Filed under: Emerging Artists, Features, Issue 19, Issue 19 Artists | Tags: Clocks and Calendars, Sammy Awards, Square Studio, Syracuse New Times, White Picket Fence
Take a minute and picture Varsity Pizza on a weeknight. The radio hums in the background. An employee behind the counter systematically wipes down pans. A couple sits quietly in the corner while cooks bustle around the kitchen, shouting light-hearted insults as they work.
And when the Camillus-based band White Picket Fence enter the room, everything somehow becomes brighter, warmer and more pleasant. Such is the charm of the gang of recent high school grads, who promptly pull together their shared pizza order, sit down together like a family and begin cheerfully recounting the story of how they became local legends.
For the women of the band, at least, that story goes back more than 10 years. Frontwoman Elise Miklich has been a vocalist since primary school, close with the band’s guitarist Kelly Clancy since the girls were in second grade. Drummer Garrett Koloski, bassist Ryan Chapman and guitarist Logan Messina joined the girls after they graduated from high school last June – a month that also saw WPF play their first show and release their debut album, Clocks and Calendars. They won a “Best Pop” nod at the Syracuse New Times’ Sammy Awards not long after.
Miklich and Clancy handle lead vocals, giving the band a sound somewhere between Paramore and Cartel. They say their goal is happy indie rock with a bit of an edge. True to that ambition, their songs are all wide-eyed honesty and unbridled pop melodies: “life-changing loves” and summer months dominate WPF’s sunny and ever-growing catalog.
The group launched a two-week, six-state tour last summer, piling into the minivan they bought with money from merchandise and ticket sales. They played a show almost every night during their whirlwind tour, which brought them across New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
“We had a concert almost every night, and we actually ended up sleeping in the van in a Wal-Mart parking lot once or twice,” said Clancy.
But Wal-Mart overnights were rare, thanks to the hospitality of strangers that WPF met on tour.
“People would just open up their homes to us,” said Miklich. “We stayed in this place on a hill in Chicago, with great views and plenty of room for all of us. We thought the guy who lived there knew our producer… But he said, ‘No, I just heard there was a band coming here.’ He didn’t even know our names!”
The bandmates are still euphoric about the success of their tour, which Sopchak helped them book and organize. They all agree that because it brought them so close physically in the confines of their hard-won minivan, they’ve grown even closer as friends.
That closeness is audible on their debut album, and it was evident in the studio, too. Clocks and Calendars was recorded at the Square Studio of Marcellus, N.Y., and produced by 22-year-old SUNY Oneonta alum Steve Sopchak. Sopchak said that every note of Clocks and Calendars is “real,” devoid of much of the studio trickery that is common in music today.
“We actually had aspects of the record that we needed to dirty up because they were played or sung too ‘correctly’,” Sopchak said. It was a delicate dance, trying to find the “balance between a band screaming their heads off in a basement somewhere and what a competitive recording needs to be… [mixing] pop sheen with the dirtiness of old punk albums.”
This group is all about balance. Each member of White Picket Fence brings his or her own strengths to the table, complementing each others’ abilities and finding a way to successfully manage of all of the band’s logistical and financial affairs. Even now that four of the five bandmates are freshmen at Le Moyne College, they still finish each other’s sentences, answer questions collectively and treat outsiders they’ve just met like friends they’ve known forever.
Their motto is never to take anything but their work too seriously, a strategy that worked well for them on tour. They insist that the only fight they got into on the road was over what kind of cheese they would buy at the grocery store. And no matter what kind of success they have, now or in the future, WPF are essentially just a bunch of friends having a lot of fun.
“I’d love to not have a social life,” Koloski laughed, “except you guys, and going on tour.”
— Hannah Warren