Music: Trout Rocking in America

Baltimore's Lake Trout defies categorization with Not Them, You

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Nasty Little Man

Though critics scramble to find appropriate labels and comparisons for Lake Trout, the band's vast sonic evolution has, refreshingly, made it impossible

Confused record store clerks across the country are busy jamming Lake Trout CDs into the miscellaneous "L" slot in the Rock bins just to keep from driving themselves crazy. If they were smart, they'd simply get their bosses to stock enough copies of the band's catalog to feature them everywhere that applies, from Electronica to Folk to Indie and Progressive Rock. Of course, if they were really smart they'd have a different low-paying job, like writing about music. But I digress.

The problem is that Lake Trout fits comfortably into all of those classifications without identifying directly with any of them. The Baltimore quintet could claim a ridiculous range of influences, but they prefer to say they just listen to a lot of different music that all comes through as Lake Trout music.

"When we met each other, we decided we wanted to be in a band without any clear direction," says founding member/flautist/keyboardist Matt Pierce. "Some of the guys were into the Punk scene and regular old Rock, and I was a big Pixies fan. We just started playing, so our sound was like a garage band getting together. Our first album was sort of Hip Hop-based, beat-wise, with a Soul sound over the top.

We were listening to a lot of Al Green and Curtis Mayfield. Then we grew up a little bit, and we were listening to a lot of Drum N' Bass, and that was along the lines of the second album; a sort of electronic, but with organic instruments, kind of sound."

Lake Trout began over a decade ago when Pierce was dividing his student time between classes at Goucher College and Towson University. Through Towson's music program, he met guitarist Ed Harris and drummer Michael Lowry, and the three formed the band in 1994. The following year, Lake Trout swelled to a fivesome with the addition of guitarist/vocalist Woody Ranere, another Goucher student who played with Pierce in a separate band, and in 1996 the band replaced their original bassist with James Griffith. Lake Trout's line up has remained in this stable configuration for the past nine years.

Over the next five years, Lake Trout self- or indie-released their eponymous debut album, their sophomore album Volume for the Rest of It and a live disc, and toured relentlessly. In 2002, Lake Trout self-released their fourth album, the madly diverse Another One Lost (which was subsequently re-released last year when Lake Trout signed to Chris Blackwell's Palm Pictures label); the album was a giant step forward sonically.

"With Another One Lost, we kind of came full circle back to what we were listening to when we first met," says Pierce. "More Rock-structured songs, but still obviously with an experimental, atmospheric, ethereal kind of sound. We just got back to more straightforward songwriting. And that's where it's going now."

Where Lake Trout is going now is evidenced by the incredible sonic scrapbook found on their just released new album, Not Them, You. Incorporating elements from every phase of their career to date, the band has crafted a sound as timeless and positively bombastic as Pink Floyd, as contemporary as Radiohead, as edgy and beat-driven as Aphex Twin and as histrionically cool as Catherine Wheel.

"We love being in the studio, and we like noise," says Pierce. "I don't think we're ever going to be a direct Rock band. I think we'll always be a little left of center, but our process of songwriting has gotten back to more of a basic structure."

The shift in songcraft came with Another One Lost three years ago. Before that, Lake Trout's songs had generally risen out of their live presentation, where fragments of stage jams would be hammered into actual songs with the vocals tacked on at the end of the process. With the last two albums, several of Lake Trout's members concentrated on writing outside of the context of the band and began offering nearly completed songs for the group to consider.

"Before, somebody would have one riff or idea, and we'd all be in the same room and kind of take it wherever it went," says Pierce. "For Another One Lost, it was more of a traditional kind of writing style. Some of the guys started writing on their own, and that dictated the direction of the songwriting. Woody would come up with his own song and lyrics first, and then we'd all come together and put in our own parts."

Not Them, You also reflects a more contemplative side of Lake Trout. After a half-dozen years of nearly non-stop touring, the band took a lengthy hiatus from constant roadwork, and since their songwriting had always been tied so closely to playing live, the reduction in touring naturally led to the change in songwriting structure.

"We hadn't been playing that much, and people have been getting side jobs; our lives have changed a little bit after touring five or six years straight," says Pierce. "Maybe the songs have been a little more introspective on this last one."

A lot of disparate bands and artists get name-checked in the course of a Lake Trout review, particularly with Not Them, You. But Pierce insists that whatever people hear shouldn't necessarily be construed as the band physically interpreting their influences.

"We've tried to shun direct influence and, more than ever before, just go with the sounds and ideas that we had no matter how odd we thought they were," says Pierce. "That may be why the songs vary a lot, although that's been the case with all of our albums. We have a darkness about a lot of our music, and we wanted that to come through."

LAKE TROUT performs at the Southgate House on Wednesday, Nov. 16 with Campfire Crush and Benzos.

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