“It’s where you want to be,” Winston Triolo says of his band’s song, “Palmilla.” “It’s exactly where you want to be when too much shit is going on.”
His eyes dreamy, his vocal delivery soft but assured, guitarist/vocalist Triolo explains the inspiration behind “Palmilla,” the first single to drop from Motel Radio’s debut EP, before his bandmates chime in. This lofty locale is actually a beach in Mexico, it turns out, and a tune indicative of the young quintet’s ascent to a captivating sound filled with hypnotic guitar swells, ambient tones and heady pop hooks.
The five band members are sitting around a circular table, sipping from cans of Miller High Life, in a side room at the second-floor apartment of Triolo and fellow Texas native Ian Wellman (guitar/vocals). Located a stone’s throw from the Maple Leaf and a de facto Motel Radio headquarters, the split-level pad buzzes with the energy of a buddy’s birthday party, the cake and cups and cheerful floating yellow balloons tied to ribbons signs of budding good times. Roughly 18 months into existence and now called by its second name, Motel Radio on this night stands at the cusp of the next big step with the coming release of Desert Surf Films (Roll Call Records). Understandably, the boys are excited about the buzz-worthy six songs that form their first label-backed studio effort.
“‘Palmilla’ shows the evolution of our sound from a rootsy vibe into more of an indie psych-rock feel,” drummer Eric Lloyd, 25, says. “We first did three tracks at Dockside [Studio, the fabled, now flooded, recording space south of Lafayette in Maurice]. We were listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours the whole time, so those songs have that spacey quality. Then we went out on the road with all these incredible indie bands, doing shows with all these bands from Athens, Nashville, Charleston—bands that have been at it a bit longer and that allowed us to learn so much. We came back to New Orleans and cut the final three: ‘Palmilla,’ ‘New Badlands’ and ‘Star of the South.’ You can hear the difference in those two sessions. You can hear a young band trying to sound themselves out.”
Lloyd was the first of the three Louisiana-bred members (bassist Andrew Pancamo and keyboardist David Hart round out the group) to join Motel Radio. Scattered LSU-centered scenes and mutual friends brought them together in Baton Rouge and a shared obsession with Houndmouth’s 2013 alt-country gem “Palmyra” sealed the deal. The group initially took the name Palmyra spur-of-the-moment when it came time for its first show. However, admittedly never in love with the name—and on the counsel of music-business pros taking notice of the surging talents of dudes in their early twenties—the five decided on Motel Radio by the time they were billed for April’s (ultimately rained out) lineup at Hogs for the Cause.
“Motel Radio just had the image—the look, the sound,” Triolo explains. “It was encompassing of what we’re trying to do. Plus, it’s not some lame obscure hipster band name.”
Pancamo began writing songs for the group in October 2014. The band soon made a collective move downriver to call New Orleans home. The quintet coalesced last October when Hart joined them at One Eyed Jacks for a gig opening for sultry songstress Kristin Diable. Hart was recruited because the band dug his work with the Kid Carsons, and he would apply deft sound-engineering flourishes to the three Desert Surf Films tracks recorded in New Orleans.
With a label, booked gigs, and fans earned from a cross-country spring tour now behind them, the members of Motel Radio feel the energy of something special.
“I can feel when all of us are on a certain level,” Triolo says, “and that’s when things are born. I mean, of course we have practices that don’t go right and that feeling disappears. But I, personally, am working to be able to block everything out and get into this certain psyche where the songs come through you instead of having to write them.”
Asked what scares them as a band: “What scares me is how good things are working out right now with this group,” Wellman confesses. “The scariest thing is that we’re a bunch of young dudes balancing life, day jobs and figuring out where all this is going, that make-or-break point where you know whether or not it makes sense to go spread this music we believe in. It scares me, but it equally excites me.”
But in that space and time, around the table in the second-floor apartment hosting the birthday party that is the band’s home, the present moment takes precedent over down-the-road caution. “My financial situation is what scares me,” Triolo jokes. “We need to feed our kitty, Chester. We need Miller High Life, too.”