Pete Gargano likes to invite his brother-in-law to come over to his house and jam with him while he plays keyboard and sings. Gargano co-owns Bellini's restaurant on East Washington Avenue. His house is right behind the restaurant. Gargano's brother-in-law isn't any old Madison drummer.
He's Brian Nolan, who drums for the national alt-rock band American Hi-Fi. Nolan has quietly been living in Madison for the past five years. He moved here when he married Gargano's sister, whom he met while he was living in Los Angeles.
Now Gargano and Nolan are taking their jam sessions to the next level. They've formed a rock band called Sun Dried Truth. They recorded their debut CD in California and are set to release it this summer. They played their first gig together two weeks ago at the Frequency.
"We've been rocking out at my house downtown for about four years," said Gargano. "It's been a total casual thing."
"I have a feeling it's not going to stay that way," added Nolan. "My attitude is, once we've recorded tracks, I want people to hear us."
Sun Dried Truth is getting help from another member of American Hi-Fi, bassist Drew Parsons. Parsons lives in Boston, but he's joined the band's songwriting process. "He adds bass lines to what we write, and he sends them to us," said Nolan. Local bassist Kyle Kjensrud stood in for Parsons when Sun Dried Truth played at the Frequency. Rounding out the lineup is guitarist Kenny Brown, who previously played with Gargano in the Madison band Zeus Fuse.
In an interview at Michelangelo's coffeehouse on State Street last Saturday, Gargano and Nolan said the working title of the debut CD is Last Call. "We have a bar at our disposal when we get together to jam," said Nolan. "So the CD title fits our alcohol-fueled songwriting. These are party songs written at one in the morning. It's been pretty effortless, and the vibe of the music reflects that."
The band has already posted tracks from the forthcoming CD to its MySpace page. The tracks shift between melodic pop/rock and harder-edged alternative. The tune with the most obvious hit potential is "Underdog." It's a tightly crafted, mid-tempo melodic rock song. The inviting, sing-along chorus provides an irresistible hook.
But Sun Dried Truth turns up the amps on "My America." The electric guitars are thick and heavy with fuzz. The vocals grow distorted.
Parsons joined the band for the California recording sessions, which took place at a studio called Sonoma Mountain Estates. "The studio was everything its name implies," said Nolan. "The only reason we got to go there was that a friend's dad owns it."
For Nolan, Sun Dried Truth presents a new opportunity to be at the forefront of promoting a musical project.
"I've never been in that role before," said Nolan. "[American Hi-Fi vocalist Stacy Jones] was born to do that kind of thing, so I never paid attention to it in Hi-Fi."
Sun Dried Truth and American Hi-Fi will compete for Nolan and Parsons' attention for the remainder of 2009. American Hi-Fi is scheduled to release an album later this year. Nolan said support for that album may include touring overseas.
Meanwhile, Bellini's will compete for Gargano's attention. Pete is a member of the iconic Madison restaurant family that owns Gino's and Peppino's, among others. "We have a lot going on in our lives," says Gargano. "We want to have fun with the band and try not to take it too seriously."