Even as social media has made the world more global, it has also fostered the greater appreciation of the local, in everything from food to music. But regarding the latter, New Jersey had always cultivated a scene that has thrived completely apart from the daily machinations of music business.
In 2016, three respected veterans of that scene, Amy Gruber Phillips (vocals/keys), Joe Rowley (bass) and Steve Buzbee (drums) became Bitter Crush, and found that their shared love of iconic ‘60s and ‘70s rock and roll (Stones, Beatles, Kinks) and the subsequent new wave (Patti Smith, Joe Jackson, The Pretenders) ignited that rarest of musical sparks. Amy’s classic soul influences helped style it into something eminently recognizable, yet decidedly unique.
With one self-titled EP and one single, “Powders and Pills,” to their credit, early 2018 saw renewed writing sessions taking them down exciting new paths, with stark arrangements putting their particular skill with a melody front and center. “We stripped everything down and it felt really good,” says Rowley. “There was a great energy to the new songs.”
“It all felt organic,” continues Gruber Phillips. “We just seemed to be in sync with one another - with where we were going with the melodies and our ability to experiment with rhythms. Even our lyrics started evolving in new ways.”
In June guitarist Johnny Rao joined the band, and his raw yet befitting style perfectly complemented Bitter Crush’s current direction. New songs were flowing and earlier tunes were revisited, reworked and refreshed…and by the end of the month, producer Marc Ribler (Little Steven, Darlene Love) entered the picture. “Marc came in and knew exactly what to do,” Rowley enthuses, “He has a great ear, and he’s efficient as hell. It was a great experience.” The Ribler-produced track “No Spare Change” was released as a single on Jan 8th 2019.
The band then holed up at Shorefire Recording Studios in Long Branch, NJ, with its vintage Helios console and, most importantly, Joe DeMaio at the controls.
Buzbee explains, ”It was important to us to have everyone record their parts together as a group, that’s how we play best. Even a lot of Amy’s scratch vocal tracks are making it to the final master of the recordings.”
After an introduction by Ribler, keyboardist Andy Burton (Ian Hunter/Beck/Little Steven) added Hammond B3 on a few of the songs, taking the band in exhilarating new sonic directions.
The band is currently writing and recording new material and will be released along with the Shorefire sessions as a full album sometime in 2019. The band is also preparing for live performances that will begin in May.
“The band has a new energy and we’re excited about playing together,” says Rowley. “We’re having a lot of fun and we’re anxious to get in front of an audience again.”