Loretta: On the cusp of greatness 

New album showcases their many strengths

Imagine a group that combines the epic sound of U2, the intimacy and passion of Radiohead and the swirling harmonies of the Beatles. Add a dose of something completely original and stir vigorously.
Loretta will hold a CD release show Sept. 20 at Birdy’s.
You would then have Loretta, the Indiana band whose intense live performances have gained them a loyal audience base not only locally but throughout the Midwest.

After beating fierce competition to win the Patio Battle of the Bands last year, Loretta has traveled the country honing their craft. Now they’re re-emerging with an incredible new album called This Translation, to be released nationwide next month. But local fans can get a preview of the disc this Saturday at Birdy’s, when Loretta will play an album release show with Miranda Sound and The Redwalls. This Translation was recorded in Nashville and produced by Ken Lewis, known for his work with Soul Asylum, David Byrne and many others.

It takes their trademark sounds and clarifies and strengthens them, from the yearning of “This Fire” to the scorching “1000 Lbs.” Their label, Benchmark Records, has high hopes for the disc and is pushing it to college radio and to the press.

Loretta is comprised of Jim Shaffer, Stan Muller, Jason, Damon and Jeremy Weidner. Originally named Jihad until the events of Sept. 11, 2001, made that name unacceptable, their hard work has earned them a spot among the elite Indianapolis groups. While the songs on This Translation evoke various emotions, they’re also dense and hard to penetrate. Jason Weidner says it's no mistake that their music has multiple meanings for multiple people.

“I’m a deconstructionist in that it’s wrong for a songwriter to put a blatant meaning to a piece of art,” he says, “because it’s going to mean to an individual what it’s going to mean regardless of what it means to an artist themselves. That’s the way I’ve always been as a listener and that’s the way I am as a writer.” Lewis, who produced Johnny Socko’s last album, had the group play the album’s songs in rehearsal so that the recording process would go more smoothly. The result is a disc that sounds almost like a live recording. Shaffer says, “We aimed to have this album capture our live sound, so he made sure we were live sounding and tight. So when we played in the studio live, he wouldn’t have to make many edits. When it was time to play the song, all five of us played the song. That’s how it was captured.”

With a few exceptions, everything on the album was recorded live with very little overdubbing. It’s the group’s second album, although they dismiss their debut disc as juvenilia now. “We were young and didn’t know what we were doing,” Muller says.

“It’s part of the maturity and growth of the band,” Jason Weidner says. “We all play with a lot more confidence now.”

That confidence especially shines through on “This Fire,” a song Weidner says was almost discarded at first because it sounded too poppy. “But at the end of the day, I just couldn’t get rid of it, it wasn’t something I could throw away,” he says. “And then we put it together as a band and I realized that this wasn’t a pop song, that it rocked. The fire is the fire inside you that burns inside you for whatever reason.”

The grand scale of many of the songs is reminiscent of the best work of U2, but the band says that it’s not an intentional effort to evoke the legendary Irish group. “It’s really weird,” Jason Weidner says. “Jim and I were sitting around talking and he put in a couple of their records. And I thought, ‘Holy cow, we kind of sound like U2.’ They’re a band that obviously nobody in the world can hate. They’re part of our musical heritage in the same way that Bach and Beethoven are. But to say they’re a direct musical influence is not really true.” “In fact, I might be the only one in the band who owns a U2 CD,” Shaffer said. “The one thing that I hate about bands is when they don’t inspire me, when there’s nothing there to move you,” Jason Weidner says. “Everyone plays the same notes. Your expression comes out in how you play them,” Shaffer says. “Whatever energy you have is what makes those notes sound different. I don’t know how it happens. It just happens.”

More frequently, Loretta’s music has been compared to Radiohead’s, sometimes in a negative fashion. “We heard that after we won the last Battle of the Bands,” Jason Weidner says. “You know, ‘Congratulations to Radiohead for winning.’ There was definitely no conscious effort to not sound like Radiohead nor an effort to sound like them. It’s possible that subconsciously we steered away from it because we’ve been booked with a lot of true Radiohead ripoff bands. Some of them are inspiring but others were obviously rehashed crap. It doesn’t feel like anything, bands who go for a sound without knowing where that sound comes from.”

But, he adds, “If that’s the worst thing they can say about us, it’s not so bad.” More than anything, This Translation is a testament to the growth of Loretta as a band. Their music has been shaped and subtly changed through their extensive touring over the past year, they say. “We have become exponentially wiser and smarter over the last year on the road and recording the album,” Muller says.

“There’s something about playing the same songs to different crowds and getting different reactions,” Jason Weidner says. “It makes you rethink each song in a totally different way. Some songs that one crowd will really respond to, and the next day they won’t.” “It’s so much fun to play a place we’ve never played before and watch the crowd follow us along,” Muller says. “It’s the coolest feeling ever to catch somebody who’s never heard anything about you and by the end of the set to have captured them.”

They’ve played extensively in Cincinnati and Columbus and see a few differences between the music scenes in those cities and Indianapolis. “It seems to me that Cincinnati has the fans but they don’t have the bands,” Jason Weidner says. “It seems the opposite here. There’s so much talent in Indianapolis and so many really great bands who need to be heard.” With their best album to date ready for release, Loretta could be on the cusp on something big. It’s an intense time for the group and they’re feeling plenty of pressure for it to do well.

“We’re not getting any external pressure,” Jason Weidner says. “It’s all internal pressure. I don’t want to let people down. People have put their time and their money into this album because they believed in it.” “They have not only a huge financial investment but a personal investment in it,” Shaffer says. “Subconsciously, we know that every time we play. I think we’re confident in what we do.”

The group is planning to put the maximum amount of time in helping spread the word about the album. As for the swanky van they won at the Battle of the Bands? It recently suffered a near-fatal injury. At 6:30 a.m., 17 hours into a 20 hour trip back from playing in Boston, a deer ran out in front of the van. It now sits in a Columbus, Ohio, garage with $2,400 worth of damage, along with much of Loretta’s equipment and merchandise. Luckily, no one was injured, but it was a reminder that the road can bite back on occasion. The album will be available at the Saturday gig at Birdy’s and at stores nationwide on Oct. 14. For more information on Loretta, visit www.lorettamusic.net and www.benchmarkrecords.com.

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