The riffs, vocals and jangle-laden melodies of The Relationship are straight from the playbook of power-pop icons like Elvis Costello or Big Star, and that's not bad company to keep.
Brian Bell, however, isn't too keen on such comparisons.
"It's funny how people do that," Bell said by phone from Denver, Colo. "A lot of musicians talk in terms of artists they already know — It's Bowie-ish, it's Elvis Costello-like, it's Kinks-y, it's Beatles-y. I never have used any other artist as a model for a sound or a song. It always has to come from an emotion, and capturing the essence of that emotion in a song."
Bell has an interest in making sure his work with The Relationship sounds unique. Not only is he that band's singer and lead songwriter, he's also the guitarist for dorkishly adored alt-rock heroes Weezer. And when you go from a band that huge to one as relatively unknown as The Relationship, who play Ybor City's intimate Crowbar Wednesday, it can be a head trip.
"It plays on my ego a little bit," he said. "I would be lying if I said it didn't, when you go to a club and say, like, 'Oh my god, this is so small,' and we're lucky to fill a quarter of this room. ... But once I'm on stage playing the music, I don't discredit anyone in that room watching us. I'll give them the best show I possibly can. It makes no difference how many how many or how few people (are there)."
Bell founded The Relationship in 2006 (for Weezer fans, that's between Make Believe and the Red Album) with guitarist Nate Shaw (U.S. Bombs), and released their debut self-titled album in 2010. Over the years The Relationship has shared festival stages with Weezer, but it's these more intimate club gigs that really take Bell back to his pre-Blue Album salad days.
"Bands should definitely pay some dues and go through it, go to small clubs, build a fan base, all that kind of stuff, because it's not real otherwise," he said. "It's fun being with my friends, in a van again, playing college radio stations. It's neat. It's kind of like the old days, except I'm not sleeping on floors."
He does have to load in his own gear, which means he frequently finds himself face to face with Weezer fans. "There's no inner animosity or struggle with me," he said. "When we did a performance at a Santa Cruz radio station and the DJ was wearing a Weezer shirt, I thanked him for supporting me that way as well."
He's even taken notes on being a frontman from Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, who occasionally meanders around his venues' stages, in full lights and full view of the audience, before the music starts.
"I'm really happy to see him being more secure with doing things like that," Bell said. "Seeing people ahead of time and getting acquainted with the space you're playing in is important to getting comfortable in that place."
As for the music? Like Weezer, The Relationship does embody sonic qualities that pay homage to classic power-pop of the '70s and '80s. (Of Oh Allen, a new 7-ionch released through L.A. hipster hub Burger Records, Bell says, "I know that people will probably say it has a Weezer quality to it.") But Bell uses different guitars and vintage and boutique amps for The Relationship, which give that band an entirely different guitar sound.
"I like the sound of a Silvertone amp for myself," he said. "It's kind of cleaner guitar sounds when necessary, maybe a little less metal-sounding. But it really doesn't matter what amp I play through; it's really the way I voice chords and play guitar, how I strike the strings."
Bell writes for The Relationship both in person with Shaw and while he's on the road with Weezer, which means it can sometimes take months, even years, to finish a single song (a sophomore album, he said, might finally be done this year). And considering he's spending his brief Weezer breather out on the road playing clubs, he clearly views The Relationship as more than just a side gig.
"I wouldn't put this much energy into it, I wouldn't spend years on a song trying to get it just right, if it was a side project," he said. "I guess I prefer the word band."