When Outer Minds first started playing shows in late 2009 they sounded pretty much how you’d expect a new garage band to sound, meaning they’d be perfectly capable of holding down a first-of-three slot at the Bottle or the Hideout—but they weren’t something to get terribly excited about. Then they applied themselves. Earlier this year—after a transitional period of lineup tweaks and writing enough new material to cycle out their first batch of songs—I started to hear people at their shows asking if the band had always been this good or what.
“We fell off the cliff onto the trampoline,” bassist Aaron “A-Ron” Orlowski offers as explanation, a characteristically cryptic pronouncement that should be familiar to habitues of the local garage scene, where Orlowski’s considered a veteran workman musician. In fact so are almost all of Outer Minds’ members: Orlowski was in the Baseball Furies, singer/guitarist Zach Medearis was in Black Beauties, singer/organist Mary McKane is in the Runnies, all three of them have spent time in Lover!, and Brian Costello (a frequent contributor to the Reader) was in the Functional Blackouts. (Singer/tambourinist Gina Lira’s girl-group-revivalist Deccas stood a little to the side of this particular scene.)
The more prosaic answer is that they’ve all gotten used to playing together. The massively catchy single they released earlier this year (“Gimme a Reason” b/w “Bohemian Grove” on Swedish label Push My Buttons and OM’s Bandcamp) sounds as if the Mamas & the Papas flipped out at their peak and reinvented themselves as a as a hopped-up biker-bar band, or if the Turtles were 21st-century hipsters instead of 60s choir geeks. Medearis, McKane, and Lira can sing to the verge of a scream and still stay on key, and their stacked harmonies can hit just as hard as their frenetic instrumental foundation.
Personnel changes took the group from Sang des Loup’s original rock-heavy double-guitar lineup to Outer Minds’ more pop-oriented configuration and, Medearis says, “it’s opened up a lot more worlds, having people who can sing with me and do some harmonies. It opened up a different world of songwriting when you have people who can actually do it, you know?”
“The new batch of songs was written with everyone’s styles in mind,” says Costello—and the results have been impressive. All of the group’s members are ferociously talented, and part of this recent leap in quality stems from a concerted effort to apply those talents in a more serious way than in past projects. “I’ve played drums for a long time,” says Costello, “and this is the first band where I’ve really had to sit there and think, why am I doing this? What are the reasons? Why do we do what we do with each moment in the song?”
Despite Medearis’s insistence at the outset that Outer Minds would be a singles-only band, they actually have two full-length albums in the works. One, which they’ve finished recording, is set to be released in the next couple of months on Oakland-based Southpaw Records. Philly’s FDH label has plans to put out the second, which is still in the works. “We’re kind of going to this weird realm,” says Medearis, “where we’re making these songs that are building in an almost Alice Cooper kind of way. They’re getting epic.”
Just as he finishes saying this Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” comes on the stereo at the restaurant where we’re talking. Everyone laughs, but you get the feeling that one or two of the Outer Minds see it as some kind of sign.