“Aren't all songs about love? I think most of our music is inspired by that feeling you get when you first fall for someone, or when you lose someone from your life.”
The Demos latest EP, If You Only Knew, a follow up to 2016’s Paramount Clouds, has been well received. The band creates a brand of power pop all their own. Lyric-centered and heavy on harmonies, the lush collection of reflections on love -- the possible, present and past -- weaves through a maze of guitars and synthesizers that propel their songs forward. The five-piece from upstate New York worked with fellow Rochester resident Dan Armbruster (Joywave) for the four-song EP.
Complete with a James Gang-esque typeface, The EP cover features a lone lemon cut in half showcasing a skeleton inside. “Caela drew the lemon that's on the cover about seven years ago,” vocalist Jay Milton says. “When we shared our first apartment with Cal, all of us used to draw on these little cards and hang them on the walls. By the time we moved out, every inch of the walls were covered in these drawings. If you only knew why the lemon has a skeleton in it. If you only knew the meaning of it all. We hope people will interpret it for themselves.”
The Demos began working on these songs in 2017 after Armbruster asked Milton to join his band, Joywave. Instead, he countered with a different offer: would Armbruster produce the next Demos record?
“Our bands have been playing shows together since we were teenagers and we've always had a mutual respect for each others songwriting,” Milton says. “We had been doing our own thing for 15 years and really wanted to see what a new producer we trusted could bring to the mix. Dan wanted this EP to be a collection of the best songs possible. Basically, an EP of all singles.”
The band sent Armbruster voice memos as they started writing and arranging the collection. They recorded full basement demos of each of the tracks before going into the studio. By the time they hitrecord, there wasn’t much left to work out and the EP only took about a couple of weeks to complete.
“‘Lonesome No More’ is perhaps the most different from our other material. The title actually comes from the Kurt Vonnegut book Slapstick,” vocalist Milton says. “While the lyrics in the song don't really connect with the plot of the novel, to me the song sounds like it could be the soundtrack. I think Dan's production really comes through the most on this track. It's like the perfect blend of Joywave and The Demos. It's very synth heavy which is new territory for us as a band.”
Working with a new producer allowed the band to step outside their limits -- Armbruster stayed true to their sound, while adding his own style to the recording. Armbruster’s dedication to pushing the band just past their comfort zone helped capture memorable moments that are reminiscent of The Demos’ live show — full of energy, even if it’s a little rough around the edges.
“When we were tracking the vocals on ‘Make It Better’ he had me practically screaming the melody in the bridge,” Milton says. “It was something I had never really done before in a recording.”
“The song itself was built off the beginning guitar riff,” Milton says. After playing it for Armbruster accidentally, the band decided to work on the idea -- and the song itself was written quickly. "You say you love me. But I get the feeling that when you tell me, It's the last thing you're thinking of. You don't know a thing about love,” Milton sings on the song, accompanied by Moore’s catchy keyboard hooks and O’Reilly’s reverb laden guitar.
Each member of The Demos contributes to the writing of their songs, but bassist Cal Saunders is their resident poet. After he composes several pages of lyrics, the group sorts through what makes the most sense. "It was a challenging record to compose lyrically given the fact that most of the melodies were already there,” Saunders says. “It can take a long time to find the right words that still tell the story and please everyone."
"If you only knew you could learn to look beyond," Milton sings in “If You Only Knew.” A timely sentiment stressing the importance of knowing the truth in a world currently characterized by a discrepancy between fact and value. Don't believe the hype. Accompanied with playful “oohs” and a 60s-inspired bounce, the song is a live favorite.
“We actually started playing this song live a few months before we recorded it,” Milton says. “Dan recommended we move some sections around. Originally, that chorus with the ‘ooohs’ was the bridge of the song. This was actually the first song we tracked for the EP and it really helped set the tone for the other songs.”
The last track on the album is “Nervous,” which first appeared on the The Demos’ critically acclaimed 2011 album, Lovely, produced by Mike James (Longwave, The Mercies, Hawker M. James). After Dan pleaded with the band, they decided to re-record the song. “The chorus was actually a joke that I improvised with some nonsense lyrics during a rehearsal,” Milton says. “A few days later I found myself humming the melody and thought it was way too good to just end up being a joke. So I sat down (in my college dorm room in 2009) and built up the song around that melody.”
The Demos began back in 2002, when Milton and Saunders were in high school. The two have played music together for more than half their lives now. Caela Moore joined on keyboards in 2011 -- Milton’s girlfriend at the time, now the two are married. Moore’s counter melodies are showcased throughout their songs. Jeremiah O’Reilly joined the band on guitar two years ago. A close-knit group, four of the band’s members even shared a house when recording Paramount Clouds.
“We all share a very strange sense of humor that probably stems from watching too many old Saturday Night Live episodes,” Milton says. “And If I've learned anything over the years, it's if you find people who can not only stand that, but join in, you keep them around.”