By Arrissia Owen Turner
StereoFidelics faced a conundrum. The band members liked the simplicity of playing as a duo, but sticking with just two band members left a stark absence: the thumb of a bass player. Yet, for Chris Padgett and Melissa McGinley, the positives outweighed any challenges created by a missing band member, so they carried on.
Staying a duo meant one less ego to deal with, less scheduling conflicts and fewer people in the tour van for StereoFidelics’ stringent touring schedule. The pair is on the road more than 200 days a year. A good example of their tight itinerary would be a 17-hour jaunt from start of show in Redlands Saturday, July 9, at 9 p.m. to hauling ass in a van over to Flagstaff, Ariz., by 2 p.m. the next day.
Padgett and McGinley make up the Asheville, N.C.-based two-piece groove rock outfit with a distinct retro feel. After two years as a unit, the band’s sophomore release You Are Having a Wonderful Time continues to garner positive critical acclaim, along with a recently released live recording.
Their melodic presence comes from Padgett’s stellar, technically-savvy guitar playing and McGinley’s rhythm-heavy drumming, combined with something curious McGinley suggested. They’d been experimenting with a loop pedal and computer sequencers, but hadn’t quite gotten the sound right.
The answer came in a whimsical, foot-operated contraption—analog Moog Taurus pedals with two oscillators that work separately to create a one-octave, synth-heavy bass sound layered with their funky, soulful beats. It’s an instrument invented in the 1970s that has been used by acts as varied as Led Zeppelin and Rush to Genesis and Weezer.
Padgett initially rejected the idea. “I thought it was impossible,” he says. Consciously thinking of rhythm and lead, plus singing, felt a little overwhelming at first. “It’s a triad of things on my mind.”
But with their steadfast resolve to remaining a duo, keeping things simple was inevitably going to get more difficult.
The gadget connects a set of organ pedals synchronized to MIDI controllers to fill out the holes. It creates quite a spectacle with the reverb coming off Padgett’s Fender Strat.
It’s not uncommon for audience members to inquire: Where’s the bass player? We hear it, but don’t see it. But as Padgett and McGinley have found, seeing is not always believing.
“There was one guy who didn’t believe me,” Padgett recalls. The man was adamant there had to be a computer somewhere. But as Padgett explained that a computer couldn’t really create the tempo shifts and dynamic changes involved in their songs, his non-techno babble fell on deaf ears.
Still, it makes for great conversation fodder with strangers post-gig. “Most of the time, people are just like, Wow,” Padgett says. The set up makes StereoFidelics stand out in a sea of indie rock duos.
Padgett and McGinley met six years ago at University of Indiana when Padgett’s band at the time stopped in to record at the IU recording facilities. McGinley was enrolled at the school’s violin performance program. She often lends five-string electric violin to the duo’s multi-instrumental melodies.
The two hit it off, becoming instant friends. She started burning CDs with off-the-wall music from the campus music library, heady stuff like hard bop jazz musician Charles Mingus and modern faire that appealed to Padgett’s ever-expanding musical repertoire.
They continued their friendship for a few years, each playing in their own bands, until one day it dawned on them: Why not play together? They set out to achieve a five-piece but found that was three people too many for their tastes.
“It became a very synchronistic relationship,” Padgett says. “We are almost in each other’s heads. We can just look at each other, almost like some sort of version of Vonnegut’s Slapstick.”
The difference is that when Padgett and McGinley’s left and right brains connect, instead of conspiring to end loneliness in America through extended families, they make soulful melodies with kick drum attitude.
The StereoFidelics at The Vault Martini Bar & Grill, 20 E. Vine St., Redlands, (909) 798-2339; www.myspace.com/thevaultmartinibar. Sat, July 9. 9PM.