“Our list is this big!”
Image: Daryl Gilmore

Dark-folk rockers shop around for a cozier venue at the Hawaii Theatre

Music / Once the downtown sunlight becomes sufficiently dim, the three members of Shopping List wander one by one into the Mercury Bar. Besides communicating through what seems to be their internal Chinatown sundials (the trio only seems to surface at night), they also unwittingly match their outfits to run the gamut of plaid. Vocalist/guitarist Grayhmn (Grey) Jennings cheerfully orders a drink, bassist Amrik (Beak) Sidhu smiles cryptically and drummer Eric Pecoraro sparks a conversation about Iron Maiden. Everyone orders another drink. So far, I get the impression that this all seems to be pretty standard procedure. When the beverage supply exhausts, I follow the trio to their upstairs practice space–it’s a tiny, cozy enclave adorned with Christmas lights and anxious instruments that look ready to dissolve the room’s silence.

After almost a year’s long hiatus since the departure of original bassist Toni Woo, Shopping List has risen back to life with new bassist Sidhu (of Animal Mother, Falcon Lord and Mano Kane).

“Our last show was in October at Asterisk–I jumped into the drum-set. We were just done. That was the last time we played with Toni,” recalls Jennings. It was a bittersweet swan song for a band that had worn themselves out. “Our initial motto was that if anyone asks us to play a show, we’ll say yes. I’m just kind of singing about a tough time in my life and sometimes it gets rough, like when we overplay songs. I was tired of feeling like shit because every time I sing a song, it’s like…” Jennings recoils. “Memories, dude,” finishes Pecoraro.

These memories began in 2007. Jennings worked overseas as a broadcast technician. Jennings, often with a guitar in hand, would refine his songwriting whenever there was downtime. One day, he received a distraught voicemail from his brother. Jennings learned that a tumor was found, and that his father was diagnosed with brain cancer, or glioblastoma multiforme. Jennings immediately moved back home to provide support. A doctor explained that his father’s tumor was situated in an area that was impossible to operate in, and a nine-month prognosis was given. Jennings slowly witnessed his father (an architect) lose his ability to design, and eventually lose the ability to form cognitive thoughts.

As a way to cope with losing his father, Jennings wrote feverishly. “I initially named a series of private blog-type diary entries ‘Shopping List’ so that if anybody ever came across it, they wouldn’t think, ‘Oh, Grayhmn’s depressed,’” Jennings says.

Although Jennings used the name “Shopping List” as a way to obscure the sorrow at the core of his writing, not everyone was left in the dark. When Jennings worked at a high school media lab, he confided in a young student who was beginning to become serious with cultivating his talent in music and writing. Jennings told him about Shopping List, and planned to make music with him in the future. When Jennings found out that one morning his friend unexpectedly died, he was on the verge of quitting music altogether. In a last attempt to form a band, Jennings put out a Craigslist ad for band members and met drummer Pecoraro. In a month’s time, the two of them played their first show.

Jennings’ lyrics are punctured with the inevitability of early and random death and decay. In the song “Howdy,” (a song about the job and life of cremators) Jennings sings, “Their ashes keep growing / Blood keeps flowing down / I think how they got away / Spirits cloud the ceiling at least twenty a day.”

When asked to describe their sound, Pecoraro says, “We’re kind of like an alternative-folky-rock band. I don’t know, everyone just sort of looks at each other and we make up words.” Jennings tries his hand, “I think the best thing that’s developed is ‘dark indie.’” Jennings’ raw, grating screams paired with Pecoraro’s explosive drumming have conjured comparisons to Cursive, The Good Life and mewithoutYou.

The more I talk with the band, the more I realize I am sitting rather contentedly, letting them ask each other questions. “To be honest, this is the slowest the three of us have ever really sat down,” says Jennings at one point giddily. “Once we get through some of these obligations, we can focus on the chemistry we have to start being our own band to make something new,” says Sidhu.

And what’s new, exactly? The band is looking forward to a national tour next year on a shoestring budget (via train). They’re also scheduled to open for Bright Eyes at the Hawaii Theatre. “The Hawaii Theatre is one of the biggest reasons we’re together right now, I’m not gonna lie,” laughs Pecoraro. “It’s such a beautiful piece of architecture. It’s such a beautiful piece of Hawaii,” Jennings says with awe. No matter how long these restless gentlemen spend traversing the country, it’s clear Hawaii will always hold their hearts.