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Pop goes the techno

Silent Auction

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Within the loping synthetic gallop of Silent Auction's music lie elements of impish fun dusted in pop sugar. But it's not all sunshine and lollipops; this is a serious beat-centric strain with relentless drive, created by an arsenal of virtual instruments that jettison the music's darker, heavier tones. It's a beautiful dichotomy that the band used to call "future pop" once upon a time. Now it gets tagged as hybrid pop. Or you could just call it dance music, what with all its shameless shimmy and shake.

Labels notwithstanding, Silent Auction — Brendan Bulson (drums), Jason Barbero (vocals, programming, keyboards), and Terri Barbero (vocals, keys) — in some ways is a band out of tomorrow, given its eclectic mix. And there isn't a booty at rest on the dance floor when this Rochester trio is on stage.

Jason started the group as a project with Jason Rowe back in 1997. The duo was deeply influenced by heavy industrial and heavy rock like Wumpscut, Haujobb, and Marilyn Manson.

"For us," Jason says. "It was all about making noise and making it make sense somehow. It was a mix of darker and Orbital-ish stuff. And we still had some teenage angst stuff to work with." He attributes the initial line-up's lack of liftoff to naiveté.

"We really didn't know how to get things going," he says. "So we'd just do a lot of recording and discussing. We'd record something like a trash compactor and bring it into Audition, stretch it, make some instruments out of it, and then we'd talk about it." The next step eluded them. "We didn't know how to collaborate."

Flash forward to 2004, when Terri — now Jason's wife — brought her coquettish trill to the group. With Terri in the ranks, Silent Auction was able to take a stab at more accessible pop without sacrificing its menacing undertone, and found the motivation to move forward.

Jason and Terri found each other, and found each other to be on the same page emotionally and musically. "On our first date — which I didn't know was a date — we just sat and played piano," Jason says.

"I asked Jason, 'How do you do what you do?'" says Terri about industrial/techno music. "I didn't understand how it was made, but I loved it. He comes from a more industrial synth-pop background and I'm coming from pop. But I wanted to write what he was writing." The same went for Jason. It was mutual intrigue.

"What ends up happening now," says Terri, "is I write something edgy and angst-y but it still has a pop feel to it."

When the two Barberos come to an impasse, Bulson serves as the tiebreaker. "It's all checks and balances," says Bulson.

With all its checks and balances, and stylistic rigidity, Silent Auction flexes its freedom in its live shows while staying true to the various compositions. "We try to keep it as similar to the recording as possible," Jason says before Brendan weighs in.

'"If we feel a song has been played too many times, we'll do a completely different version," he says.

Silent Auction's pop-feel appeal has spread to TV. The band has licensed material to 14 shows on networks like The Discovery Channel and MTV. And it's even got greenbacks rolling in from a Bulgarian broadcast network that has licensed the band's Christmas tune, "Mistletoe."

Silent Auction is currently in its home studio whittling more than 30 tunes down to the cuts that will make up its seventh album, due sometime this fall.

And though the studio is Jason's first love, he's developed a taste for the stage as well. "I used to see live shows as a necessary evil," he says. "Getting stuff done in the studio now is inspired by wanting to showcase it live."

"We have a fan base now," Terri says. And the audience gets into it, which makes the shows that more exciting. It's so fun to see the audience singing along, especially when they know all the lyrics." And, according to Terri, the audience has a fresh view of the music that sometimes surprises the band.

"They may hear things like hip-hop influences in there," she says. "That we don't."

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