It's on a typical bi-polar Indiana spring day that I meet up with the members of emo-punk band Pessoa at Midtown punk hangout The Sinking Ship. They're sipping tall boys, staring out at the radiant day unfolding outdoors. But just as I introduce myself, the sky outside takes a sharp turn to gray and opens up with a blanket of blueberry-sized raindrops.
"Sucks to be you!" jokes Pessoa frontman Josh Wold as he nods at my dripping bike chained outside. The rest of the band looks on and laughs. We order another round and drink to the weather.
Pessoa is a sleeper cell waiting for the right time to explode on the scene. They've certainly put in their time - core members of the band cut their teeth in the humble Avon music scene while in the emotional punk/metal group Henry Can't Die. They played every imaginable house party and battle of the bands over the course of seven years. When 2007 rolled around, they were ready to start from scratch.
Three members of Henry Can't Die - guitarist Wold, drummer Zac Finch and guitarist Bill Stack - were determined to continue playing music together, but the demise of the band left them without a singer, a bassist or a clear idea of what exactly they wanted to be as a band. As such, the first incarnation of Pessoa sounded quite different than the current lineup.
"Our songs were all over the place," Wold says. "We liked so many different things and had so many different influences that our sound was inconsistent." Pessoa's early schizophrenic sound incorporated - or rather, failed to incorporate - flavors of juvenile metal and math rock, all in a rather gloomy atmosphere.
Then something just clicked. "All of a sudden we started writing songs in a major key," Wold says. "And in that instant we shed all the gloom and metal and became...focused."
"Yes! 'Focused,'" Stack chimes in. "That's exactly it."
"Bill would write a riff," Wold continues, "and it would make us want to jump around the room and dance and have fun."
Maybe the band wouldn't put it quite this way, but their artistic growth had as much to do with writing in major keys as with learning more about the world. Having played together since age 15, Wold, Stack and Finch have done quite a bit of growing up together.
"When we first started [as Pessoa], I stepped up to sing," Wold explains. "At first, all my lyrics were all about literary characters and books that I had read. I was singing about stuff that I liked but didn't really relate to."
Over time, life presented Wold with plenty of experiences from which he drew inspiration. "I feel like I'm writing about the same things that most people my age are going through," the 25-year-old says.
With the sound of the band finally firmly in place, Pessoa simply needed a place in which to grow. The band was accepted into an eclectic, all-inclusive Indianapolis scene, but felt out of place in most shows.
"We got asked to play a lot of hardcore shows," Finch says. "We always had a good time, but we were always the only band that wasn't screaming."
But not fitting in can also translate to standing out. Over the past two years, the band has risen to a place of prominence on the local scene. The band has a large following, amassed partly on the strength of two impressive EPs (2009's It's True and 2010's Do You Have Great Strength).
sound veers toward late '80s/ early '90s emo - The
Get Up Kids, Braid, Rites of Spring and Mineral all come to mind. But members
have looked more often toward local groups for encouragement and inspiration,
as well acts outside of their genre, such as Queens of the Stone Age and
Everyone Everywhere. "Obviously [northwest Indiana emo
revivalists] Grown Ups are a huge influence," Wold
says. "But we also look to bands like Canterbury Effect, Mycomplex,
Mock Orange, 1994!, Kickball and Algernon Cadwallader."
"The music of Meet Me In Saint Louis" - the English punk band, not the 1944 film - "keeps me working harder," says bassist Caleb Waggoner, the most recent addition to Pessoa. "They were an amazing band."
Having played just about every type of venue in the area, the members of Pessoa have had the opportunity to see how local laws can have an impact on the development of the scene.
"Bars here should do what all other states do: if you're underage, they 'X' your hands, and you can still watch the show," Stack says. "There need to be venues that serve drinks so that people would be more inclined to come out to shows."
"If the drinking laws weren't so strict, there would be more venues and more bands," Wold says.
A band can draw younger fans by playing all-ages venues like The Dojo, but the absence of alcohol makes it a tough sell for more casual listeners. Pessoa, however, is no stranger to the time-honored tactic of working around such silly restrictions: basement shows.
Having amassed a local fan base, Pessoa is ready to venture out into the great beyond.
"We're putting the finishing touches on a late summer tour," Finch says. "It'll be our first trip out to the East Coast. We're really excited."
To prepare for the tour, the band is gearing up for two new releases: the first, a split 7-inch record with Caelume due in August; the second, a cassette tape featuring re-recordings of three "classic" Pessoa songs, as well as one brand-new one.
So many Indianapolis bands simply fail to thrive. It's good to know Pessoa is sturdy enough to last. Their hard work and dedication have lifted them out of the Avon haze and into the spotlight.