Critical mass 

The Replacements' Tommy Stinson teaches Together Pangea to stop overthinking

click to enlarge No Together Pangea photo session is complete without the architectural wonders of Sam's Tacos.
  • No Together Pangea photo session is complete without the architectural wonders of Sam's Tacos.

Disneyland may be the happiest place on Earth, but Burger Records is one of the hippest, at least if you're willing to take The New York Times' word for it. Located just five miles from the Magic Kingdom and hailed by critic Ben Ratliff as "the nerve center of fourth-wave garage rock," the combination record label/retail outlet is home base for the kind of bands more likely to be covered by Consequence of Sound than Rolling Stone.

Among them is Together Pangea, whose critical stock rose considerably last month with the release of their The Phage EP, produced by none other than The Replacements' Tommy Stinson.

"We were very excited and nervous about it," says frontman William Keegan, who co-founded the band with bassist Danny Bengston and drummer Erik Jimenez in 2009. "We opened for The Replacements earlier this year at the Palladium in Los Angeles — to like, 4,000 people — and then we got to watch them play. And it was amazing. Paul [Westerberg]'s voice is still just as awesome as it ever was."

It's not a coincidence that Keegan's vocals on The Phage carry a deeper resonance than on previous records. That's partly Westerberg's influence, he acknowledges, but not entirely.

"I've just been singing longer and I'm getting older," says Keegan, who, at age 30 has a few years on his bandmates. "It's not that the higher notes are more difficult, they just sound different. But my growly kind of voice was definitely influenced by Paul Westerberg's voice, for sure. He was one of the people that I listened to when I was younger, and thought his voice was really amazing. It could be beautiful, while at the same time being gruff."

The same can be said for Keegan's vocals on tracks like "If You're Scared," "She's the Queen" and, most effectively, "Blue Mirror," with a chorus as impassioned as it is infectious. ("Walk on now, and leave it / It's all okay, you've seen it / You planned it all, goddamnit.")

A few choruses in, you realize this may be the catchiest "goddamnit" in rock history.

"There's a time when you're playing guitar and singing stuff, and then something happens, and you know that it's good," says Keegan. "When I screamed the 'goddamnit' part, it was like, 'Alright, that's the song.' And then we kind of built everything around it."

With The Phage, Keegan believes, Stinson enabled the band to finally capture the spirit of its live performance on record. In fact, they approached each session as though it were a live gig. "We sound-checked, we got the mics in the right place, and got a rough idea of the sound we wanted for the amps. Tommy brought his own guitar amps, and so we used his amps.

"Once we got the sound that we wanted, we went to the bar across the street, and then came back and just ran through the songs. We did one or two passes of every song. And then, the next day, it took me about 30 minutes — or however long the album is — to do the vocals."

All well and good, but what did The Replacements legend actually do, apart from lending the band some guitar amps and then taking the producer credit?

"No, no," laughs Keegan. "Here's the thing: With [2014's] Badillac, which we basically self-produced with our engineer Andrew Schubert, we did different takes, a lot of overdubs. It took a really long period of time.

"But with this, Tommy was like, 'I want you guys to sound like you sound live. So let's just do it, and don't overthink it. And just try to put as much into it as you can immediately.' He pushed us to keep it simple. And that's important."


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