Despite the fact that Svenny Baby! frontman/keyboardist Victor Toruno describes his band as an “edgier ELO,” the quartet doesn’t seem to adhere to a lot of rock band stereotypes. For one thing, they’re decidedly groovier, eschewing power-chord crunch for jazzier arrangements and four-on-the-floor dance-music pulse. For another, their new album is more or less like a session with a therapist.
“We took the least rock ’n’ roll roll concept and made songs about it,” said bassist Jonathan Holder.
Called Voyager, the 14-song record encourages listeners to explore their own hang-ups per the example set by Toruno’s lyrics, which cover a wide gamut of insecurities and second-guesses. And if Svenny Baby!’s songs don’t drive home the point of personal introspection, three of the album’s tracks are skits portraying fictitious conversations between patients and counselors, each one shading the song that follows in thematic clues.
That might seem a little pedantic –– and in truth, two of Svenny Baby!’s four members are teachers – but if you’ve ever felt like an imposter or been an astronaut trying to make sense of your life and personality before you’re shot into orbit, the skits and music are actually … comforting.
“The album’s called Voyager because it’s about the voyage inward,” Toruno said. “I feel like in our 20s, we’re still discovering who we are.”
Svenny Baby!’s members –– Toruno, Holder, Dustin Johnson on vocals and guitar, and drummer Felipe Rosales –– are indeed in their 20s, and as a band, they are probably still discovering who they are, though over two full-lengths and an EP, they seem to have a clearer idea. Voyager sounds like early-aughts Incubus remixed with Daft Punk’s Discovery in mind, but the band’s origins are sort of scattershot. Toruno said he and Johnson started playing together as teens in Alvarado and brought the band concept with them when they both enrolled at UTA, though Toruno admits the band’s early iteration was “a mess.”
It started, Holder said, “as a coffee shop kind of thing. The first time I saw them, we were all in school at UTA, and they were playing at Pirate Coffee in Mansfield. They had a saxophone player then.”
But Toruno and Johnson started to take their band more seriously, recruiting Rosales on drums.
“He brought this level of expectations of how we should be doing things,” Toruno said. “And then our bass player had to move to San Antonio. We knew this other bass player who was ridiculously good, so we called him, and he said no, so we got Jonathan.”
Sitting at a table at a local bar, the band (minus Johnson, who was on vacation to the Grand Canyon) all laughed about that, because Holder is by no means a barely serviceable replacement. Like the other three members, he studied music at UTA. After he became a core member in 2015, Svenny Baby! headed down to Georgetown to record their first album at Blackroom Studios with engineer Luke Garrigus. That album took three days to complete. Voyager’s gestation was considerably longer.
“This record was two sessions over two years,” Holder said.
Toruno wanted to do something different, and he arranged for Britt Robisheaux to record a mini-orchestra to complement some of the new songs, tracking their additions at Robisheaux’s Cloudland Recording Studios on the Near Southside, as well as recording some other parts with Mean Motor Scooter’s Joe Tacke at his One Horn Studio. Even without the orchestral flourishes, Svenny Baby! has its own sound –– the closest local analog is probably Vodeo. But Toruno also wanted to give their ever-increasing audience a different live show experience, so he booked their album release at a spot in Arlington that doesn’t even have a name.
“I also do a podcast called Arlington Distorted, and we basically cover what’s going on in the Arlington music scene,” Toruno said. “Through that, I met this guy named Jack Watkins, and I found that he had a venue that nobody used. It’s this place by The Tipsy Oak [gastropub]. It’s a sketchy looking place. I love it.”
“People asked what it was called, and I’m like, ‘Uh, here’s the address,’ ” Holder said.
For the record, the nameless venue is at 215 East Front St. in Arlington, and the show will feature the mini-orchestra and another Arlington-based band called Lovely. Holding your album release at a spot nobody really knows about might sound a little counter-productive to drawing a good crowd, but that seems to be typical for Svenny Baby!
“Everybody has a different route, and that’s a beautiful thing,” Toruno said.
8pm Sat w/Lovely at 215 E Front St, Arl. $5.