In many ways, the four-track is a cherished and storied artifact of the indie rock world. Cheap, accessible and easy to manage, the archaic piece of recording equipment offers an entry point beyond the normal gatekeepers standing vigil at expensive studios. The four-track’s unassuming, lo-fi sound has been the trademark of seminal indie records from artists like Guided by Voice, Elliott Smith and The Microphones.
For Andy Pastalaniec, the four-track offered a conundrum. A drummer in numerous San Francisco bands over the years, Pastalaniec had long considered writing and recording his own music, but he always managed to find an excuse or an out. That is, until his girlfriend gifted him a small piece of music alchemy, making all those previous arguments moot.
“Yeah, so she gave me a four-track, and I was like, ‘Damn, I have to do to this now,” said Pastalaniec who records as Chime School and who will be playing Feb. 26 at the Bottom of Hill as part of the Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. “I wasn’t going to let that thing just sit around and collect dust. So, I literally went out and bought a cheap second-hand guitar and forced myself to sit down and write songs.”
That foray into the four-track world turned out to be not only a present for Pastalaniec but for everyone else lucky enough to hear Chime School’s stirring debut album, which arrived last November. Taking the classic janglepop sounds of The Byrds and processing it through the ambient moods of 4AD bands and the hook-laden riffs of Britpop groups, the self-titled Chime School release is teeming with accessible and engaging tunes.
Pastalaniec originally started writing the songs in 2017, meticulously adding to the catalog over a series of years while drumming in a spate of local bands, including Seablite and Pink Films. After starting slowly, Pastalaniec steadily gained confidence as his catalog of songs accumulated.
“It always felt like something I couldn’t do — like I just couldn’t write a song,” said Pastelniec. “And so, when I finally finished a few ones, it felt so liberating and empowering. Like, holy shit, I can actually do this. I’m not saying I created a masterpiece or anything, but I was really happy with how these songs turned out.”
All the Chime School songs are built around Pastalaniec’s vibrato guitar work, a pulsing, buoyant instrument that fills each song with a sparkling, sustained shimmer. Expanding upon the blueprint first established by The Byrds (and emulated by his prior band, the Pink Films), Pastalaniec overdubbed layers and layers of acoustic guitar on top of his electric 12-string, creating a thicker, more atmospheric sound. Although The Byrds made their name by popularizing the legendary Rickenbacker guitar, Pastalaniec admits he was able to build his jangly wall of noise with a Danelectro model. (He has a Rickenbacker now.)
The result is almost like an homage to long-lost Bay Area bands like The Mantles and The Aislers Set, with Pastalaniec fusing the chaotic energy of the former with the twee-pop sensibilities of the latter. Each Chime School song feels like a breezy bike ride through the Mission District on a warm, sunny Saturday morning, a sentiment reinforced by Pastelniec’s communal lyrics, which focus primarily on neighborhood concerns like motorcycle maintenance, taking in a cup of coffee and adopting a cat.
The robust nature of the music is all the more remarkable considering that Pastalaniec played every instrument and recorded the album all by himself. (Ironically enough, the longtime drummer used a drum machine for many of the songs.) After acting as a supporting character for years in a variety of bands, Pastalaniec said he embraced the opportunity to oversee the entire creative process of his music.
“Since this was a first-time thing for me, it was almost like I was worried that my creativity would be stymied if I worked with others, because they would have to be super patient with the process,” he said. “If I was going to be experimental and explore sounds, I didn’t want to burden others with that. And once it became time to do all the mixing, we were pretty much full into the pandemic, so I couldn’t work with anyone, anyways.”
For now, the Chime School live performances are just Pastalaniec solo shows, with him playing alongside a backing track, although he said he hopes to add some band members at some point. He also hopes to string together a tour in the future, once the uncertainty of the pandemic has abated.
For now, he will continue to showcase his unique skills at local venues. Joining him at Noise Pop will be a veritable dream team of San Francisco acts, including long time indie rockers the Papercuts, lo-fi connoisseurs April Magazine and pop crooner Stephen Steinbrink.
As one of the oldest venues in San Francisco, Bottom of the Hill is perhaps the most analog of all the local sites, making it a fitting spot for a guy whose project came about because of a four-track.
IF YOU GO:
Chime School with the Papercuts, April Magazine and Stephen Steinbrink
Where: Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 26