Simone Puleo, Amy Shaw and Mike Kaminski — at that time, half of a South Florida indie-rock band called Dr. Martino — moved to Willimantic three years ago.
Puleo had enrolled in a doctorate program at the University of Connecticut. Shaw and Kaminski didn't want the band to fold, even as three other musicians left. Willimantic offered a punk-leaning record store with deep bins doubling as a music venue (Joe Malinowski's Willimantic Records), proximity to music scenes in Boston and New Haven and a network of like-minded bands.
"We took it as an opportunity to come to the Northeast," Shaw says. "Opportunities are better up here than South Florida. We were very isolated down there musically."
At the time, Shaw was a guest vocalist on Dr. Martino's 2013 album "Right To Work"; she's now the bass player. Kaminski switched from guitar to drums. The musicians networked at shows, wrote songs and practiced.
"We tried to make a good impression on the music community," Shaw says. "Eventually we were able to start getting better and better gigs."
Dr. Martino now gigs steadily as a trio. Recent shows have been at Stella Blues in New Haven, 750 Main in Willimantic, and the band has a show April 22 with Go Cozy at Studio One in Southington.
The components of the trio's sound aren't uncommon: two lead singers; twanged-out and distorted guitars; bass lines sticking close to chord roots, or locking into riffs; big, hooky choruses and softer choruses ("Dag," the last track on "Big Day," an EP from 2014, might be the best example of this); and loose-limbed, punk-rock drumming from Kaminski, who's fluent in shifting styles and speedy tempos.
Both Puleo and Shaw write. Of the two, Puleo is zanier; he'll sing with a sneer or a put-on Southern accent, about food ("Clean Plate Club," a near-jingle with tempo and groove shifts); entertainment ("Hollywood Coprophagia," where he gleefully emphasizes the syllable "ca ca ca ca"); and space travel ("2024"). A spark of an idea becomes a planet in an expanding, offbeat musical universe.
Shaw's songs, by contrast, are nostalgic and introspective: Two of them, "Anna May" and the religion-tinged "Some Kind of Kneelin'," lope along in a sort of dreamy waltz-time, alternating clean and distorted guitar textures. Both writers mine 1960s and '70s styles: surf rock, punk, Southern-fried blues, power-pop, even girl groups. There's some Devo, some Zappa, some Southern Culture on the Skids, maybe some video-game music in there.
Puleo, Shaw says, "has always been the type of musician where he wants to share everything from the moment the idea comes to him to the very end. He's very collaborative in that way. I'm more of an isolated songwriter. I like to shut myself in a room and write a song."
Gradually, Shaw became more comfortable collaborating. "He's helped me a lot in that regard."
Recently, Dr. Martino and three other bands — Spectral Fangs, Terrible Roars and Ghost of Chance — released "Calligrams," a four-way split EP, with each group contributing two tracks. (Dr. Martino submitted "Clean Plate Club" and "Anna May.") Vinyl copies are available for pre-order on Dr. Martino's website (drmartinomusic.com).
"Everyone has seen split EPs before with two bands, but we haven't really seen someone do something with four bands," Shaw says. "We wanted to create a project that would survey all of the music in Connecticut right now that we're drawn to. We wanted something unorthodox."
Puleo began writing "Clean Plate Club" at a diner. "I think it stands out from the rest of our songs because it is so silly," Shaw says. "But I think part of what we were trying to do with that is that we move up to Connecticut and we've noticed that a lot of the music up here is more somber and more dark-sounding. This is kind of our statement of who we are and that we're not afraid to be a fun band."
The boldness of picking up one's life and relocating it to Willimantic to pursue music isn't lost on Shaw.
"All of us understood how isolated things were in South Florida, there's not really an indie/garage rock scene at all," Shaw says. "So few bands even come down and play there. We just knew that we had to get out of South Florida. We just saw it as a huge opportunity to continue doing what we loved, but in a capacity where the environment was welcoming to us."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press Play is a column exploring the underground musicians of Connecticut. If you have new music to share, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.