Virginia Coalition is a band that has made its reputation with the blazing energy of its live shows and ability to play almost any style of music. Home This Year sees the band moving in a new direction. They‟ve blended their diverse influences into a sound all their own with a maturity and attention to detail that shines on every track.
The band‟s core members - Andy Poliakoff, lead vocals, guitar; Paul Ottinger, keyboards, percussion, guitar, vocals and Jarrett Nicolay, bass, guitar, banjo, vocals – have always delighted fans with their ability to confound expectations. On previous albums, their songs often featured arrangements that veered off in unanticipated directions moving from funk to rock, from go go to soul. “It‟s good being eclectic,” says Poliakoff, the band‟s main lyricist and frequent spokesperson. “It keeps you on your toes musically, and it‟s fun, but we wanted to get back to some serious songwriting. In the past few years, we were writing for the live shows, endless groove things that are far from what we wrote when we were starting out. We wanted to get back to that original creative impulse and focus on our songwriting.”
The band ventured cross country to California and got to work, challenging themselves to find a more emotionally intense means of expression. “There‟s a value to the time you put into a project,” Poliakoff explains. “We didn‟t allow ourselves to be satisfied with the first, or even third version of a song. We‟re getting older, and we wanted more than bombast. We wanted to look outside ourselves and find something more reflective, more truthful, more universal, to open a new chapter in the band‟s songwriting history.” For the first time, they collaborated with other songwriters, including Brooklyn folk-rocker Ari Hest, New Orleans-based bluesman Anders Osborne, Maia Sharp who wrote “A Home” for the Dixie Chicks, and the album‟s Producer, Marshall Altman (Marc Broussard, Matt Nathanson).
“Marshall is a phenomenal musician,” Poliakoff says. “His ability to tweak the arrangements and get us deeper into the music and our emotions was outstanding. He was there the whole time, pushing us to do better.” Ottinger adds his praise: “He‟s a strong songwriter and arranger. Every time you‟d pick up a guitar and sing, he‟d get down to every hook, every chord, every lyric. „Is that a strong emotion?‟ „Is that what you really want to say?‟ He helped us blend all our influences into a voice that‟s new, but still reflects our past.”
The songs on Home This Year showcase the band‟s remarkable growth as both musicians and songwriters. The title track is a tale of the loneliness and yearning that haunts the road. “Being on the road away from your family and friends for a long period can be tangibly painful," sites Poliakoff, "'Home This Year' embodies that sentiment and how singing about it can help make you feel closer to home." “Sing Along,” written with Altman, is an uplifting, anthemic song, on which Poliakoff delivers one of his most soulful vocals, both tender and passionate. It is also the first tune they‟ve ever cut with a string section. “It was written with a conscious desire to connect with the audience,” Poliakoff explains. “We play music, but we‟re not different from our audience. We don‟t want people to idolize us, we want to get people to have a sense of togetherness.”
“Not Scared,” penned with Hest, is the most political track on the album, although its message of love across racial lines is subtle and nuanced. “The song had to remain small and honest for the story to be conveyed sincerely,” says Nicolay. “So we used small scale acoustic guitars from the 1960's and kept the focus on the words and melody.”
“Santa Fe,” the first song the band wrote together for the album, is a rootsy song with a pop sensibility, full of chiming guitars (with guest Eric Robinson), tasteful mandolin (supplied by Dave Immergluck of Counting Crows), country flavored piano, banjo played in an unorthodox, non-bluegrass style and a driving beat (provided by Aaron Sterling) that brings it all together. “It‟s a reminder that every moment is fleeting,” says Poliakoff. “Just when you‟ve got something figured out, it seems to slip away.”
Long-time Virginia Coalition fans may be surprised by the group‟s evolution from „spontaneous anything goes‟ band to introspective, soul-searching songwriters, but it‟s a change the band welcomes. “We‟ve known each other for 15 years now, and while the music is still getting better, we don‟t want to keep writing the same song over and over,” Poliakoff states firmly. “I‟m proud to be part of a group of three friends who have gone from the basement and garage to maturity and making music that speaks from the heart. It‟s a struggle to make a great album, but we welcomed the opportunity to reinvent ourselves while staying true to the core of what we do.”
Virginia Coalition started building a buzz in their hometown of Alexandria, Virginia in the late „90s, releasing their first album, The Colors of the Sound, in 1998. But the three principals are life long friends who have known each other since high school, and in the case of Ottinger and Nicolay, since junior high. Ottinger wanted to be in a band since he was five years old, when his mother let him paint his face like Paul Stanley of Kiss and play air guitar with a tennis racket. Poliakoff had a guitar-playing cousin, who inspired him in the 4th grade. When he was 14, his mother was struck with cancer and eventually died; music and singing provided him with an emotional release. Nicolay‟s father played classical guitar. Although he was intimidated, he‟d sneak away from the family and pick out melodies on his own.
By 2003 the band had three independent albums in their pocket and maintained an intense touring schedule, selling some 60,000 albums, mostly from the edge of the stage. bluhammock music inked the band and released OK to Go in 2004, as they moved from regional to national tours. Last year‟s Live at The 9:30 Club finally captured the band‟s live intensity and set in motion the musical soul searching that produced Home This Year.
Taking the music back to their songwriting roots on Home This Year has imbued the trio with a new sense of purpose. The gigs they‟ve been doing to prepare for the album release have been drawing raves, leaving fans awed with their emotional and musical intensity. With this new album in hand, the band is ready to write the next chapter in the history of Virginia Coalition.