Total Downer isn’t really a total downer. Even though the Cleveland band incorporates some dark lyrical inspirations behind some of its music, it also makes tongue-in-cheek references to pop-culture staples like Dolly Parton, Star Trek and Twilight in its debut album Caretaker, out Jan. 27. Sonically, the tunes show the band’s foundations in high-energy ska (“Dr. Phil”), grungy skate-punk (“Shut Up”) and political punk rock (“Taylor Lautner,” “Big Mouth,” “Cruel”).
The band’s current lineup — singer-guitarist Andy Schumann, guitarist Clay Reid, bassist Arfil Pajarillaga and drummer Dante Foley — came together in late 2021. But Total Downer’s roots trace back to Schumann’s high school and college years. The band’s first EP, Keep On Riding that Dirt Bike, arrived right after Schumann graduated from New York University in 2019.
Soon after, while handling the coronavirus pandemic that first touched Ohio in early 2020, Schumann had to grapple with another tragedy: the death of friend and musical collaborator Nico Buchanan in early 2021.
“It felt like it was maybe the end of this, so I sat on stuff for a while,” Schumann says.
Schumann’s partner urged him to continue making music and to record previously written songs. Once Total Downer’s current lineup came together, the quartet recorded Caretaker’s 13 tracks.
The album will arrive on Jan. 27, but in the meantime, Total Downer offers a sneak peek with its new single “Taylor Lautner.”
Schumann was inspired by the actor who starred as Jacob Black in the popular Twilight movie franchise, tying the song into topics of masculinity and the treatment of young actors in Hollywood.
“It’s about how I love Taylor Lautner, and I think Taylor Lautner is so cool and when I was younger, I remember being so jealous of Taylor Lautner,” Schumann says. “As I got older I read these interviews with Taylor Lautner where he kind of felt a complicated relationship with being treated as a sex symbol at such a young age.”
Check out the track below:
A solid punk thread connects all songs on Caretaker. The band found inspiration from a wide range of artists like Liz Phair, Joyce Manor, Charly Bliss, Mannequin Pussy, Green Day and Bob Pollard, Schumann and Reid say.
“The album has two moods. It goes absolutely nuts and then it’ll pull back and do a more pop type of song every once in a while,” Reid says. “It was fun structuring the album trying to make for a good listening experience, because the moods are sometimes so different.”
Also, despite those “downer” moments, this music seeks to keep looking up.
“I think that’s really important to me,” Schumann says. “It’s this optimism against all odds.”
Total Downer will celebrate the release of Caretaker with a performance on WRUW, Case Western Reserve University's radio station, on Feb. 2, and a show at Cro Bar on Feb. 3. Find more details about the band at facebook.com/totaldownerband.
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