Geno Stroia II - vocals, guitar
Jorge Castillo - vocals, guitar
Jackie Hibbard - vocals, guitar
Stefano Intelisano - keyboards
Travis Woodard - drums
Harmoni Kelley - bass
"We wanted to make a record that was honest, soulful and sincere," says the Gene Pool's Geno Stroia II of the band's first full-length CD. "We didn't want to make a 'perfect' record.'"
We could say "mission accomplished" and stop there, but then we wouldn't have a chance to enthuse about the music itself, a style the band loosely defines as Texas roots rock. Now don't let that term unduly stereotype your thinking. We're not talking Texas roots rock as in honky-tonks or Hank Williams homages. You're more likely to pick up elements of gospel, blues, soul and jazz infusing the work of songwriters Stroia, Jackie Hibbard and Jorge Castillo, all of whom also sing and play guitar, and Stroia says, "I hear a little bit of everyone in what we do - some Dylan, Beatles, Stones, the Band, Van Morrison, Tom Waits ...
"There's lots of integrity in those guys, so it helps to have good taste."
Integrity. Taste. Honesty. Sincerity. If one needs to put a finer point on "roots rock" (with or without the "Texas" aspect), those are some good words to use. Some good qualities to strive for.
Alliance, Ohio, native Stroia seems like the kind of guy who guides his life by those principles. The way he structured the Gene Pool is a good indicator. He believed a band could be built around three equally strong songwriter/performers, and when he formed this one in March 2002, he sought out musical peers who could share the stage, not just support him. In fact, when asked about the name, he admits he'd be embarrassed to use something like the Geno Stroia Band. The Gene Pool was the suggestion of a friend.
"She said, 'If you ever start a band, you should call it the Gene Pool, because it'd be like you and all your friends playing.' And I said, 'You know, that's a great idea.' The name seems to fit," he adds, "and people remember it really easily."
Just as he didn't want the band to carry his name, he didn't want to be its main attraction.
"I wanted to put a project together that allowed me to start singing and performing my songs, where I was the front guy but not really the front guy," Stroia says with a laugh. "So I called Jackie and Jorge. They were musical friends and we had played in bands together."
Stroia, a veteran of the Groove Junkies, the Jay Thomas Band and Parade, asked them if they were interested in working out some songs they couldn't perform with their other bands.
"We thought it would be just a little project, doing one-off gigs here and there. But it turned out to be a lot more," he says. The current lineup - with Stefano Intelisano on keyboards, Travis Woodard on drums and Harmoni Kelley on bass - became permanent in 2004.
"From all the live shows, I think we've gained a lot of knowledge and restraint. And going in to make a record forces you to really think about what you're playing," Stroia says. "We tried to make a really sparse record with that in mind. There's not a lot of misspent notes."
Steven Collins was hired to produce because, Stroia says, "We knew he'd draw performances out of us. He didn't allow a lot of takes - some songs are first takes. He'd look at us and say, 'Yep, we got it.'"
They recorded the album's 12 tracks at Stevens' studio, the Troubadour, a restored and converted town meeting hall in MacGregor, Texas. Because the place had such a wonderful, time-transcending vibe - "You feel like you can make a great record in there the minute you walk in," Stroia says - the band named the album after its location at the corner of Third and Main.
Standout tracks include the soulful, bluesy "Goodbye," the pensive and pretty "Cry Blue" and the sinewy "Escape 504" and the gospel rave-up finale, "Sinners and Saints."
Stroia calls "Goodbye," another gospel cut, a special tune - particularly for Hibbard, its composer, who wrote it about his brother-in-law after he was killed in a car accident.
Of "Cry Blue," written by Castillo, Stroia says, "It's one of the finest songs I've ever been part of."
"If somebody said, 'Hey, Bob Dylan wants to listen to only one song from you guys,' that's the song I'd give him," Stroia says, adding, "I think it not only captures who we are right now, but who we could be in the future."
Stroia wrote the jazz-inflected "Escape 504," which might not be out of place on an Iguanas album. He and Hibbard co-wrote "Hangin' On," which he says he's proud of because it's one of the first songs he brought to the band. Usually, he says, whoever writes the tune sings it, but he knew from the beginning that one was meant for Castillo's voice.
When it comes to writing, Stroia, who also teaches guitar, says, "I have one rule, and the rule is, there's no rules. I take 'em however I can get 'em. I just try to be an open channel. ... I love words, and I take them very seriously; they're very expensive to me."
The Gene Pool's previous release, a self-titled EP, received critical acclaim and airplay on several Austin radio stations, and its single, "American Steel," broke onto the Americana chart in Europe. The band has shared bills with some of Austin's and Texas' favorites, including Los Lonely Boys, Bob Schneider, Stephen Bruton, W.C. Clark, Jon Dee Graham and Guy Forsythe, as well as the Allman Brothers, Rod Stewart and other national acts. They've played regularly at Antone's and held a long residency at the Saxon Pub - two of Austin's finest music venues.
With "3rd and Main," they're looking forward to crossing new intersections - throughout Texas and beyond.
Check out the artist's website:
2. Too Far Gone
3. Hangin' On
4. Drifter's Lament
5. Escape 504
8. She's Not Coming Home with Me
9. Blind Side
10. Blood and Bone
11. Cry Blue
12. Sinners and Saints