Richard Baluyut and Adam Pfahler would writhe to hear it, but they define been-there-done-that indie-hipster tough. Hunkered down at a professional poker table in the dry-walled basement of San Francisco video store Lost Weekend, they sprinkle their conversation with references to gambling, pornos and baseball games. The shop employs Whysall Lane singer/guitarist Baluyut (who still performs occasionally with his old band, Versus) and is co-owned by drummer Pfahler (a veteran of the late, lamented Jawbreaker), who restlessly shuffles a deck of cards and sorts band buttons like poker chips.
Though Baluyut had used the Whysall Lane name for solo acoustic performances in New York, the band began in earnest in 2001, when the Versus ringleader followed his girlfriend to the Bay Area. Baluyut hooked up with Pfahler and bassist/vocalist Mikel Delgado (an SPCA cat behaviorist by day), and Whysall Lane began practicing in the basement of Lost Weekend on the pretext of entertaining video browsers. But Baluyut and Pfahler couldn’t keep their new band under wraps for long. Friends in Mission Of Burma, Sleater-Kinney, Imperial Teen and the Ataris asked the group to open for them at shows.
“We got lucky,” says Baluyut. “But then we got sick of playing without a record out. You gotta come up with the goods or else you’re a hobby band.”
Whysall Lane’s self-titled debut (released on Pfahler’s Blackball label) will come as a satisfying rejoinder to the naysayers who think they’ve heard it all from Baluyut, Pfahler and their old bands. From the atmospheric, bitter trudge of “Half Life” to typewriter-punctuated murder mystery “High Heels,” the album unfolds like an origami artifact into the stately “Pillows” and “Wither Without You,” which swing with the soulful depth of Beatles opuses. Ghosts of friends and lovers in Baluyut’s past drift through Whysall Lane. It’s a mature work by a band with two guys who are pushing 40, have two daughters apiece and have slept on their share of floors during six-week tours.
“Our older bands had ‘careers in rock,’” says Baluyut. “But I don’t think from day one we assumed that we would be like that again. Everything in Whysall Lane is kind of backwards.”
Whysall Lane should send the message that the guys from Versus and Jawbreaker are still making music and cracking wise, even if it’s in the basement of a video store.
“I think a characteristic of both of our old bands is that it takes a little longer to get into it,” says Baluyut. “But when you’re into it, it’s really good. No one is gonna pick up Whysall Lane and say, ‘Sign ‘em up. The next Killers.’ But if they listen to whole thing, they might say, ‘Wow, these guys could be … the next J. Geils Band.”