On new album, Pianos Become the Teeth deals with death

There's a moment from Kyle Durfey's adolescence that has always stayed with him.

He was sitting next to his dad in their Crofton home, watching the sci-fi movie "Contact." In the film, Jodie Foster's character sees her long-deceased father walk up to her on a beach in space.

"I'll be damned," Gordon Durfey said to himself, just loud enough for his son to hear him.

The significance wasn't lost on the teenager: Durfey realized his dad was imagining meeting his father again. It's a feeling Durfey knows well now.

"The Lack Long After," the second album from Durfey's Baltimore screamo band Pianos Become the Teeth released in November on Topshelf Records, is about the death of Durfey's dad, who died of pneumonia in April 2010. His long battle with multiple sclerosis, and its severe weakening of his immune system, had ended.

Durfey began writing immediately, first as free-form thoughts and then manipulating them into lyrics. "I'll Be Damned," the album's first song, features the line, "I can just hear you say, 'Come on, bud, get out of that funk, it's time to move on.'"

"He was the type of guy that'd say, '[bad] things happen but it's never that bad,'" Durfey, now 27, said. "Grit your teeth and get through it."

The catharsis is all over "The Lack Long After," through Durfey's guttural wails and its intense post-hardcore music. Pianos — which plays "The Lack Long After" CD release show at Ottobar on Friday — formed in 2006, and like many screamo bands, released EPs and split 7" vinyls in its beginning stages.

The band's first full-length, "Old Pride," was released in 2010. Despite its members living in Baltimore and College Park, Durfey said, the band doesn't fit into any of the city's scenes.

"It's funny, we've always been too light or artsy for the hardcore crew, but for the indie scene, we're too hard," Durfey said. "There's a handful of bands I keep in touch with, but I don't really know what's going on in Baltimore anymore."

The band — which includes David Haik (drums), Zac Sewell (bass), Chad McDonald (guitar) and Michael York (guitar) — easily switches from heavy, City-of-Caterpillar-styled screamo to moody, atmospheric sounds similar to Explosions in the Sky.

Pianos' songs are a 100 percent collaborative effort. If one person doesn't like an element of a song, it's reworked or scrapped. By the same token, Durfey said he's grateful his bandmates allowed him to write an entire album essentially about one very personal episode.

"The guys were supportive and gave me the freedom to write," he said. "I don't take it for granted. It's scary to make something so personal, that you're going to be pushing for so long, but at the same time, that's why we're in this band — to write about what we care about."

Baltimore has plenty of niches — experimental avant-garde, indie-rock, hip-hop and club — but screamo isn't necessarily one of them. Part of Pianos' disconnect also comes from the band's constant touring. They just finished a monthlong, countrywide trek opening for Touche Amore. The band's success — enough to "make a little bit of money but nothing to write home about," according to Duffrey — makes maintaining a day job difficult.

"It's hard to apply for places and then tell them, 'So I'm leaving for a month…'" Durfey said. "You know you have to bite the bullet and work a crappy job. I'll be probably be doing construction in my downtime."

While superstardom is likely out of the question (Top 40 and screamo are at opposite ends of the spectrum), the band's profile has continued to rise, thanks to relentless touring and well-received releases. "The Lack Long After," which was recorded at downtown's Developing Nations Studio, continues the trend, as the band will tour North America and Europe from February to March.

"We're not going to be in this band forever," Durfey said. "It just depends on where this record takes us. We want to get as many listeners as we can."

No matter how long the band lasts, Durfey will always have the new album as a lasting reminder of his love for his father. The feeling was clearly mutual, as Durfey's mother tells him in a voice mail message that plays at the end of the record. The album fades out with her saying, "I hope you know how much he loved you and I think you do."

"It was a great way to sum up the record," he said. "This record is so personal to me and my family, so it's cool to have my mom on there."

If you go

Pianos Become the Teeth performs Friday at The Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. Doors open at 7 p.m. $10. Call 410-662-0069 or go to