Second Anniversary

Lawrence band radically reinvents its sound on national release

"We've gotten e-mails from kids that are like, 'Your new record sucks,'" said Josh Berwanger, singer/guitarist of The Anniversary. "Who takes the time to do that? When I was in high school and I didn't like a record, I just put it in my closet. Now I'm noticing that I'm pulling all those records out and listening to them again."

That action serves as an analogy for the Lawrence-based band these days. Since forming in 1996, the group's sound has evolved from a mixture of '80s synth-pop melodies with indie-rock aggression to focusing on tight, memorable songwriting evocative of revered vinyl acts. With the Jan. 22 national release of "Your Majesty," The Anniversary has officially matured beyond its modest beginnings.

"Now that the record's out, there are people who are at first like, 'Whoa.' Then they listen to it a couple times and are like, 'Yeah, NOW I get what you're doing,'" Berwanger explained. "There's always going to be those kids who say, 'They need to make another record like before. What's this hippy-dippy crap?' It's basically those emo-punk kids who are really lame because they label themselves as 'I only like THIS music.' That's not what music is about. Music is about opening up to anything."

No longer nervous


Mike Yoder/Journal-World Photo

Members of the Anniversary are, from left, Justin Roelofs, Christian Jankowski, Josh Berwanger, Adrianne Pope and James David.

After releasing its debut "Designing a Nervous Breakdown" in 2000, the band signed to West Coast label Vagrant Records a formidable independent company that's helped establish artists such as Face To Face and Lawrence/KC superstars The Get Up Kids. In June, The Anniversary made the trek to the land of cutthroat industry deals and soothing herbal enemas to begin work on a sophomore album at Sonora Recorders in Los Angeles. The opportunity to relocate for a stretch proved to be enticing.

"It's hard to record in Lawrence especially for a month because you have all your friends and family there, which is just a distraction when you're making a record," Berwanger said. "So L.A., that's one of the advantages. The disadvantage is you're stuck out in L.A. (laughs) But the part we were in (Los Feliz) was really nice. It was kind of calm, and we went to Malibu Beach a bunch and hung out. We wrote a lot of lyrics and song parts there."

The five members of the band Berwanger, bassist James David, guitarist/vocalist Justin Roelofs, keyboardist/vocalist Adrianne Pope and drummer Christian Jankowski were sequestered in a cramped hotel room with two beds, a small refrigerator and a TV with no cable. While at the studio, they had much more room to expand, both physically and creatively. Recording "Your Majesty" gave the young musicians (all in their early 20s) the chance to work with veteran producer Rob Schnapf, whose past successes include Beck's multiplatinum "Odelay" and Elliott Smith's "XO."

"He was so great and understanding in the studio," Berwanger said of Schnapf. "We'd never done something like preproduction for a record before. The last record was just a bunch of songs that we went and recorded. This time, we were in a practice space for a week before we started tracking. We would play each song individually for him, and we'd talk about it afterward. 'Does this part really need to be there? Should this part go like this?' It really helped Justin and I as songwriters, because we've never looked at our songs from another perspective."

Once the actual recording process began, "Your Majesty" proved equally taxing on the band and its producer.

"He said, 'I can't believe we did this record in only two and a half weeks. I haven't done this since the '70s.'"

Then came the waiting.

The release date of "Your Majesty" was pushed back several times by Vagrant, with each delay increasing the tension within the band.

"I was lost on the last tour," Berwanger confessed. "I was going through a lot of personal things. I was just off. But it was a good thing, because it made everyone see what NOT to do. ... We kind of had a tough tour because everyone was on a different ego level we all have essentially 'charismatic personalities.' But now that the record is out, everything is great. This next tour is going to feel like our first tour."

The Anniversary is booked for three area shows with Guided by Voices in mid-February, then will embark on an eight-week excursion with label-mate Dashboard Confessional.

Interestingly, the band's first warm-up gig for the album release took place Jan. 15 at Haskell Indian Nations University. Berwanger, Roelofs and Pope performed an acoustic set on behalf of Leadership Lawrence during an Arts, Culture and Diversity session devoted to the local music scene. It was the first time the group had played in such a stripped-down format, and the tunes seemed to go over well. Unexpectedly, the musicians sold $120 worth of merchandise to an audience of bank managers and school administrators.

At the event, one of the most common questions involved the ultimate goal of the band.

"I just want to be at the point where we can do what we want to," Berwanger reiterated. "Just to be able to open up doors for people who don't have a lot of exposure to music."


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