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+/- Talk Balancing Parenting And Recording New Album ‘Jumping the Tracks’

Plus Minus
Philip Leaman

Plus/Minus (+/-) might not be the most Google-friendly band out there, but over the last 13 years, that hasn’t stopped their loyal fans from looking for the New York trio’s material. After five years, the wait for a new album is over, as today (Feb. 4) marks the release of ‘Jumping the Tracks,’ the band’s fifth album.

The group describes ‘Jumping the Tracks’ as their “fight against cynicism,” as the members have found ways to happily balance +/- with families and day jobs. The songs promise to broaden their audience and remind longtime fans why they listened in the first place.

Back in 2001, +/- initially looked like a solo project fronted by Versus guitarist James Baluyut. But Baluyut envisioned the project to be something for a full band, so he recruited drummer Patrick Ramos, also of Versus. Ramos traded his drumsticks for keyboards and vocals, and with the addition of Chris Deaner on drums and other instruments and Margaret McCartney on bass, +/- became an indie-electro four-piece.

When McCartney left in 2002, they continued on as a trio and went on to release four full-length albums and a handful of EPs. They also contributed to a compilation, ‘Pulled Punches,’ in 2010. Diffuser.fm recently had the chance to talk to the entire band about finding time to record the new album, relating to younger fans and what’s it like being a musician with toddlers.

It’s been five years since your last album. What have you been up to?

James Baluyut: In the past five years, we recorded this record! Unfortunately, this takes a long time when you’re also raising families and working full-time. It’s hard to find the time and energy to finish an LP. It’s quite an undertaking, no matter who you are.

And now coming together after some time, do you feel it was harder to get back to work? Or did it feel like you all were just playing together the week before?

JB: Well, the funny thing is, we never stopped getting together. Our friend, Steve, built this incredible recording studio and invited us to be a part of it. We’ve been gathering a couple times a week for the better part of the last five years. We’re just not as efficient as we used to be when we had more time and energy to devote to the project. We’ve been constantly writing, recording and tinkering.

On the other hand, playing live as a band, we haven’t done so much lately. That’s taking a bit more effort to get back in shape. We employ this strategy where we write the songs and record them immediately. Then when we have a show, we learn to play them. It makes for some fantastically bad rehearsals.

One thing that makes ‘Jumping the Tracks’ different is that you three worked through the whole process of writing together. Something you rarely get to do. What were some of the advantages and disadvantages of doing things differently this time?

JB: I guess the advantage is that it reflects the personality of the band as a whole more accurately. Also, the more people you have writing, the more chances you have for it to go in an unexpected direction. The downside is when you explore everybody’s ideas, you end up recording an album for five years.

You call the album ‘a fight against cynicism.’ What do you mean by that?

Patrick Ramos: It’s very similar to the ‘War on Christmas,’ except that it isn’t complete bull—-. No, I think it’s just the direction the lyrics went naturally. We’re all fathers now and in our early 40s, which sometimes feels light years away from our idealistic 20s and 30s. Some of us need regular reminders not to get caught up in all the adult crap that can shut you off for good. You have to come up for air.

Chris Deaner: Fathers should not curse so much.

PR: Go to heck.

What was the most memorable moment during the making of this album for each of you? Why?

JB: What sticks out in my mind is when our friend Steve finished building the studio and realizing how amazing it was and what an incredible opportunity we had been given.

PR: We have a blast in the studio. It’s even more fun when we actually decide to write and record music. The most memorable moment for me actually happened often. Songs that come together by all of us throwing our best (and worst) ideas at it are my favorite ones because they always end up better and like nothing any of us could do on our own. We had a lot of moments like that on this album.

CD: There are many many, but for me I think it was when I went into the studio once after my second child was born. I’d been cooped up in the house for a couple months and needed to feel like a human again. I set up some mics and played a bunch of stuff, stream of consciousness. A couple days later, Pat and I were in the studio and I played him some of those drum ramblings. We both agreed immediately that one bit in particular sounded interesting. I looped it, and Pat started playing a guitar line to it. That was the beginning of ‘Young Once.’

Aside from your musical careers, you have day jobs and family obligations. However, you also are at your fifth album — something that can be hard to come by with the other factors. What’s your secret to doing it all?

JB: Cool Ranch.

PR: Juice cleanses. Cool Ranch juice cleanses. We’ve all had day jobs throughout the band’s history, so that’s something we’re used to navigating the band around. Having kids on the other hand makes continuing the band a challenge. But at least up to this point, we haven’t seriously considered stopping writing songs despite being parents. I think it comes down to being good friends who when we hang out, just happen to write and record music instead of…I don’t know, bowling? Don’t get me wrong, I like bowling.

CD: I like bowling, too. You mean poker, right Pat? Don’t get me wrong, I like poker, too. The secret is that we actually like each other. Most of the time. We work well together, are inspired by one another, and we usually end up making something we genuinely like together. So when there is a day that the kids get up at 5:30am, don’t nap all day, and are cranky toddler people, when 9PM rolls around, those are the things that drive us to go into the studio. Instead of sleeping like sane people.

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