“This is what I’d like to listen to when I’m standing at a window holding a cup of hot chocolate and looking out at the snow,” says Atlanta Drive resident David Manchester of his band Arlo Aldo’s new CD Zelie.
While the snow days are hopefully over until next winter, Zelie does have a quiet, reflective feel that whispers “winter.” Much of the album is lilting, almost haunting, fitting neatly into the alt-folk genre, with a bit of sadcore—bleak lyrics, slower tempos and minimalist arrangements—sprinkled in. A few upbeat tunes pepper the CD like a 50-degree day in February, letting you know that spring will return.
Zelie marks a new life for Manchester in many ways. Three years ago, he and his wife, Vickie, left Baltimore and moved to Pittsburgh because it was halfway between his family in D.C. and hers in Cleveland. They picked Mt. Lebanon, sight unseen, after talking to some friends and a realtor.
“We’d narrowed it down to Squirrel Hill or Mt. Lebanon,” he says. “Both gave us plenty of places to walk and nice parks. But with Mt. Lebanon, we felt this is where we can settle…it will be our 10 to 20 year house.” They have since formed a “Pittsburgh family” with their neighbors. “I’ll send out a text that says ‘Betsy’s?’ and that night we’ll all walk up to Betsy’s Ice Cream,” Manchester says.
But leaving Baltimore meant leaving a band scene that Manchester had been deeply engrossed in, most notably with his band Kadman that he’d fronted for almost a decade. Although he could have revived Kadman in his new hometown, Manchester felt his songwriting was changing.
“I thought it was healthy to have a fresh start,” he says. “When I moved to Pittsburgh, I started writing new songs. And I just let the songs be the songs. It helped me mature as a songwriter, and I found the songs developed more organically. I let the song take me, and stopped trying to take the song.”
Not knowing many people, Manchester was at a bit of a loss as to how to build a new band. He ended up posting on Craigslist for “a female vocalist to sing harmony in a two person band with acoustic guitar.” He wasn’t optimistic as most of listings were for heavy metal groups. “My post was the black sheep of the Pittsburgh music listings,” he says with a chuckle.
About two weeks later, Ariel Nieland contacted him. Nieland had performed in choral groups and was looking to change focus to a folk group. In addition to harmonies, she could provide keys, bells and melodica. Brandon Forbes, a friend of Nieland’s, then joined as drummer. (Bassist Susanna Meyers, formerly of Pittsburgh band Boca Chica, recently made Arlo Aldo a quartet.)
For an album as polished as Zelie, it’s interesting to note that Manchester does not have a formal musical background. His father was an accomplished musician who turned down a full scholarship to Julliard because he didn’t feel the life of a musician was conducive to raising a family, but Manchester’s musical training boils down to piano lessons as a child and some guitar instruction from his brother. “It was mostly him showing me what to do with my fingers,” he says of his guitar lessons.
About a year after moving to Mt. Lebanon, Manchester and Vickie, a mitigation investigator for the federal public defenders office, welcomed a son, Abbott. The band’s name, Arlo Aldo, came from two names considered for the baby. “Well, I considered them,” Manchester says. “I don’t think my wife did.”
Arlo Aldo has been building an audience around Pittsburgh by playing at local clubs, including Club Café,. Last year they recorded their first 10-track CD at J. Bird Studios, an old converted farmhouse in Zelienople (hence the CD’s name). Manchester feels the essence of the farmhouse comes through on the CD, which has received solid reviews in the Post-Gazette and City Paper.
Manchester, a stay-at-home dad and a freelance graphic designer, has his hands full with Abbott, who prefers play time to songwriting time. “I think he’s a little jealous of my guitar,” Manchester says.
You can listen to Zelie at arloaldo.band camp.com. To purchase the CD, go to iTunes, Amazon.com and other online retailers or Sound Cat Records on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield. Manchester hopes to see the CD in some South Hills stores soon.
To hear Arlo Aldo live, stop by Orbis Caffe on Washington Road at 3 p.m., Saturday, April 13, for a free concert.