Formerly Major and the Monbacks, the band now known as Super Doppler signed with tastemaking independent record label Yep Roc just a few months ago, but the Norfolk, VA group isn't exactly a new act. “There was a long and winding road to Yep Roc,” says multi-instrumentalist Neal Friedman. “We've been playing together as some form of this group for almost 10 years now.”
[Editor's note: After this story went to press came the news that Yep Roc is no longer slated to release Super Doppler's debut.]
The band is organized around two pairs of brothers—Friedman and his twin Cole on bass, and Michael and Bryan Adkins on keys/guitar and drums, respectively—plus a percussionist, Tyler West, and another multi-instrumentalist, Harry Slater. Slater wrote about half of the songs on Moonlight Anthems, the band's new album, out June 16.
Fairly or not, bands of brothers have developed a reputation for infighting: the on- and offstage dust-ups among the Davies brothers of the Kinks, the Gallaghers of Oasis and the Everly Brothers are the stuff of rock legend. But so far, Super Doppler has avoided that kind of internal strife. Playing in a band with one's brother “does make bickering easier and more commonplace,” Friedman admits, “but it's never going to boil over into something that could break up the band.” He pauses and adds with a smile, “I'll cross my fingers and knock on wood when I say that.”
Super Doppler didn't wait for a record deal to make its second full-length. Friedman says the band recorded Moonlight Anthems “before we had any label support at all. We obviously wanted a record label, so we recorded [the album] and shopped it around.”
The group was aided in its creative efforts by Richmond, VA producer-arranger Matthew E. White (Natalie Prass, Foxygen), who worked behind the recording console. “It began as, 'We should get Matthew to produce our album, ha ha’—kind of joking, really,” recalls Friedman, and then they actually connected.
“Matthew is world-renowned now,” says Friedman, “but we knew his name just from playing around Virginia.” The band didn't even have to provide demo recordings to win over the producer. “He just asked us, 'What are you trying to do? What do you want it to sound like?'”
Even though Super Doppler maintains a regular performance schedule, the songs on Moonlight Anthems weren't written on the road. “I can't write songs when I'm in and out of a van all day,” says Friedman. Several of the record's songs have been in the band's setlist for a while. “A couple of them, like ‘The Clap,’ we had played live before recording,” Friedman says. Other songs were new. “We just rehearsed them, arranged them for the band and brought them straight into the studio. 'Holidays' is like that.”
Super Doppler isn’t a jam band—there's a conciseness to its songwriting and arrangements that owes more to 1960s rock and pop influences—but the musicians do sometimes stretch out live onstage. While the group’s debut does have some longer musical passages —“I listened again a few weeks ago and was surprised at all the instrumental breaks we had,” says Friedman—Moonlight Anthems represents a more streamlined approach. “We focused more on the songs,” he says.
Some of the band members' influences arose from deep immersion into music when they were young. The Friedmans' grandfather owned Frankie's Birdland, a popular record store in one of Norfolk's African-American neighborhoods. “I never had a lack of new things to listen to—or [musical] opinions pushed on me,” says Friedman with a laugh. “One of my first summer jobs was working at the record store. I got paid two CDs a day.”
Several songs on the band's latest album incorporate a soulful horn section that features as many as five auxiliary players. But on the current tour, the horn players are staying home. “The songs hold up live without them,” Friedman says. “The first album pretty much just caught us in a room playing; the psychedelia of Moonlight Anthems is harder to reproduce onstage. But we bring it.”
SUPER DOPPLER Poppy rock and roll act with a little psychedelic twang from Norfolk, VA. See story on p. 10.