The fact that SCANTRON is still a band at all is surreal to everyone involved with the project.
What began as a low-fi bedroom side project for James Everhart and Will Donnelly has persevered for the better half of a decade. Along the way, the duo criss-crossed the country as members of critical darlings Low Cut Connie, often opening for themselves and winning over audiences to Everhart’s garage-infused power-pop cuts backed by Donnelly’s booming percussion. A rotating cast of characters – ever-grinning bassist Lucas Rinz, keyboardist Jared Loss, and longtime sideman George M. Murphy – would join in whenever possible, each adding their own brand of charm to the sound. Over time, the band stumbled their way into relative success: syncs on network TV and Netflix, amassing a deep back-catalog of sonic nuggets, and snagging coveted supporting spots on bills with their favorite bands.
In the summer of 2018, Everhart hit a wall. Six years on the road weighed heavy on his psyche; he was recently married and burned out on the grind of touring. He made the challenging decision to leave Low Cut Connie and return home to Philadelphia. Later that fall, he found himself reinvigorated, working through a new batch of songs that expressed the hurricane of feelings he was still weathering. The addition of drummer Robb Matthews and the return of bassist Tyler Yoder added a heavy depth to the band’s live shows.
Traditionally, SCANTRON’s recordings were the product of midnight tinkering in unlikely places, with Donnelly playing mad scientist over a cobbled-together eclectica of equipment. It wasn’t uncommon for months – sometimes years – to pass between sessions on the same song. With “Electric City,” the band took over Port Richmond’s Drowning Fish Studio for a tour-de-force weekend capturing the energy of the band in a live room setting. The sessions saw Donnelly return to the engineering helm, assisted by Davis M. Shub (Grave Bathers, The Bad Larrys). The release was mixed in Memphis by Adam Hill (Big Star, Deer Tick, Low Cut Connie) and mastered in Joshua Tree by Charlie Stavish (Jenny Lewis, Starcrawler, Ryan Adams).
“Scantron EPs never usually have underlying themes,” explains Everhart, “simply because we aim to write songs that can stand alone as singles rather than as parts of a whole. That being said, these tunes were all written at a time when I was feeling particularly angsty and vulnerable as I transitioned into a new career and lifestyle after my time on the road.”
The tone is set straight away from the needle-drop on the first cut, “Dreams.” Everhart sings the opening line – “some things never go away / some situations just hold you in their sway” – in a glassy haze, as a heavy wall of fuzz and driving percussion closes in around him. While noticeably darker overall, “Electric City” is rich with SCANTRON’s signature brand of earworm hooks, thunderous drums, and harmonized riffs, most notably on “Tip Top Inn.” “It’s my version of Lloyd Price’s ‘Stagger Lee’,” Everhart explains, “which I felt deserved a modern twist. It quite literally and metaphorically addresses the back-stabbing nature of show-business juxtaposed with the harshness of real life.”
“White Linen Sheets” is an ode to sleepless nights with a restless mind, a state that the band admittedly knows all too well. Jared Loss’ Farfisa shimmers as stacked vocals from Everhart, George Murphy, and Hannah Taylor paint a sonic daydream. The closing track, “In There / Out There,” sees the band drop into a psychedelic swirl of reverberous harmonies as distorted tones clamoring to rip through the speaker cones of Everhart’s Tone King amplifier as he wails, “am I in trouble?”
And like that, it’s over as quickly as it began – a record that, by design, demands repeat listens.
“Scantron is always fighting an uphill battle,” explains Everhart. “We’ll probably never release a full-length album. We love to follow the script of the old single-slinging of the ’50s and ’60s – short, hot bursts of music with no in between, no fluff.”