Earlier this year, local musician Caleb Banas returned to the area. He tuned up the acoustic guitar, teamed up with violinist Lena Yeagle and the duo spent the spring adding a soundtrack to the downtown Grower's Market scene. Though impressed with the direction of this new project, Banas and Yeagle felt something was missing.
"I love concept albums," Banas said. "I was working on a solo project down in York, where I was for nine months. I released a solo album that I was happy with and then when I decided I was moving back to Williamsport, I wanted to get a band together to do that album. Lena and I talked about playing together formally for several years. We started working together. Then we recruited Jason and Ian. I met Mathias via Billtown Burlesque. He and I hit it off pretty quickly."
Ten Cent Days had dawned.
In addition to Banas on acoustic guitar and Yeagle - who's added cello and mandolin to her repertoire - the band consists of bassist Ian Fink (Ron Fleeger and the Stranger), drummer Jason Shuman (Johnny J. Blair) and Mathias Lovemotor on acoustic guitar and melodica. Lovemotor is also the burgeoning songwriter in group. He and Banas give the band two distinct voices.
"We all have our own ways of writing and bring it to the band the same way," Banas said. "We just bring a song either complete or a 75 percent-complete idea. Then we all have a go at it and from there, the person who brings the song in kind of directs where it heads. As far as material goes, we all have different material that we write about. I write about really personal issues or historical events."
"I took a long break from music to explore different things until I came back to Omni Circus, a circus group I was part of in the Bay area, which has been a heavy influence for me," Lovemotor said. "My personal style is I've always had a deep appreciation for life. I think of things politically and I think of consciousness a lot, as well as love. I'm more universal than personal in my songwriting approach."
The verses of the two scribes are augmented by a sound that merges gritty, dark folk overtones and courtesy of Yeagle's cello, a slight chamber music feel that propels the strummed melodies and harmonized vocals. There are subtle dynamic shifts in the songs that are deftly navigated by drummer Shuman's restrained grooves and fills.
"I don't have to fill in parts - that's what all these beautiful stringed and keyed instruments are for, creating a lot of space in the music," Shuman said. "A lot of people don't get that. So, the restraint part is more musical and artistic to me. If you can play with dynamics, you're not just creating a cacophonous sound you're 'playing' - being one with that instrument. It becomes an art form."
"That's definitely true about the drums and any instrument," Yeagle said. "You need to know when to 'speak' with it. I think that's what separates professional musicians from people who sit around and jam. Music is definitely about relationship. It's a conversation between people and when everybody is trying to talk at once, no point is getting across. It's really important to listen to what other people have to say and add your own 'voice' occasionally."
In songs like "West Branch" and "Black Marble," Banas' lyrics capture the angst and regret of past loves and addictions. The former recounts lost love and regret.
"I had lost a really important relationship in my life," Banas said. "(West Branch) is the only love song I've written that I've actually kept."
The latter song is rumination on drugs and alcohol.
"I had a horrible problem with drugs and alcohol," Banas said. "The verse is kind of a descriptive narrative of the things I was sort of going through at the time and re-acclimating myself to society. The lines of the chorus are directed at myself, 'Don't be high' and also don't judge the people I am having problems with."
"One of the songs I've brought in is called 'Power of Love,' " Lovemotor said. "Another, 'Clarity of Mind,' we actually just performed live for the first time the other weekend at Avenue 209 in Lock Haven. We're working on one which we refer to as 'The Chant' but a friend of the band has dubbed it 'Elements.' "
When that song is performed live, it purposefully connects with another song.
"Linking songs also adds to the performance aspect," Lovemotor said. "We're trying to be aware as we build set lists to include songs which sound well segueing into each other. With 'Elements - The Chant,' we're putting the audience into a sort of trance state with the chant and then we sort of bop them in the head with the 'Bones' song that follows. They are two separate songs but the way we play them live makes it sound like one track."
"The music is beautiful but also a lot of fun," Banas said. "We have a lot of fun playing it and that goes into the crowd when we're doing that. So we have a participatory crowd which I think is important to have fun. We're high-energy even when it's a low-energy song."
As the band grows, they've talked about adding more theatrics to their show.
"That's something to look forward to in the future - even for people who come see us regularly," Banas said. "We want to keep it interesting. We all like dressing up. For example, Matthias being in the band especially gives us a direction towards more theatrical aspects of performance. I think our style of dress also plays into that."
The band has already played Alabaster, Barrel 135 and the Bullfrog Brewery, and recently added Lock Haven to their sphere of influence after a recent gig at Avenue 209.
"We've gathered and played sporadically at the Grower's Market," Banas said. "We did a set at the Grey Art Gallery for their latest show as well. We're excited our shows are so well received. On December, First Friday we're playing at Site B in the Pajama Factory and the Pigs Ear Pub in Loyalsock the following night as part of the WXPI Music Series Fundraiser."
Ten Cent Days will perform at Site: B in the Pajama Factory, 1307 Park Ave., on First Friday and with Waiting On A Train at 10 p.m. Dec. 3 at Pigs Ear Pub, 939 Westminster Drive, Loyalsock Township.
For more information about Ten Cent Days, visit the group's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/tencentdays.