For a few years now, the Pauses, and especially the trio’s frontwoman, Tierney Tough, have been the band next door – the reliably affable group whose songs you know by heart but which you’d be hard pressed to identify by title or even context. Pick any memorable night on Mills or Orange avenues, or any indie fest or holiday jam or charity show, and chances are pretty good that Tough is camped out in the corner of your memory with a smile and a bass guitar slung over her shoulder. She’s the vocalist and bassist of the Pauses, mainly, but also an erstwhile drummer for Great Deceivers, ad hoc event coordinator for Will’s Pub, Orange You Glad Fest organizer and, as a recent anonymous Craigslist “Missed Connections” listing described her, a “really cute” Park Ave CDs employee. Tough, a self-described control freak (though she quickly begs off the label), might – for a brief moment – take some satisfaction in her real estate in the Orlando music scene’s collective subconscious. But she can be forgiven for wincing at the same time.
“I’m very emotional,” admits Tough, the Pauses’ main songwriter. “I try to let other things into my world, and because I’m so independent, I either get hurt or I hurt myself somehow.” She chuckles at the suggestion that she’s a champion of the local music scene, but it’s more out of deference than false modesty. She’s well aware of how much of herself she puts out there. “I like to do things for other people and to see things succeed. I’m a giver. I give too much, maybe. [Getting hurt] comes with it. It just happens.”
“But that’s great for the band,” jokes Pauses guitarist-keyboardist Jason Kupfer. “The more that somebody’s in pain and hurting, the better.”
In truth, Tough is still smarting from last year’s rained-out 4th Fest debacle and the backlash beating she took for stepping up with an ill-advised, improvised contingency plan. She’s immeasurably resilient, showing up for subsequent music events as if every new night brings a new beginning. She’s also a people pleaser, with all the disappointment that comes with it – just like the girl next door.
But being the band next door does nothing for its sense of mystery, or to some extent its legitimacy.
“We’ve had a lot of difficulty in the past, with people not taking us seriously,” Kupfer says. “We haven’t played in four months, intentionally. We want to play the CD release show and not have people be like, ‘Oh, that fucking band again.’”
Despite their familiarity, hearing live favorites like the shaggy love letter “The Migration” on A Cautionary Tale, the Pauses’ immaculately produced, intricately auditory debut album, released this week, is to see an old friend with new, amorous eyes. In contrast to the band’s casual immediacy, Cautionary Tale presents a deeper vision; Tough’s voice suddenly comes across as a haunting specter, aided by Kupfer’s coy, Jon Brion-esque synth-work and drummer Nathan Chase’s meticulous, mood-enhancing backbeat. It’s a proudly headphone-friendly affair with subtle digital tics stretching across channels, popping and swirling schizophrenically all around the group. The mid-album stretch encompassing tracks “Pull the Pin,” “The Leap Year” and “Hands Up” is a transportive one, at turns playful and destructive.
The album concludes with “Goodbye, Winthrope,” a five-minute-long cool-down instrumental that cuts out at its frantic apex just in time for a surprise – a hidden denouement duet featuring Tough and Deleted Scenes’ Dan Scheuerman covering “Tonight You Belong to Me,” a song immortalized by Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in The Jerk. It’s a lovely conclusion that happens to feature a whistling interlude by legendary Government Issue bassist J. Robbins who, by some miracle (and chipping-in from the Pauses’ supporters) also produced A Cautionary Tale.
“I practiced until my fingers were bleeding. I did not want to go into the studio and flub a guitar line in front of J. Robbins,” Kupfer says with atypical intensity. Kupfer is a Robbins fanatic and bears the wide-eyed look of a devotee suddenly enlisted as a partner. Having Robbins, who has produced albums for the Dismemberment Plan, Clutch and Murder By Death, take on a project like the Pauses – whose sound is so different from Robbins’ previous endeavors and who came to Robbins’ Baltimore studio with only eight, not quite fleshed-out songs to record – is either Kupfer’s dream come true or his cruelest self-delusion.
“I still feel like, even now, he’ll contact me and be like, ‘Get my name off this [album]!’” he says.
“He’s just very easy to get along with, has perfect pitch and an ear for everything,” Tough says. “He’s the ultimate person to work with.”
Despite Robbins’ heavier resume, they say he was the first name on the Pauses’ producer wish list. They sent him some songs and, unbelievably, he agreed to take them on for a very reasonable price. But even reasonable was a little too steep for a debut effort from a regional band whose members all have day jobs, so they took to www.kickstarter.com, a kind of PayPal for fledgling artists. They asked their fans for $1,000 and gave themselves 30 days to raise it. They surpassed their goal within two days, eventually doubling it in the allotted time. The scene had spoken.
Now, with a terrific debut in their hands and new friends in high places, the Pauses set out to explore the unknown: becoming known. To that end, they’ve teamed up with Tampa-based New Granada PR, which shepherded Orlando-connected acts like New Roman Times and Zillionaire to the national indie spotlight. Still, ever the friendly neighborhood trio, they bristle at the idea that their passion might become a career.
Tough adds: “We want to see a quality product and we want to see it promoted, but it’s something we enjoy doing.”
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