The sharp-dressed, soulful-yet-gypsy-jazzy quartet bids farewell…for now.
The Pressroom on West King Street in Lancaster is packed on a Saturday night as Second Hand Suits takes the stage for a quick sound check.
The crowd spills out into Steinman Park up the block, as roving groups from the Lancaster County Convention Center look for Lancaster’s nightlife. It’s standing room only, but you can still catch the band’s signature sound as they launch into an old blues tune, and from there, into an original, “Right About Now.”
Through a neatly driven mix of strings and drums, Jordan Rast and Tuck Ryan’s vocals shine through, whether it’s the rapid-fire lyrics on an original song, raw energy on old standards or a creative take on Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.” And in the midst of all this, as a full bar staff wades in bravely through the mob to serve crowded tables, it doesn’t take long for some sitting at the bar to start dancing in their seats.
But Second Hand Suits is a band that’s also about to go through some big changes.
In August, the band combined a send-off for vocalist and guitarist Ryan with a release party for an as-yet-unnamed album featuring more original material.
I met up with lead vocalist and guitarist Rast in May to talk about what’s in store for this musical ensemble that’s become so familiar around the county – from venues like Lancaster Dispensing Co. and Tellus360 to McCleary’s in Marietta to a plethora of private events and performances. The dressed-up nature of the band makes Second Hand Suits a sensible choice for weddings and other occasions, which, says Rast, the band has done a fair number of throughout the year.
In many ways, Second Hand Suits is an evolution of Rast’s prior band, The Jordan Rast Band – a longtime collaboration between musicians who all have roots in Lancaster. With the addition of Ryan in 2012, the band established its current incarnation, with Ryan adding vocals and guitar, Peter Reist on bass and Evan Graver on percussion. Dom Billett (of the recently defunct band Toy Soldiers) is now filling in on drums for many performances.
One thing you’ll notice if you follow the band is Second Hand Suits has different sounds and styles for different performances. The overall material, says Rast, is a 50-50 mix of covers and original songs, including material from the band’s last album, Get What I Got. Live, the band weaves together elements of traditional genres with its own compositions, providing a set list that flows, but also offers diversity.
The band also has two different modes – electric and acoustic. For more formal performances, the lineup features Reist on an upright bass and the percussionist playing just a snare drum or some other scaled-down set. This alteration allows for a light, airy sound where you can really hear the classic elements of the vocals and strings against a quieter background. On the other hand, for some main stage bars or larger venues, an electric bass and full drum set provide a heavier sound.
All of this, says Rast, is by design: by combining a sound inspired by traditional names like Cole Porter and Django Reinhardt with a slightly more amped-up electric sound, Second Hand Suits aims to deliver music that gets people on their feet.
“We do the music that makes people dance,” Rast says.
The song choices, he adds, allow the band to reach out to older and younger audiences at the same time. A lot of the band’s strategy is also driven by past experience. Rast and Reist were classically trained in violin by the same teacher, Carolyn Moyer. And Ryan brings experience with musicals and a broad knowledge of American standards, which is useful for refining the jazz elements of the music.
As for the new album, Rast says there’s more of the edgier rock/blues sound that’s mixed into many of the band’s live performances. Rast says the band is now finishing up recording an EP at The Sugar Tank studio – located in the basement of Tellus360 – that is being engineered and produced by Mike Newman.
Rast says Newman has a lot of skill and experience in the art of sound, having learned from producer Shelley Yakus in earlier years. Yakus, the son of popular songwriter Milton Yakus, is known throughout the industry for his dozens of production credits, including top hits by best-selling bands. He worked on some of the bluesy tracks on U2’s classic Rattle and Hum. Yakus’ engineering work has sold more than 100 million records.
As for distribution, Rast says the main form of sale will be with digital download cards. He says the band also plans to produce a limited-edition vinyl 45 of the top two tracks. Some of the details, says Rast, will have to wait until the finished product emerges.
The Suits will debut much of the new material tonight at Tellus360 as the band also says goodbye to Ryan, who is leaving for Scotland for nine months.
“It’s the final show with the band as it is now,” Rast says.
After that, Rast says, the band will continue to play as a trio.
“We don’t know what the future holds,” Rast says. But if the band’s busy schedule and hard work ethic thus far can be any indicator, it’s not hard to imagine that it won’t be long before we hear from Second Hand Suits again.
Second Hand Suits play a farewell show at Tellus360 (24 E. King St., Lancaster) tonight. 8pm. $5. 21+. Click here for more info.