By: Julianne Lane, Senior Music Director
When the Background Action officially formed in the fall of 2019, it was because of a prescient offer from lead singer Emilio Tognelli. He was directing and acting in a film that required backup musicians, and it seemed obvious that he should reach out to a few friends who had formed a three-piece months prior. They were happy to portray the film’s fictional band, of which Emilio’s character played the lead singer. As the four worked on the film together, they also privately started jamming and trading original material. It became clear somewhere along the way that Emilio’s role on screen was serendipitous, and he was officially invited to sing lead vocals. With a lineup established, the band was eager to set up gigs and begin the process of recording their finished songs.
Unfortunately, the pandemic put those plans on pause. It would be over a year before the band was able to safely access studio space. Their unexpected break, however disappointing, gave them time to discover new influences, perfect their material, and hone in on the best parts of their sound. As a result, their debut album, Grilled Cheese Pyramid Scheme, released in April of 2022,is loud and in your face, boasting earworm hooks, charmingly off-kilter lyrics, and a gritty production style that adds unique flair to the characteristic sound of hardcore punk that the band was clearly inspired by.
The album is relatively short, with eight tracks and a run time of just under thirty minutes, but manages to successfully exhibit the extents of the band’s wide creative range. The second track, “Dumbface” centers around a single fuzzy guitar riff, which accompanies amusing lyrics taking jabs at someone who’s become the narrator’s object of petty contempt. “Like a sheep in a pen that’s been dead for a while, like eating candy in front of a child” Emilio sings before the song rips into a loud irreverent chorus. While “Dumbface” shows the band’s affinity for simple, fun punk songs, the material further down the tracklist displays their ability to craft more complex arrangements and deal with heavier subject matters.
“No Grace ” is the longest song on the record at just under 6 minutes, and starts with a hauntingly dissonant bass part played over static noise. Sebastian’s guitar part comes in softly and sparsely at first, creating the harmonic movement of the song by periodically recontextualizing the haunting drone of the bass. The vocals are similarly sparse and simple, discussing a perceived lack of forgiveness in the narrator’s world. Half way through the full band comes in, and the song turns into a gratifying, raucous mess of sound. The album’s closer, “The Climate Song (We’re F****d)” is an unexpected acoustic track that’s darkly humorous, lamenting the predicament that younger generations are in because of the impacts of global warming. Every track on Grilled Cheese Pyramid Scheme is unique without compromising the band’s core style, and feels like it’s earned its place on the lean tracklist.
The sound of Grilled Cheese Pyramid Scheme was crafted by the band’s drummer, Campbell Hamilton-Howard, who also produced the album. Her drums are panned to the left, and the bass and guitar are frequently so drenched in distortion and reverb that they sound distant, like they’re coming from a different room. This stands contrast to the vocals, which are close and dry. This stark difference between the vocals and instrumentation creates a unique sonic landscape, one that feels simultaneously spacious and claustrophobic, and distinguishes the album from others released by the band’s contemporaries.
The Background Action’s debut is a consistently impressive display of their creative bandwidth. Grilled Cheese Pyramid Scheme is a lean, gritty record full of irreverent lyrics, effortlessly catchy hooks, and sonic quirks that are sure to keep listeners amused and engaged for the full run time.
The Background Action is Emilio Tognelli on lead vocals, Sebastian Duall on guitar, Carson Mulieri on bass, and Campbell Hamilton-Howard on drums.