Shakin’ some action

The Decibels make the making of power pop look simple

The Decibels tear it up at a recent Old Ironsides show: That’s Dean Seavers on the Vox.

The Decibels tear it up at a recent Old Ironsides show: That’s Dean Seavers on the Vox.

The Decibels are one of those bands that make it look all too easy. They play what they play—fast, crunchy music in the style often labeled “power pop,” with two guitars, bass, drums and lead vocals with harmonies, and make it look like that’s simply the way it’s done.

To play pop music, guitar choices are crucial. Hence, you won’t find a generic Les Paul-with-Marshall amp setup here. Instead, the Decibels opt for a snarling Vox for lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Dean Seavers and a twangy Rickenbacker for lead guitarist Joe Pach, underpinned by rolling bass lines from Brent Seavers. And “Oh my word!” might be what rolls off granny’s tongue when presented with Brian Machado playing drums: He plays loud, fast and in time.

The Decibels’ style may follow this time-honored power-pop tradition, but their ultra-natural approach makes them seem like they don’t try as hard as other bands. They can segue from a fast rock ’n’ roll song, complete with one guitar player jumping high in the air while the other blasts a big, fuzzy solo, to just about the sweetest pop song you’ve ever heard—nice, slow and, of course, about love.

While this is all happening, they’ll be cracking inside jokes to each other, breaking strings, throwing sticks, trying out ridiculous stage moves and re-tuning guitars—without missing a beat. For most bands, each of these things might be a major distraction. Not so with the Decibels.

And they seem like a band, as opposed to four people getting together to play music. Each has his individual quirks, but they share similar personalities, like brothers do, along with that peculiar shorthand that bands and brothers develop over time.

“If I can bring a new song to practice and these guys like it,” Dean says, “then I’m happy. Their opinion matters most.”

They’re also sartorially consistent. You can bet money that at any given show, Machado and Pach will show up in white jeans, while the brothers Seavers will be sporting dark suits. If Machado opened his bedroom closet, you’d likely find 10 pairs of crisp white jeans; Dean’s instead would contain a rack filled with nothing but sharp-looking suits.

Like their visual style, the musical influences that drove each member to play are deeply ingrained. It doesn’t seem as though they consciously drew from sources for inspiration; it’s more as if they witnessed something that put each one in a trancelike state and made them form a band. Pach’s white jeans and Dean’s skinny ties point ever so directly toward the golden age of power pop—the late ’70s and early ’80s, when bands such as the Jam and Paul Collins’ Beat weren’t the relative unknowns they are today. And Machado sounds as if he’s never heard any drummer other than the Who’s Keith Moon. As for Brent, wearing Beatle boots and a suit and playing melodic bass lines while singing high harmonies sound, well, rather McCartney-like.

The Decibels’ debut full-length CD, Create Action (G.I. Productions, 1998), got a local buzz going, but the label folded not long after. Luckily, Stella’s Dream Records, run by Stuart Thomas and local songwriter Don Hawkins, stepped in to release The Big Sounds of the Decibels. The songs and the recording are strong and make it clear that they aren’t just a mod or any other retro style label you want to place on them.

“We’re not actually sure how people perceive us,” Dean says. “We mostly just play for ourselves.”

Live or on record, the Decibels make rock ’n’ roll seem so fun, pure and, well, easy. And how many kids will try to start their own bands after hearing Big Sounds?

It isn’t as simple as it appears.