Testa Rosa Work at Their Own Pace
It’s not for lack of enthusiasm on the behalf of Betty Blexrud-Strigens and Damian Strigens, the married songwriting team at the core of the band, but Testa Rosa has a way of taking a backseat to other projects. The guitar-pop band’s latest album, Testa Rosa III, follows the last one by nearly four years, in part because Strigens and keyboardist Nick Berg had spent a good stretch of the in-between time as members of Field Report. So when producer Beau Sorenson apologetically told the group his final mix of the album might take a bit longer than expected due to some commitments with Bob Mould, they didn’t mind a bit. “I was like, ‘Dude, don’t worry about it. This album’s on Testa Rosa time, which is like a tortoise,’” Strigens recalls.
That’s the luxury of being an independent band, Blexrud-Strigens says. You can work at your own pace, without the pressure to meet a label’s arbitrary deadlines, and Testa Rosa have settled into a relaxed routine that suits them. “We like where we are,” she says. “We never felt like we had to buckle down and try to tour hard or sign with a label. We say that some people spend their money on football tickets and golf; we spend ours on recording records. It’s our leisure pursuit.”
Songwriting is usually a group effort for the band, though for this album Strigens wrote the bulk of the music. “He would just record these instrumental tracks,” Blexrud-Strigens says. “He had two dozen of them and shared them with the rest of the band like, ‘See what grabs you and see what layers you can add.’”
Once he started writing, the music came fast. “I had all these ideas that were bubbling,” Strigens says. “Most of them came in the morning. I’d wake up and take the dog for a walk and get back and put them down. Actually, sometimes I had to do it before I took the dog for a walk. Waffles would be whining like, ‘Come on let’s get going,’ and I’d be like, ‘Just a minute boy. I’ve got to get this.’”
As with its predecessors, Testa Rosa III’s well of influences runs deep, recalling the lush harmonics of The Carpenters, the studio-perfected pop of Big Star and the cheerful release of power-pop contemporaries like The New Pornographers. It’s the band’s prettiest record yet, emphasizing dreamy ballads even more than its predecessors, though it’s got a playful side as well. Opener “Bad Wolf” is the band’s spin on riffy ’70s rock, while the cheeky “Patches (I Could Have Written That)” sets a nostalgic tribute to the days of mall record stores (and the colorful clientele that frequented them) to a swooning, ’60s girl group melody.
Strigens wrote so many instrumental sketches for the album that the group is already talking about a fourth album, presumably titled Testa Rosa IV, as an inevitability, though they’ve learned from experience that it might take them a while to get around to recording it. Blexrud-Strigens says that’s the luxury of this group: There’s no rush, because they’re not going anywhere. So long as they keep writing songs, they’ll keep recording them on their own time.
“I think of it as painting,” she says. “You know, if you paint when you’re young, you’re going to paint when you’re old. I think a lot of times people think of rock music as something people have to hang up eventually, but that’s not really happening. They just keep playing.”
Testa Rosa play an album release show on Saturday, Aug. 29 at Shank Hall with Tense Experts.