The COVID-19 pandemic was a big roadblock for a ton of upcoming bands all over the planet.
In Rhode Island, there’s an entire wave of acts that were affected by it. One of them is the Warwick-based progressive math rock trio Strip Mall, which was on the verge of establishing a solid fan base and gaining a legit buzz right when everything shut down in March of last year.
Guitarist and vocalist Vinnie Ortez, bassist Nick English and drummer Jack Anderson were stalled in the middle of their collective growth as a band. Fortunately, that period of stalling didn’t make them creatively stagnant, and they have their self-titled debut EP coming out on June 15.
The record follows up the release of the band’s first two singles, “Reverse The Curse,” which came out in January 2019, and “We All Have Plus Things,” which arrived in February 2020. Both tracks are actually part of the EP, and thanks to some help from a recording studio down south, it came out better than Strip Mall could have hoped for.
“We had been technically working on this EP for almost two years since we had put out ‘Reverse the Curse,’” Ortez says. “I’ve done some home recording with Jack before, but with us sending the tracks to Mike Nelson at Parkridge Recording in Knoxville, Tennessee, to be mixed and mastered, they came to life in a way I never dreamed. Recording whole parts where I just use my loop pedal was definitely both the weirdest and most fun experience for me. This EP is absolutely the band in every aspect and is our identity. We’ve had some of these songs for a few years and to be able to have them available to share with everyone is something I never thought this band would get to. I also think we are all really excited to move on from this set of songs and evolve further with the new material we have already.”
“The initial plan was to hopefully have the album recorded and out by the end of summer and then try and book a small tour of New England for the fall of 2020 or the beginning of 2021,” English adds. “The pandemic hitting completely halted all the momentum we had and shut down our aspirations to finish the album. After a few months of sitting on the songs and half recorded parts, we decided, after making sure we socially distanced for a bit before meeting up, to finish the recording. For me, it was an instant spark of life and being able to see my friends and work on something we are all extremely passionate about started to pull me out of the funk that I’m sure so many people were entrenched in. I’ve been in a decent amount of bands, but never one that has put this much effort and love into the composition of each song. I think all of that really reflects on the record and I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
One aspect of the EP that’s both interesting and refreshing is how the tracks flow with each other. There isn’t any dead air between the songs – they all go together as if it’s one continual sonic experience.
“There was a ton of back and forth between us just ironing out the final sounds of each instrument, almost down to every single tom hit,” Anderson mentions. “We are honestly proud of the final product and it feels great to say that. We’ve all played music for years now, but I don’t think any of us have ever released a full, cohesive project like this before. One thing I specifically wanted to do was have the tracks kind of flow into each other, so the EP could be played the whole way through seamlessly. There’s some recordings from an iPhone I had in 2014 of frogs in my backyard, one from a flight taking off, some sounds I got while on walks around town and other things. We’re pretty happy with how it all came together.”
Along with the two previously released singles, other highlights of the record include “Pyramid Scheme,” “Julius Caesar” and “Waning Gibbous.” It’s chock full of feverish beats and abstract guitar structures while a consistent energy and electricity covers it all like a vibrant sheen.
Strip Mall is going to be ringing in the release of the EP on the same night of its release date at Dusk, located at 301 Harris Ave. in Providence, with fellow locals People Eating Plastic, Mutter and Beauquet. If you’re able to make it to the show, make sure to grab a copy of the new record while you’re there. If you can’t, then log on to the band’s Bandcamp page at stripxmall.bandcamp.com and stream and purchase it there.