"I'm confused," says Tranquilatwist's programmer and bassist, Anthony Lanni. "What is a goth band in the year 2009?" On the surface it could easily be a band like Tranquilatwist. But despite dipping its toes in dark waters, this Rochester group's use of atmosphere, space, and mood mirrors dreams more than nightmares. It's buoyant; there is more floating than drowning going on here.
Tranquilatwist - featuring core members Anthony Lanni, Karlie Cary Lanni, and David Michael - is a beautiful blend of programmed electronics and live instruments. At its apex is singer Karlie, a candy-haired cutie in a corset with pipes that soar, placate, and agitate. It is her minor-keyed, multi-octave sojourns atop the band's audible paint that may attract those from the darkness to its melancholy bliss.
"Our songs are kind of dark, but they all have a vibrant uplifting thing about them," Karlie says. "We're not really goth. Obviously we're influenced by it. I mean, I used to listen to The Cure and Siouxsie Sioux."
Tranquilatwist has been a long time coming. Now married, both Lannis started the journey in different bands; Anthony in Nexus 6, Karlie in Psychic Attack. When Karlie graduated from RIT in 2001 she split for Seattle. Coincidentally, so did Anthony, specifically to work with German producer Daniel Myer (Haujabb). Both wound up in different bands in Seattle.
"We were having fun out there," says Anthony. "But it was just falling flat. It was right after the dotcom crash and 9/11."
The pair kicked around the Pacific Northwest for two years before returning to Rochester in 2003. But it wasn't until 2005 that they got under the hood to wrench on Tranquilatwist for real.
Tranquilatwist was borne out of frustrations with past musical experiences. "We had several different projects throughout the years - not together, but separately, and had done the whole 'I'm- quitting-music-forever' thing and the 'I'm-selling-my-gear' routine," Anthony says.
They got back into the tranquil twist of things slowly.
"We had two baby-step shows," Karlie says. "But then we'd lose momentum, drop the ball, something would interfere, and we wouldn't do it for another year."
"In four years we got two years' worth of work done," says Anthony. He blames the slow progress on a shift in the band's focus, or maybe a renewed focus in its shift.
"We wanted to get away from what we were doing before," he says. "The synth-pop/industrial sound. But still keep our roots to that as a starting point - not to [entirely] model ourselves after...bands like Portishead or Massive Attack. We were like 'Let's do some groovy down-tempo-type thing.'"
That's precisely what happened last month when the band wowed the crowd at WaterStreetMusic Hall as headliners for the Devil's Night Masquerade. Tranquilatwist pulled material from its first eight-song, Bernard Matthews-produced platter of pleasure "Down About The Ceiling," a swirling sonic wash of romantic meanderings in somewhat haunting keys. Karlie's nervousness shifted to sheer thrill when he saw the crowd singing along. Not surprising; these tunes have claws.
The band was big, dreamy, lush, and languid. All but Karlie were dressed entirely in black. However, they could have been decked out in deer hunter day-glo orange and Mardi Gras beads and nobody would've noticed them, as all eyes were lamped and locked on Karlie - not just for the deep-dish pulchritude beneath a pillbox hat, but because of her voice and presence, which came together to trump her butterflies.
"That last show, I thought I was going to throw up," she says.
Those butterflies still threaten to flutter despite Karlie's talent. The lady still treads timidly despite the confidence she exudes. Being shot down in flames early on didn't help. But she always wanted to sing.
"In 10th grade I finally got the courage to try out for choir," she says. "And the teacher kicked me out. I remember crying and crying, 'I'm never going to sing again.' It was with the jazz band at FairportHigh School, and they were really good and they were kids who had been playing since they were probably 2."
Though she's grown into her voice, there's still a shy yet endearing vulnerability that comes across in the music. Karlie has trouble listening to recordings of her voice, and though she's a photographer, she's not particularly fond of having her picture taken. Her nerves were not apparent at the last Water Street show, though she promises they were still there. She didn't relax until the roar of the crowd marked the end of Tranquilatwist's set.
"I got done," she says, "and was like, 'Holy shit, this is so fun.'"
Tranquilatwist Plays as part of "Girls! Girls! Girls!" w/Hotel Reverie, The Cheetah Whores, Sara Purr, and Pauline Coles Thursday, December 17 Dub Land Underground, 315 Alexander St. 10 p.m. | $3 | 232-7550, tranquilatwist.com