The spark that lights a song, the inspiration behind a melody, is often as fascinating as the tune it turns up in. A musician can pluck a hook or phrase or lyric from out of nowhere. You'd be amazed. It can happen anywhere.
For Dan Snyder, it's in his head. He hears things; music, anyhow.
"A lot of times I get up in the morning," he says, "and the first melody that's in my head I think, 'Ooh, I should do something with that.' So I'm always thinking little tunes, like I'm in my own musical somehow."
Well, in a band anyway.
Snyder (39) and his big brother Dave (41), along with drummer Rob Filardo and bassist Keith Parkins, formed The Quitters 12 years ago. The Quitters is a four-piece Rochester rock 'n' roll outfit that loves things that go power pop. The band is quirky, fun and wound pretty high and tight on the bandstand. But the band's incredible songwriting makes them shine brighter than most. This is a credit to the Snyder brothers, whose individual tastes and writing styles redeem and clarify those of the other like a little yin and yang in the bang and twang.
Dave Snyder writes autobiographically and tends to take unconventional detours in song arrangements. He needs his brother's more structured approach.
"I think he's a much better songwriter than I am," Dave says. "He writes different than I do. He's way more conscientious about it. Without him, oh God, I would be completely self-indulgent. Everything I write would end up sounding like Lennon on a hangover."
His brother keeps the anarchy and indulgence in check.
"I tend to see all of my stuff as far more dear than it really is," Dave says. "I'm in love with everything I do. And he's able to work through that and say 'Ahh, that's crap.'"
"My brother has the tendency to work on a song and then forget the next week how it went," Dan says. "He might write something that would loop on endlessly. I'm total type-A when I song write." So Dave in turn tempers this extreme.
"I kinda break the rigidity," says Dave. "His stuff would be just verse-chorus-verse-chorus."
This joint dynamic goes way back to when the boys were growing up in Avon. Dave played guitar. Dan played the drums. Dave got a Buddy Holly record for his birthday and fell in love with Holly's deceptively simple songwriting and playing. Dan was digging on prog-rock at the time but the guitar dictated what he played with his brother.
"Dave always loved blues and rockabilly," Dan says. "So since he was playing guitar we did pretty much that."
The brothers formed the original and pleasantly odd pop band Dog's Life in 1986. The band released one LP, one CD, and cassette EP before breaking up in 1994.
Post-Dog's Life, Dave played drums in ramshackle punk band The Shop Class Squares. Dan did a brief stint on bass in the group as well.
But Dan wanted to do something different. He wanted to play guitar. In 1994 he approached drummer Rob Filardo, who in turn snagged bassist Keith Parkins. Parkins and Filardo were both playing in Duke Galaxy and the Pipeliners at the time.
Then along came big brother.
"I kinda horned in on it," Dave says. "He already had a rhythm section all picked out and I just forced my way into it."
Little brother didn't seem to mind.
"At the time I wasn't much of a guitar player," Dan says. "So when Dave offered up, I thought 'Good, there's somebody good I can kinda hide behind."'
With the Snyder brothers' fraternal, symbiotic voodoo and Filardo and Parkins' time on stage together, The Quitters gelled quickly. The brothers began to churn out songs much in the same way they still do.
"The way we work," says Dave, "is we'll have something that's half done and we'll bring it to the band and just kind of throw it to the wolves. We'll write 20 to 25 songs knowing that half of them are going to be crap, and the rest of them the band will get a feel for."
The Quitters' sound soon came into focus and a style began to emerge.
"Eventually," says Dan, "no matter what we tried to do, it all sounded like us. Dave would bring in a country song and somehow it would turn into some kind of power pop thing."
"I'm a real sucker for that '70s bubblegum stuff," says Dave.
The Quitters were obviously garage-rock inspired. Dave sites Dionysus Records and bands like The Makers as influences. Still The Quitters ultimately have much more to offer.
"I was bored with just playing garage music all the time," Dave says. "I wanted the feel of it but I still wanted to be able to write and orchestrate things."
The Quitters' just-released third album, 1982, is a sensational 19-track pop/rock collection that plays out beautifully from front to back. There ain't a weak cut on 1982, even though it was lost in limbo for a while. Initially recorded at Arpad's Studios three years ago, it sat unfinished in the can until recently when the band added additional overdubs, mixed it down, and mastered it with Nick Marinaccio at OHMCO studios.
The album's artwork offers four alternative pop-inspired covers from the Me Decade by Rochester hipster artist Dave Cowles. Flip the insert around and choose between cover knock-offs from The English Beat, The Go-Go's, Duran Duran, or The Police. 1982 looks as fun as it sounds.
Funny, but The Quitters' sound actually makes sense in an '80s kinda way. Perhaps it was what was on Dave's mind. From the title track:
"My best years all have slipped/right through my fingertips
I know I dreamt too long/and woke up destitute
And now all my favorite songs are from 1982"
"I started to examine myself a little bit," Dave says. "And I was like, 'Jeez, I just kinda got stuck right there emotionally, psychologically, and everything else. Not the music I listened to, but what I was able to produce."
Despite the self-effacing self-evaluation, Snyder's lyrics still tackle more conventional themes as well with his wry wit. He's a bit of a smart ass who doesn't take being on stage all that seriously.
"I hate rock stars," he says.
Parkins left the band last year to front Tiger Cried Beef. He was soon replaced by ex-Grinders, ex-Thundergods guitarist Keith Von Shur, who in total Quitter fashion simply joined the group without really asking or being asked.
Dave moved to Brooklyn a month ago and has encouraged the band to go on with and without him.
"I'd really like those guys to have a chance to just do something themselves and not worry about me," he says.
So the Quitters won't quit, continuing as a trio when Dave ain't around with Dan picking up vocal duty; a challenge he's up for.
"I like rehearsing more than anything else," Dan says. "I like playing gigs, it's fun and all that. But what really excites me is when I go to rehearsal and bring in a song, because I'm dying to hear what it will turn into. It never ends up the way I heard it in my head. I've always felt in this band we could do anything."
The Quitters celebrate the release of 1982 with guests The Grinders, The Purrs, and St. Phillip's Escalator, Saturday, October 28, at The Bug Jar, 219 Monroe Avenue, 454-2966, 9 p.m., $7, 21+
Punk-metal icon Wendy O. Williams will be inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame on Sunday. Plasmatics guitarist Wes Beech and Rod Swenson, the band's creator and Williams' life partner, talk about the legacy of the singer.