The situation I'm at Ballard's Shelter Lounge sharing drinks and avocado fries with Robbie Johnston, who performs pop-rock music as The Synthony, and a bandmate he refers to as his "factotum," Greg Franklin. Franklin's played bass, drums, and guitar for The Synthony; he's also a longtime contributor to Seattle Weekly and its music blog, Reverb. Johnston writes and records all the instruments on his recordings, but live he plays with a band that currently boasts nine members, including one brother on keys and another on the EWI (think of it as an electric saxophone), and a brand-new keyboard player whom he and Franklin both describe as "a tiny Conan O'Brien."
"I always get carried away recording," Johnston says, "so I need an army of people to carry out the different parts."
How They Got Here Johnston, 26, shares a room in a Maple Leaf house with his older brother, works as an assistant for KEXP's Kevin Cole, and also plays guitar in the vintage country band Side Saddle. "I honestly don't really have roots in roots," he says. "I have friends who lured me into it. I've always been doing sort of artsy Brit-rock stuff in conjunction at the same time."Shop Talk Synthony songs are an unclassifiable blend of guitars, keyboards, and Johnston's fluid vocals employed to work different genres--from ragtime to electronica--from song to song. Johnston calls it "pastiche pop."
"It really cavalierly takes from various genres in a really patchwork way," he says. "It's not any pristine genre . . . This band's influenced by a lot of embarrassingly uncool music, like Genesis and U2 from the '80s. . . "
"You gotta precursor that with 'Peter Gabriel Genesis,' " Franklin interjects. "'Cause then it's still cool, as long as it's not Phil Collins Genesis."
"No, but I'm talking about not-cool Genesis," says Johnston. "I'm talking Phil Collins."
You can hear three of the songs on the band's Facebook page, and Johnston says he's currently working on an EP.
BTW: Franklin takes a stab at how Johnston named the band. "I'm guessing it was something you were working on at home by yourself, you were sitting around wearing a bathrobe, and you were like, 'I've got so many keyboard parts on here. It's a veritable symphony!' "
"No, not at all," laughs Johnston. "My brother will say a lot of malapropisms, he'll say one thing and mean another, and it comes out wrong. And he was like, 'Man, I don't know about Jack White, he's up there and he acts like he's conducting a symph . . . thony.' And I was like, 'That's it, Ricky. Thank you for talking wrong!' "
The Synthony plays Neumos with Pollens and Seven Colors on Tuesday, January 31 at 8 p.m. The show costs $7.