October 8, 2016
The sun shines bright on a cloudless Saturday afternoon in Toledo, Ohio. A faint barking dog and chirping birds can be heard walking up to Dean Tartaglia’s house before he opens his front door. He walks through his kitchen, enters a back room and takes a seat in a recliner. Sunlight peeks through windows into the room, which is filled with a couch, coffee table, television and an acoustic guitar lying on the floor.
“This is the official window room,” the singer-guitarist says. “You’re sitting in it.”
The Window Room is Tartaglia’s new band Secret Space’s debut full-length, out on Equal Vision Records.
He stands and opens a door to let his dog out to the yard. He starts to talk about the end of 2014.
“I was bummed about life and wasn’t really doing much,” he says. His dog runs in and lays on the couch. “After spending a month in here kind of taking in the whole vibe, I started getting ideas again to write songs. It was a good period for three months where I wasn’t working and just wrote songs all day.”
That December wasn’t only the end of a year for Tartaglia; it was also the end of his former band, Silent Lions, a duo consisting of himself and Matt Klein, which released a couple of EPs between 2012 and 2014. Supplemented by faint, distorted vocals, they gave off a heavy drum-and-bass-driven psychedelic vibe throughout their brief discography. The duo hit a major roadblock when they were forced to change their name due to trademark issues from another group.
Instead of starting over completely fresh as a new band, Tartaglia and Klein bit the bullet and called it a day. Aside from moniker disputes, the stress of playing 150 basement shows in the span of a year and a half also influenced pulling the plug.
“I remember it being more fun and admirable than it was, but doing 150 basement shows is pretty taxing in that year and a half,” Tartaglia continues from the recliner. “It had been stressful up to that point, and then the name change happened. The name was more than just a name. I felt like if we had to change it, it would be like starting over.”
Tartaglia’s relationship with the other members of Secret Space stems back to earlier in the songwriter’s life. If Tartaglia wasn’t jamming with drummer Steve Warstler, then Warstler was practicing songs in another project with bassist Zach Ruetz. But it was never all three guys pursuing the same band.
“When we first started jamming, it just felt natural and was a long time coming,” Tartaglia says. “They were the last people I could see myself being in a band with.”
The Window Room was released after Secret Space's self-titled EP in 2015, and was produced by Will Yip (Circa Survive, Citizen, Title Fight). Compared to his work in Silent Lions, the album finds Tartaglia in a completely different room, a different space, a new beginning. The record is filled with intense, emotive lyrics intertwined with subtle, shoegaze-y guitar hooks that ring throughout. It’s the kind of chemistry that implies that the band has been at it a lot longer than they have, the jam sessions all adding up to something special.
“I wrote an album about my fucking living room,” Tartaglia says, gazing out into his tree-lined yard. He and his wife have lived in this house for about two years, after moving out of a basement apartment. Despite the lack of sunlight from his previous apartment, he writes most often at night.
“I usually end up writing late at night, and it’s usually when the best ideas come for some reason,” he says. “It just happens that way. Some nights the moon is so bright. Sometimes it’s not dark at all; it’s super chill and super awesome.”
It’s only been about a week since Tartaglia got home from a tour with Anthony Green (Circa Survive) and Mat Kerekes (Citizen), called the Pixie Queen Tour. He lets out a brief chuckle and mentions his band’s song “PxCz” (pronounced "pixie cuts"), as he’s gotten a few comments about sounding like the Pixies. He actually wrote the song initially as a Silent Lions track before the duo called it off, then remade it into what it is today.
“I remember [Yip] at one point said it sounded like a designer drug that kids in college would take,” he says, laughing. “It’s weird and ambiguous.”
Other songs on the album include “Cast Iron,” about the effect that alcohol can ultimately have on someone’s life, and “Suffer In,” about finding personal growth through suffering. Aside from songs about things that he and his wife have gone through in their relationship, Tartaglia wanted to frame the context of the record through his own window room.
“One night, there were all of these leaves, and the wind would pick them up,” he remembers. “The debris was spinning around, and it was one of those nights when it was really bright and you could see everything. It was really picturesque, and made me think that I should write literally about how writing feels.”
After about an hour of sitting in the room, the musician heads back through the kitchen toward the front door. Before opening it, he casually leans his weight against the wall.
“I’ve found the style I want to write in,” he says. “Silent Lions was a big thing for experimenting with sounds. Eventually, you find your own as a songwriter, and I feel like I’ve done that with this band.”
February 18, 2017
It’s an unusually warm 65 and sunny in Toledo, although it's the dead of winter. This time, Tartaglia opens the door to the inside of the Collingwood Arts Center, a five-story building built more than 100 years ago. The structure is a nonprofit used by artists and organizations for performance, exhibition and studio space.
Tartaglia walks up several flights of stairs and passes a theater, which can seat about 600 people. He goes through random hallways and talks about how certain areas leak water, and how the building is rumored to be haunted.
“It’s not bad, but when you’re here by yourself late at night and you hear doors shutting, it gets a little weird,” he says with a laugh.
He’s in a lighter, more comfortable mood today. After a few more stairs and hallways, he finally opens the door to his band’s rehearsal space, which doubles as Warstler’s studio, the Master Bedroom. Inside the room, Warstler and Ruetz hang out alongside equipment, various instruments, posters and Polaroids of random nothings taped to the wall. The reimagined version of “I’ve Come Around,” one of the songs included on their acoustic album, The Window Room Part 2, is playing throughout the room.
“It gives life to the album cycle,” Warstler says. “It’s been a big thing for us to do things that are more unique, to keep putting music out there and have people interpret it in different ways.”
The guys spent 12-to-16-hour days in the Master Bedroom during January, putting together the reimagined Window Room themselves.
Tartaglia and Warstler take turns getting out of their seats to play new songs off the reimagined album. There aren’t any nods or waves from either to proceed; it’s a matter of anticipation, of wanting to hear musical pieces they’re proud of creating. The amount of happiness and accomplishment they feel is commensurate with the smiles on their faces. Ruetz is the quietest of the trio, leaning forward in his chair, resting both elbows on his legs and folding his hands.
“I always felt like growing up and being around people,” the 30-year-old Ruetz says. “I’m kind of a socially anxious person, and I feel like with music, I feel comfortable doing that. It’s almost an escape, and feels good to do, and feels right.”
The acoustic album finds Secret Space covering Weezer’s “Butterfly” and the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Stumbleine,” reimagining five songs from The Window Room and offering a few B-sides. There’s moments where extra effects are included, such as a radiator dripping and other bands practicing from out in the hallway.
“You hear everything about the space we’re in,” the drummer continues. “I don’t think bands think about and act on why they’re doing what they’re doing. Before this, we’ve always had a hand in our production, and I feel like you lose a little bit of that. It’s adding that to the story of this band and what we can do.”
All three stand up, but go in different directions. Warstler and Ruetz flock to a tiny keyboard and play random notes, while Tartaglia heads out into the hallway. It’s only a matter of seconds before all three meet outside the room.
“To some degree, we’re still figuring out where we want to fit in this world,” Warstler says. “But I think we’re finally ready to make our own path.”
The Window Room Part 2 is available March 17.