From the top
Da Capo vocalist Ryan Stark has a striking physical presence. He’s nearly nine feet tall and has an intense, brooding gaze. He’s a writer and spoken-word performer who has appeared onstage in a variety of modes—from confrontational to confessional to comedic. And though Da Capo is a new group performing all originals, they clearly draw some inspiration from the original post-punk bands; Stark is not afraid to move onstage and flail his long, lanky body.
Like the music of the seminal post-punk bands (Joy Division, Gang of Four), the cores of Da Capo’s songs are in the bass structures—an interlocking series of repetitive patterns.
“I just really love guitar and bass interplay,” says Da Capo bassist Nick Delehanty.
One of the chief sonic characteristics that distinguishes post-punk from its more primal, un-prefixed counterpart is that, in post-punk, the bass and the guitar rarely play in unison. In most rock ‘n’ roll, the bassist plays the root note of the guitar chord. In post-punk, the bass and guitar lines are contrapuntal—different melodic lines that intertwine like harmonic snakes—sometimes pristinely, sometimes dissonantly. It’s trading in simple harmonic purity for complex melodic contrast.
While many post-punk guitarists rely on hypnotic drones or atonal, sideways skronk, Da Capo’s Shane Forster plays with a wiry melodicism. There’s a lot of catchy bounce to the ounce of his guitar parts. His guitar lines have a nice way of wrapping around Delehanty’s driving bass lines.
“Shane’s got a lot of depth,” says Delehanty. “No matter what we’re working on, he has great ideas. He understands different genres really well.” This ability to cross genre lines isn’t surprising: Forster also plays with the giddy garage rockers The Juvinals and has a songwriting-oriented solo project.
Many of Da Capo’s songs have funky rhythms that one might not expect from a rock band. Much of this funk comes from drummer Matt Sala, a guy with a knack for making prog-rock polyrhythms sound like simple pop grooves.
Though there are hints of Dischord Records-style punk rock in Da Capo’s sound, the band members actively avoid letting their punk rock backgrounds—all four have played in various punk bands—dictate the sound and direction.
“When the music gets loud, I want to get loud,” says Stark. “But the idea is not to just get on my soapbox and yell, but to communicate … start a conversation.”
And though the lyrics of songs like “Not for Sale,” are about ideas central to the punk ethos—"It’s about keeping something that’s precious to you, precious,” says Stark, “Some things aren’t for sale"—the snaky funk of Da Capo is as much about dancing as it is about breaking stuff.
The name, Da Capo, comes from an Italian music term that means “from the top” or “start again from the beginning.”
“If I want to keep it short,” says Delehanty, “I always just tell people it’s the title of my favorite Ace of Base album.” It’s not clear if he’s joking. He’s the type of guy with such wide-ranging musical taste that he may have an esoteric appreciation of Eurodance. “But we took it directly from a line in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil.”
For the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “da capo” is a motto for “the most high-spirited, alive and world-affirming human being.” It’s clear that the members of Da Capo have the same sort of geeky, giggling enthusiasm and reverence for the German existentialist that others might reserve for, say, The Empire Strikes Back.
Da Capo is still a young band and has yet to clear the hurdle of its influences—but a debt to the subtle funkiness and electric energy of early post-punk is a better starting point than most bands are able to conjure. And Da Capo has intelligence, inventiveness and clear understanding of rock music history. It should be exciting to watch them develop.