The heart of J. Peter Trafford’s music is driven by pop song structures, even when he’s jumping through quick dynamic changes and adding odd synthesizer sounds seemingly at will. In person, Trafford and his band Suavity’s Mouthpiece have heard several well-intentioned comparisons to eclectic artists, some which are unfamiliar to Trafford. “It’s interesting when people come up to me and do that. I always think, maybe I should give them a try. Hopefully it won’t sound too much like what I’m already doing,” he says.
SUAVITY’S MOUTHPIECE REUNION SHOW
With Dinosoul, Jess Klein
7 p.m. Saturday, August 11
Hambone’s, 4207 Butler Street, Lawrenceville. 412-681-4318
With songs that often seem to change shape with each verse, Suavity’s Mouthpiece can evoke the arty pop of Dirty Projectors. Trafford was once told he sounded like Scott Walker, who began singing blue-eyed soul in the ’60s and has gone on to become an eccentric troubadour who incorporates cabaret and has collaborated with the heavy band Sunn 0))). Having heard those names, I decide throw another at Trafford: Van Dyke Parks, the Carnegie Tech alum who has done extensive studio work, collaborated with Beach Boy Brian Wilson and released albums like the densely-packed Song Cycle. “Oh, of course! I’m a big fan,” he says. The connection seems to be more than just a musical influence to in Trafford. Later in the conversation, he adds, “You’ve got to be open to listening to mistakes people have made as well as their triumphs. Van Dyke Parks said on Song Cycle he made every mistake that he could on one record. So that’s incentive.” At the same time, the connection barely scratches the surface of Trafford’s intriguing music.
For a band that flies below the local music radar, Suavity’s Mouthpiece has been fairly prolific since Trafford started performing under that name ten years ago, first at community events in the North Hills and later at gallery spaces along Penn Avenue in Garfield. He and bassist Meredith Bigatel were still in high school when they joined forces. An early lineup featured another keyboardist and drum machine. Although their three full-length albums were played entirely by Trafford, the live performances eventually came include Bigatel’s brother Nick (guitar) and Brian Zalewski (drums). “We all have very, very different, eclectic tastes, as far as what we like to listen to and what we like to play,” Meredith Bigatel says. “It makes for a weird kind of blur whenever we get together.”
Trafford is probably one of the few indie musicians who writes specific parts for his band members, but the approach makes sense in terms of the song structures. The live performances move into more of a straightforward rock direction, but the music maintains the essence of the recordings. In one song, guitarist Bigatel has the challenging task of replicating parts originally handled by a viola and a flute. “It’s actually very similar melodies and countermelodies that you hear [on disc], just on different instruments,” Trafford says.
This week’s show is billed as a reunion, though Trafford and Bigatel says that Suavity’s Mouthpiece never disbanded. Outside obligations have made performances sporadic in recent years. Trafford has been involved in film production, recently working with filmmaker Chris Mason on Improvising the Divine: The Music of Tom Moran. Nick Bigatel plays in the band Smokey Bellows, who release their own CD August 17 at the Funhouse at Mr. Smalls.
While the band is willing to discuss influences, the band name is another story. “We wanted to call it the Clash but that was taken,” Bigatel deadpans.
“We’ve never answered that question,” Trafford says.
“Not seriously,” she adds.
“So that’s what you get,” Trafford concludes.