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Old Head: The Case for No Vocals.

August 7, 2015

OldHeadOnline01Text by Kevin Stairiker. Images by Jessica Flynn.

It’s unlikely that the three musicians who make up Old Head will ever look the part. Despite all being students at Temple University, they each could reasonably be mistaken for any level of high school student. However, the best thing about preconceived notions is confounding them, and Old Head does just that every time they play.

For a band about to release its first album, Old Head has had the life span of several bands of a greater size. The core group of Connor Fundyga on guitar, Matt Campbell on bass and John Tarquinio on drums has existed for nearly five years. The boys played in bands with names like Sages and Bagged Lunch, traversing genres and band members in their shared hometown of Exeter, Pennsylvania. The true genesis of Old Head started with a punk band called Black Candy, which slowly but surely morphed into the entrancing and technical instrumental music that they make now.

“I think the shift in our writing was built on the separation of the band after everyone left for school three years ago,” Tarquinio explains. “As school went on, practices were split up into three month increments, leaving a lot of material up in the air for reflection.”

Nick Ambrosi, a musical and artistic collaborator of the Heads, has seen their transformation in full and refers to the three as “brothers.”

“The development from then to now is undeniably huge,” says Ambrosi, who has done artwork for Old Head, from early demos through to their newest album. “The passion was always the driving element in everything they did and I think that was very evident.”

These years allowed the band to grow in ways many bands don’t give themselves the chance to. The band originally had a vocalist who was a verbose punk screamer, leaving Fundyga to feel like the band didn’t require a steady singer.

“Having vocals always felt unnatural,” Fundyga explains. “The only reason I sang in the first place was to fill the void. I think we always knew we’d end up instrumental. It was just a matter of ensuring the transition would be smooth.”

As the punk chords gave way to a more nuanced musicality, Old Head began hitting its stride and playing in various basements of North Philly. However, drunk college students don’t usually make for the best audiences to appreciate long, instrumental feats of musical proficiency.

“People feel that if they can’t tap their feet to our songs, the music is too confusing and unengaging,” says Fundyga. “Yeah, whatever.”

Which brings us to the current day and Stained Glass Stilts, the band’s first real album. The song stems were recorded months ago.

“It was hard to express to the engineers how we wanted the songs to come together,” says Tarquinio.

“It can be hard to communicate ideas artistically,” adds Campbell. “I’d be much more comfortable if the band were in control of every stage of production.”

OldHeadOnline02So, Fundyga acquired Pro Tools and the band slowly began the process of mixing the album themselves. The do-it-yourself ethic is apparent in all facets of Old Head, right down to the art work.

“I always felt like my visual [for Old Head] needed to possess a handmade ‘DIY’ aura,” says Ambrosi. “This is something I feel is very present in their music, something with the inability to be replicated with another’s hand.”

The Heads finished the album in mid-May after a weeklong stretch behind the mixer, with each member fully entrenched in guiding the final sound. Songs like “Me-Tooism” evoke a hazy Television-esque groove early on before transitioning into a crescendo Maps & Atlases would be proud of. Half the fun of seeing Old Head live is being struck by the sudden changes in time and feel. The album lives up to the experience. Lead single “Anchors,” which has been available on their Bandcamp page since February, argues strongly for the case of a vocal-less band. The guitar melody will burrow deep in your head, and as you walk down the street humming it and trying to conjure the words, it will take a while to remember that there aren’t any.

The lads are up in the air over a release date, due to Campbell’s summer-long trip to Germany.

“[Connor and I] will write together and focus on adapting the material to other musicians for live performances,” says Tarquinio. “It would be strange to drop such a large album and not be able to play out.”

Regardless of the release date, Old Head continues to follow their own path and not settle in one musical space for too long.

“We’re always in a state of flux,” Fundgya says. “I can’t imagine ever reaching a point where I want to stay forever.”

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