Chris Robinson finally had the lineup of his band Caterpillars he always wanted. After years of lineup changes, the Dallas vocalist and guitarist had recorded an album called The Other Side with drummer Stephen O'Sicky, guitarist Drew Black and bassist Ben Love. They had some great opportunities in front of them, including some shows and press coverage. But then it all fell apart, just as everything seemed to be working out.
Against all odds, the lineup got back together in the last year, and they are prepping to release their second outing, The Wicked and Wonderful, in October. It's 11 songs of tuneful math pop, with nods to Minus the Bear and the Get Up Kids. It's a step up for this band, and it would not be as strong if it weren't for the performers on the record. Getting to this point took time, but it was certainly worth the wait.
O'Sicky was the first to drop out before the release of The Other Side. With the demands of his day job limiting his availability to play out as much with the band, he stepped aside. "This band was getting too serious at the time, and I was worried I would mess things up," O'Sicky says. "So that's why I had to pick work over this."
There was no conflict of interest or musical direction with O'Sicky's decision to leave. "I didn't want to quit the band," O'Sicky says. "I always wanted to play with Chris." He was replaced by Carson Brooks and later Guyton Sanders.
Robinson kept writing songs and wanted to record the best material for a new album, and he had the funds to record with them with a producer. But then Love's job as a software developer required him to live in Sydney, Australia, for six months. Without Love or O'Sicky, it didn't feel like the right thing to do.
"I didn't know what the hell I was going to do," Robinson says. "I was just writing acoustic songs, and I was focusing on production in my room." He considered releasing the material as a solo project, but he held onto the possibility that this would be another Caterpillars record.
Robinson was still in touch with Black and O'Sicky. O'Sicky joined a bluesy rock band called the Confounded, but Black didn't hop into a new band when Caterpillars went on hold. "I was just Mr. Domestic," Black says. "I have a wonderful fiancee who makes a lot more money than I do. I was writing songs at home and cleaning house and holding down a 9 to 5 as well."
Love was always an email away. "The entire time I was down there, Chris and I were talking a lot," Love says. "He was sending me stuff, and I would listen to it. I was really ready to be back."
Left to their own devices, Black and Robinson made a musical detour that didn't exactly work out. "Chris and I did a brief stint in a country band just to mix things up," Black says. With Carson Brooks on drums, the country gig did not take hold. "Drew lasted one show and was like, 'Fuck this!,'" Robinson says.
At last, Love moved back and, come the summer of 2015, the band had a new lease on life. They started working on the songs and made plans to record in Cleveland.
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Over the course of two jaunts up north early in 2016, the band rented a house in the suburbs and went into town every day to record. They worked with Jim Wirt, who had produced records for Incubus, Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin, and the band was happy with how it went. "Amazing," O'Sicky says. "Best experience of my life."
"Jim was just so laid back," Robinson says. "He didn't ask us to change song structures at all. He liked the songs how they were." But the band didn't record glorified demos. "He was really big on changing the way we were playing the songs," Black says of Wirt's approach. Songs like "Kenopsia" and "Vanish" rank as some of the best songs the band has recorded. And being in a different state certainly helped the band focus on making the best possible record. "It was a great break from working life," Love says.
Still, the members of Caterpillars hope it won't take so long to get record No. 3 done. "We're going to take another three years," Robinson dryly quips. "We'll see you in three years."
CATERPILLARS plays Three Links on Saturday, September 17. The Wicked and Wonderful comes out on October 7.