Stereo Reform's Neil Turner wants to make one thing clear. His Greenville-based dance-friendly outfit is not a Katy Perry tribute band, and he told us as much in November 2011, back when Stereo Reform first began their electro transition. Ironically, one year after we first spoke, Turner and his bandmates were putting the finishing touches on an album with Bravo Ocean, the Atlanta-based, Grammy-nominated production duo behind Perry's Teenage Dream. But despite that, Turner was right. They sound nothing like Katy Perry, but they do sound an awful lot like Maroon 5.
This Friday, Stereo Reform releases the result of that collaboration, The Future Started Yesterday, an LP packed with layers of beats and electronic flourishes, from the classic disco of "Groove Galactic Sounds" to the roof-raising title track. After cycling through three drummers over five years, singer and bassist Turner and guitarist Will Evans realized that forging ahead as a duo would give them the flexibility to create the synth-laden sounds they'd been eagerly imagining.
The pair spent much of 2011 working out 28 potential tracks at Evans' home studio in the Upstate before launching a Kickstarter campaign that garnered the $10,000 they needed to record in a professional studio. A friend pointed them toward Bravo Ocean, who ended up scheduling them time in acclaimed producer Tricky Stewart's Triangle Sound Studios.
"We knew they had worked with some big cats [Mariah Carey and T.I. are also on the resume], but it was more important to us to know that they were good at what they did," Evans says. "They're known for mixing organic and electronic sounds, and that's what we wanted to blend."
Evans is proficient with ProTools, and the pair went into the process with a clear idea of what they wanted out of the sessions. Turner says, "We brought in a lot of the drums, guitars, and about half of the synth sounds that you hear on the album. They were already recorded, and they stacked it and added different tones, but it was never an 'Oh, wow,' moment during the process of recording."
However, Turner soon came to realize what was so bravo about Bravo Ocean. "When we came back to hear the mixes, that's when I was like, 'Oh shit. You guys know what you're doing.'"
Recording the album was a physically demanding process. Turner's day job is running an after-school tutoring program in Greenville, working with students from low-income families who need extra help with math and reading. Evans, meanwhile, keeps a busy schedule teaching guitar and performing with side projects like The Dead 27's. Stereo Reform kept up their consistent Southeast tour schedule throughout the process, as well as burning up I-85 between Greenville and Atlanta nearly every weekend from April to September of last year, tweaking the beat or vocals of one track at a time.
The focused energy that led to the 10-track The Future Started Yesterday marks a turning point for Stereo Reform. In 2009, with then-drummer Cre Moore, the band moved to Los Angeles at the invitation of a producer, before booking a tour back across the country nine months later. They arrived back in Charleston broke, with no way to retrieve their belongings from L.A.
"We learned that you have to be strategic," Evans says. "We were like, 'Fuck yeah, we're on tour,' but looking back on it, we were pretty much driving around the country partying our asses off."
One stand-out track, "10 Miles Out of New York City," was penned by Turner on that trip. It was written at a time when he was "all over the place" and "pretty ridiculous with the chicks." The album progresses to "Hold Your Lover," a tune about "one of those promiscuous, tragic chicks that get you to feel sorry for them, and then rob you, literally." He adds that "Lights Off Mama" is about the end of that relationship, while "Fire" is about his current girlfriend. Turner says, "The songs are specifically ordered to be chronologically accurate to my life."
Stereo Reform's challenge today is to duplicate the refined, electronic sound of The Future Started Yesterday on stage. Although they've long incorporated samples into their show, they'll now use a keyboard and laptop on stage to cue some of the beats and synth tracks that beef up their sound. They've also recruited a new drummer, Joe Tamburro, for live shows. Evans explains that the live show will always be "a little more raw." Even with the inclusion of backing tracks, Stereo Reform will be playing more music on-the-spot than ever before.
Turner is excited to debut the new collection in Charleston. "We've got 2,000 copies of the CD ready to get out there, and we're going to cram it down peoples' throats," Turner jokes. "Give somebody a The Future Started Yesterday' sandwich and tell them to eat it."