In a sense, Straylight Run has spent its brief four-year career trying to escape its past.
The group was started by guitarist/ singer John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper shortly after they left the hard-rocking Emo band Taking Back Sunday. From the start it's been clear that they had far different musical intentions for Straylight Run.
Instead of the hard-charging guitars, crisp tempos and dueling vocals (most sung, some screamed) of Taking Back Sunday, Nolan re-emerged on Straylight Run's 2004 self-titled debut writing a far more delicate style of Pop music.
Nolan realized that his new band might not appeal to much of Taking Back Sunday's fan base. And with the release of the group's second CD, The Needles The Space, Straylight Run took a big step to move beyond the Punk/Emo association.
After releasing Straylight Run on Victory Records, the same label that at the time was home to Taking Back Sunday, the group left Victory and signed with major label Universal/Republic Records.
"That was a major thing," Nolan says of the label switch. "It was just trying to separate ourselves from that scene."
The band feared that Victory might not know how to reach audiences outside of the Emo/Punk/Hardcore scenes that have made it a successful independent label.
But Nolan says the move to Universal/Republic might be creating a different sort of problem.
"I think we definitely didn't make an album that sounds like a major-label album," Nolan says. "I think we figured even though the record does not sound like the typical major-label record, if we could get a major label behind it and supporting it, it would probably be a good thing.
"I think that maybe now we're sort of seeing that even though they (Universal/ Republic) were enthusiastic about taking the record, they realized it was a different kind of record. I think we're also sort of realizing that major labels don't necessarily know what to do with records that are different. So it's kind of a weird position that we're in now."
The Needles The Space arrived this past June, and so far it hasn't made many waves commercially. The problem isn't the quality of the album. As Nolan suggests, the challenge is that the music doesn't fit neatly into any specific radio format or genre.
On The Needles, Straylight Run — which also includes keyboardist/singer Michelle DeRosa (Nolan's younger sister) and drummer Will Noon — has moved toward a decidedly pretty Pop sound. While based around timeless elements of acoustic instrumentation and classic Pop melodies, the songs also have a modern edge, putting Straylight Run in the company of groups like Belle And Sebastian and The Decemberists, outfits that make classically rooted Pop that appeals to the Indie Rock crowd.
Compared to the group's self-titled debut, the music on The Needles The Space has grown richer, with plenty of charming melodic and instrumental detail, all while being more focused stylistically.
The greater cohesion of The Needles The Space didn't happen by accident.
"One thing we definitely had in mind was we wanted the songs to be diverse, but we also wanted the album to sound like an album, that all of the songs belonged together," Nolan says. "We wanted to do things in each song that would kind of tie things together and it wasn't really necessarily thought out, but it started to come together that a lot of the songs ended up being more acoustic guitar-based on this album, rather than piano-based or electric guitar-based. Then we started trying to do things in recording to tie that acoustic-based songwriting together."
Another significant factor in the growth of Straylight Run is the emergence of DeRosa, who on the new album shares songwriting duties almost equally with her brother and proves herself to be a lovely and expressive vocalist.
"There is a big jump from the first album to this one and it was a matter of her just really working at it and really just going for it," Nolan says.
Nolan has seen a similar sort of growth in Straylight Run as a live band over the course of three-plus years of touring.
"I think that at the very beginning everything was so new to us, I think a lot of times our main focus was just kind of like making sure we played our parts right and were able to hit all the notes," he says.
"I think as time has gone on, we've gotten much more comfortable on stage and gotten much more comfortable playing with each other," Nolan continues. "I think there's much more thought about the musical interaction that we're having on stage. I think there's also a lot more freedom now for us to have fun with it and just put more thought into the performance side of things and the energy side of things.
"I think that all shows a lot if you were to see us now versus four years ago."
STRAYLIGHT RUN performs Saturday at the Madison Theater. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.