The new EP by Charleston's SondorBlue quartet is such a smoothly crafted collection that it's difficult to believe Realometer is the band's first release. The four-track Realometer is packed with airy-but-tight vocal harmonies, infectiously catchy pure-pop choruses, and walls of acoustic and electric guitars that mesh together perfectly. It's passionate but polished pop rock by a promising new band. But make no mistake — the record wasn't easy to create. In fact, it took a year, two different producers, and two studios to finish Realometer, and the initial sessions were not promising.
"At the beginning of the process we were having a lot of technical problems," says singer/bassist Andrew Halley. "My bass was conking out all the time, and it had intonation problems. It was something out of our control that we'd never really experienced. And we were doing take after take after take of our vocals, so our voices were getting tired. We had to go back and re-record a lot of the vocals later."
Perhaps part of the problem in getting the EP done was that the band was still thinking like a live band, when a more measured approach was needed. "The mindset we took into the studio had to become a lot more methodical," Halley says. "When you're live, you think, 'OK, I'm going to give it my all right now.' Whereas in the studio, you have to do what's best for the song. You're not receiving that energy from the audience, so you have to find it in yourself."
The band worked with Mel Washington at West Ashley's Truphonic Recording, but they also recorded at a home studio with their friend Christian Steinmetz behind the boards. Ultimately, Halley says the band preferred the feel of the home studio to a more formal environment. "That's one takeaway that we had from this experience is that a home studio definitely relieves the pressure," he says. "In a regular recording studio, there's all this crazy gear around you and you're thinking, 'What do I do with all this? I don't even know where to start.' But in a home studio, it's less gear and Christian is a good friend of ours — and that really helped."
In fact, Halley says he's already started thinking about taking a more stripped-down approach the next time around. "The key thing we realized is that the recordings of these songs are going to last forever, so it's important for us to be fully invested in the performance that we're putting out on every take. And we like a really intimate, comfortable environment to do that. We like it to be just us — a really tight, close-knit group of people."
The band, which also includes singer/guitarist/keyboard player John Sheehan, lead guitarist Connor Hollifield, and drummer Drew Lewis, had more than a full album's worth of material ready for the album, but they decided on the four songs that resonated the most with the band, and they were also worried about overkill. "I have a lot of different theories about EPs versus albums, but I think one reason we went with an EP was that we're a new band and we wanted to condense the first release," Halley says. "We didn't want to give people more than they could chew. I think it has a lot to do with the attention span of the listener; there's so much music out there that you can pick from. I don't want to give people too much at first. Plus, you have people coming out with 16 or 17-song albums, and I feel like there are a lot of filler songs on those albums. It feels arbitrary rather than being cohesive."
Even after the recording process was complete, the band found out that there was a lot more to do before it was ready for release. "There are so many things you have to do in preparation to release four songs," Halley says. "These past two or three days have been relieving because we're getting so close. We didn't realize how much goes on behind the scenes like registering copyrights, becoming part of ASCAP ... we didn't realize how much you have to do just to release four songs."