- Luke Awtry
- Alex Raine, Evan Raine and Remi Russin
Some take a new name to escape the past. Others rebrand to signal a new future. When Burlington indie rockers Community Garden — formerly known as Entrance to Trains — changed their name last year, a little of both was at work.
"It definitely feels like a new project," explains singer, guitarist and lyricist Alex Raine, 27. That's despite the fact that the outfit's personnel hasn't changed. Raine says that he and his twin brother, Evan, started Entrance to Trains in college as "a little folk duo." But when they added their lifelong friend and collaborator Remi Russin, 26, to become a trio, their sound kept changing. "And eventually we just wanted a name to fit where we were going," Alex says.
Where the band is going, at least emotionally, is up. Entrance to Trains' final album, Thirty Days Without an Accident, was a shiny yet gloomy slice of new-wave-leaning rock, complete with dour lyrics sung in the detached melodic delivery typified by New Order's Peter Hook. Released in 2018, the record solidified the local buzz about the band that had built around a pulsating live show and increasingly distinctive sound. The trio's captivating take on the genre also filled a void created when like-minded local indie-rock bands such as Bison dissolved.
As Community Garden, the group has begun to stretch out within an angular, bass-driven sound, like newly minted adults becoming confident in their own skin at last. And confident they are. On their excellent new record Don't Sweat It, released on March 6, the trio takes its DIIV-meets-early-Cure sound out of the gloom and into the sunlight.
"There's a bit of a theme to the record," Alex reveals, sitting with his bandmates in a coffee shop booth. Together in a social setting, the three relax into familiar roles from growing up together in Swanton. They huddle closely when they talk, like friends accustomed to having quiet dialogues.
"What the songs are saying is, 'Look, no matter what happens, you can be OK. You can be happy,'" Alex continues. "And I understand how cheesy that might be. But this was sort of about me learning that it's OK to put out this kind of record."
Evan agrees wholeheartedly. Both Raines possess easygoing demeanors. But when speaking about their music, each takes on a quiet, almost studious intensity.
"Honestly, I feel like we've been building up this sound for years and years," Evan says. "And now we can have this positive vibe and feel happy to put these feelings out there."
On a record full of instructions for how to stay light on your feet — witness song titles such as "Don't Sweat It," "Brush It Off" and "Be Honest" — Community Garden have created an album that doubles as a supportive friend. Over 10 songs, it checks in on you and reminds you that all is not lost.
About halfway through the driving, life-affirming "Brush It Off," for example, Alex sings what could be a statement of intent for the band's new name and sound.
"I brush it off and to the side, I let myself enjoy the ride," he sings, echoed in perfect harmony by his brother. "I brush it off and to the side, I ease and calm my restless mind."
While Russin is also excited by the group's sunnier musical outlook, it took him a while to realize it was happening.
"Until I hear our songs recorded, I have a really hard time digesting everyone's parts," the bassist admits. "So it's cool when we get the masters back and I can hear the lyrics. It makes me want to look at Alex and say, 'Hey, man. I'm glad you're doing so well!'"
Don't Sweat It started to come together a little more than a year ago. The band wrote and rehearsed the new songs and reimagined some older tunes, all while intentionally pushing themselves toward more upbeat and positive sonic territory. The hallmarks of Entrance to Trains were all still there: the Raine brothers' vocal harmonies; Alex's effects-laden guitars, which simultaneously occupy lead and rhythm space in a delicate balance; Evan's dynamic drumming, equal parts groove and syncopated aggression; and Russin's melodic, searching bass playing. They just needed to focus those elements through the lens of their new name and new songwriting.
Burlington-based musician/producer Kevin Bloom was brought in to track the record. As the front person for neo-psychedelic tricksters and scene contemporaries the Dead Shakers, Bloom was well acquainted with Community Garden's sound. But he was still surprised as the sessions began, specifically by the Raines' vocals.
"Evan and Alex describe what they do as 'harmonies,'" Bloom explains, "but to me it feels more like they were in unison with timbre/tone shaping. They really have this special sound together."
The band cut all 10 tracks in one day. Rigorous rehearsals prior to going into the studio helped make that quick turnaround possible. But the three musicians also share a bond that few other bands have. The Raine twins met Russin in third grade and lived down the street from him in Swanton. By seventh grade, they had formed a band and were playing Green Day and Blink-182 covers in their basements.
"We all developed our ears and talents at the same time," Russin says. "Well, in the same room, too. I just think it's really evident when you listen to our songs. There's a familiarity beneath the tones."
That familiarity permeates the record as the three of them explore a new collective identity and their music's new place in their lives.
"It's funny," Alex says with a shrug. "We definitely didn't mean to do this with the album's sequencing, but the songs sort of describe my happiness over time from front to back."
"I think before, we were so preoccupied with a feeling," Evan adds. "It was kind of like, 'Hey, I have these negative experiences, and I need to write about them and put them out into the world.' Now, we're all in happier places in our lives, and we're trying to spread that vibe."
"Maybe we're escapist rock," Russin suggests — though all three laugh hard enough at the idea that it's unlikely they'll change their genre on Bandcamp anytime soon.
Alex's smile turns into a determined look as he tries to sum up his band's new album. "Look, it's a record about positivity," he says. "And putting out a positive record is necessary sometimes."
Even as his bandmates share a few more "escapist rock" jokes, Alex stares ahead with an earnestness buoyed by his newfound musical positivity. He finally decides what he wants his final word on Don't Sweat It to be.
"It's really important to remind everyone that not everything sucks," he says. "Community Garden is here, and we've got your back."