All things considered, Melissa Marth looks collected. She’s sitting at a sparkle-coated Rhodes adding the final touches to Black Camaro’s unreasonably tardy sixth album, Black Camaricans. Through her headphones, the impassioned saxophone riffs of her late brother, Tommy, float over the mix of “Phantom of the Moon.” Her face doesn’t change. A surprise, compared to a week ago. “The first time I heard it I was a mess,” Melissa says from the control room of Brian Garth’s Chrome Werewolf studio, where later, her older brother Ryan would record as well. “I’m not even focused on Tommy’s part. I just tried to focus on what I had to play. It’s hard. It’s really hard.”
Sitting with Garth and fellow Camaro Tom Miller, we’re figuring out how to keep the celebration of Black Camaricans the focus of our conversation. After all, this is a big deal. The guys have been talking about Black Camaricans (also the nickname for their fan base) for three years. It’s a timeline, dotted with multiple roster changes, hiatuses, recording space uprootings, and what could be described as piles and piles of weed. At the rate it was moving, there was no indication Black Camaricans would ever be more than gigabytes on Garth’s hard drive as far as Miller was concerned. But staring down the barrel of a four-day deadline, for better or worse, it’s going to come out. “To me, this is a gift to whoever’s been listening to us for this long,” Garth says. “In my mind, my goal was to completely please our fan base with it.”
And it will. Listening to the to-be-mastered track list sliding through Garth’s speakers, this could be Camaro’s magnum opus. The slow, drippy lyrics of “Umbra Penumbra” keep alive the legacy of 2003’s White People Fucked Up the Blues. “Buffalo Road” sounds like it would play in a Wes Anderson remake of most pre-Stardust Memories Woody Allen flicks. At its core, Black Camaricans is catchy indie rock with real legs. Which is why, even years after some of the songs were written, the album still works as a cohesive package. “A lot of the songs were coming out of the summer or winter or fall … they were coming from all over,” Miller says, staring at sound waves depicted on the computer screen. “That’s what we were worried about. But they fit together, even after three to four years of hiatus after hiatus.”
Even through track after track of a promising future, it’s hard not to shift focus from celebration to memorializing. After all, it’s haunting. We’re all sitting in a room, listening to the pitch-dropped scales of a dead man, recorded six months and a few feet from where his sister now finishes what he helped start. For Melissa, it’s a dream come true, painful or not. For the band, it’s eggshell territory, figuring out how to honor without exploiting. “I just want them to jam with their bro,” Garth says, racing around the studio before Melissa arrived. “We [originally] had this as a song that Tommy dominates with saxophone. But now it’s not about that. It’s about that it could be the last thing he [recorded]. And I have it, and I have the ability to do this. And I have the Marths as friends to come in and do it.”
But more than the further immortalization of a local music hero, Black Camaricans is a launch pad. A kickstart. Eleven songs of varying ages that mean the band’s back in a concrete capacity, with their eyes on shows and possible tour dates, perpetually writing and expanding — albeit slower than their name suggests. After the album release show, their drummer moves to Japan, again forcing them to make lineup changes. But if the recording process of Black Camaricans is any indication, they were doomed to repeat history anyway.
Black Camaro CD release party with World Record: Thursday, July 5, 9 p.m.; The Royal House, 99 Convention Center Drive, 735-6117, free