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Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011

The Vitrolum Republic’s Worldly Folk-Pop

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The Milwaukee gypsy-folk trio The Vitrolum Republic often jokes about having to learn how to cover their own songs. “We often have to teach ourselves how to play a song live after we’ve finished it in the studio, because the recordings have so many instruments layered over each other,” says bassist Chuck Lawton, “but we’re only three guys, so we can only pull off so much live.”

The band’s dense sound was perhaps inevitable, given the players’ backgrounds. Songwriting brothers Nick and Jordan Waraksa are both classically trained musicians and prone to ornate arrangements, and both play multiple instruments. Nick primarily handles piano and accordion, while Jordan mans the violin and guitar. Mandolin and banjo also pepper the album. In addition to upright bass, Lawton also plays guitar and doubles as the band’s producer. He’s an unabashed perfectionist. The band spent two and a half years recording their latest album, For Highbrow Sideshows and Rowboat Serenades, in his home studio.

At their core, The Vitrolum Republic’s songs are kindred to the emotional folk-pop of Mumford & Sons, but they touch on far more influences than that group, juggling both American roots and Eastern European folk-music traditions.

“We’ve compared ourselves to Ray LaMontagne and Nickel Creek, but when you think of those artists, you have a very strong idea of what style of music you’re going to hear,” Lawton says. “Listening to our record, what comes across is how diverse it is. We start with a bluegrass song, and from that we go into blues and jazz, then East European gypsy music and piano ballads. You really get this musical tour of the world. This is music that all really resonates with us, but it presents an interesting challenge as a producer, because how do you turn that all into an album? You can’t just throw 10 or 12 completely different tracks on an album and call it a day, because that would be disjointed, so we really had to rely on certain sounds and arrangements to carry a thread through the album, like vocal harmonies or Jordan’s violin.

Another consideration while recording the album, Lawton says, was incorporating classically informed arrangements without sacrificing the organic feel of folk music.

“We’ve learned it takes us about three hours to record any one part of a song,” Lawton says. “If we’re recording vocals on a song, that takes about three hours. If decide we need harmonies on a song, we can expect to spend another couple hours figuring those out. But deciding those things is a very natural process. A lot of times, we’re surprised how the songs come out. The track ‘Pretty,’ for instance, we had originally conceived as a piano ballad, a solo song for Nick, but he felt too naked, so we tried to find ways to add to it without detracting from its core feel, and that’s how Jordan ended up double tracking this beautiful violin part.”

The Vitrolum Republic will play a 10 p.m. album release show Friday, Feb. 4, at the Stonefly Brewery with I’m Not a Pilot and Honest Monday, which will also be celebrating an album release.
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