wanted to play and didn’t necessarily feel like making any new friends.”
This Friday, Feb. 18, the Demo-duo will officially debut its latest studio labor of love—a seven-song EP they call Verse Chorus Curse—at The Basement (iheg.com). In addition to hearing every track from said EP during the live shindig, Pappalardo revealed that attendees will also be treated to every other song they know how to play, plus a few they don’t.
“Kinda the burden of writing such short songs,” he chuckles.
Matthew Dube, The Valley Advocate
“I was kind of considering that me playing music and recording music was kind of over with, that that phase had closed,” says Northampton cartoonist, graphic designer and radio personality Tom Pappalardo. “[In] ‘07 and 08, I didn’t do anything. In ‘09, I started recording things and putting them online.”
Pappalardo, founder and bassist for No-Shadow Kick, decided to give it another go. Despite the fact that he’d recorded some guitar-heavy solo tunes and commercial jingles since his band went dormant, he says it never dawned on him that he could just form a band as a guitar player.
“All my new tunes were really guitar-based, but it didn’t occur to me that I could play guitar in a band, and start one by just adding a drummer back in. Then seeing the two dudes from Calexico playing together opening for Neko Case, I didn’t necessarily like it, but I was like, ‘Oh, right, guitar and drums, that’s something that people do.’”
To jumpstart his latest project, The Demographic, Pappalardo called on friend, former No-Shadow Kick collaborator and drummer extraordinaire Sturgis Cunningham, who says the duo fell together startlingly quickly.
“Tom called me up and said, ‘I’ve got these songs, and they’ve been in a notebook for 20 years. Do you want to help me get them together?’ I said sure, and within three or four hours of just screwing around in the basement, we’ve got a bunch of tunes, and we’re like, ‘It’s on!’” Within a few weeks, the nascent band appeared in—and won—a preliminary leg of the Happy Valley Showdown competition, thanks to a spirited Run-DMC cover and some witty stage banter.
Though a few of the duo’s tunes are country-fried strummers, a majority are straight-ahead Husker Du-esque rockers, scratching an itch both fellows claim to have had for some time. Pappalardo says that, like the lineup, he’s keeping things musically simple. “I’m not a guitarist, so I’m writing extremely basic things because that’s the extent of my ability, really,” he explains. “And the approach we took right from the start was really sparse arrangements: no big intros, no big outros, no bridges on some, no choruses on some. It’s very compact, so, therefore, I write a song on acoustic guitar and it translates pretty easily with loudness and we just fiddle around with the arrangement and it’s good to go. And you have one less person—no bass player—and so you’re tight. Whatever changes or parts, it feels like everything’s just coming together easier.”
The Demographic has already recorded several tunes, but will have to wait a few months to play more shows and release a full-length, as Cunningham is embarking on another tour as drummer for Nerdcore artist MC Frontalot. The two are unsure whether they will overdub some bass, but are certain that The Demographic will remain a two-piece. In addition to expediency and ease of decision making, there is another advantage with the duo configuration. “Yeah, there’s the money issue,” Cunningham jokes. “We don’t have to give a bass player anything because we don’t have one. We don’t have to split 20 dollars three ways.”
“Kind Of Embarrassing”
S.P. Sullivan, MassLive.com
OK, so the last few Valley Video’s have been music-heavy, but we live in a music-saturated valley. This week’s comes from Northampton graphic designer Tom Pappalardo and his band The Demographic. By day, Pappalardo is a graphic designer and cartoonist. You may have seen his comic The Optimist in The Valley Advocate. By night, he records commercials for the likes of Turn It Up! (They’re “either well-loved or well-hated, depending on who you ask”) and practices with drummer Sturgis Cunningham, the second half of The Demographic. (Editor’s note: I don’t actually know Tom’s schedule; he could very well record commercials by day and draw cartoons by night, or any combination thereof.)
The Demographic is mostly a side project, as Pappalardo notes that Cunningham is frequently busy touring or playing with the likes of Martin Sexton and MC Frontalot.
“Sturgis is always off filling in and sitting in with people all the time, so this is our little project,” he said.
But despite the fact that they “haven’t played a proper show yet,” the duo were finalists in this year’s Happy Valley Showdown.
Their debut EP, Verse Chorus Curse will be released in early 2011-ish, and the video you see above is an outtake from the recording session. And what’s next after the EP release?
“Hopefully we’ll play a real show before we turn a year old, because that would be kind of embarrassing,” Pappalardo said.