“My first memory is watching a Tom Petty music video on MTV,” says Jeri Sapronetti, singer and guitarist of Akron-based rock band Time Cat. “My mom even wrote about it in my baby book. She put, ‘Jeri’s obsessed with Tom Petty.’”
Today, Sapronetti stands by her early obsession. “‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’ is one of those songs that stirs something inside of your spirit, pulling you in an unknown direction, and you have to try and figure out what that direction is.”
Time Cat – comprised of Sapronetti on lead vocals and guitar, Donald Alan on guitar, Colten Huffman on bass and Sam Caler on drums – released their new album, American Spirit Blues, on Independence Day.The record is chiseled from the same stone as Petty’s brand of anthemic heartland rock n’ roll, offering rock songs that play loose while still retaining their foundational song structures, lyrics that both celebrate living in the moment and embrace nostalgia, and a title track that criticizes American ideals while reveling in a soundscape that’s as purely American as the brand of cigarettes the album is named after.
The result is a collection of meticulously crafted songs that firmly plant their stakes in the hallowed but forsaken soil of rock n’ roll and refuse to budge.
“We’re retro,” says Sapronetti. “It’s not like we’re intentionally doing it. It’s just what we like. I’ll send our tracks to be considered for blog postings or playlists, and people are like, ‘This is really dated.’ It’s one of those things where you’re not going to be able to please people. In today’s musical climate, everything is so nichey, so I mean, there are going to be people who like rock n’ roll music still who are under the age of 50.”
It seems Time Cat’s music springs naturally from a belief that the rock n’ roll palette is far from reaching its ceiling of fresh sounds, so long as there are musicians willing to explore within its boundaries.
The record’s first song, “Set the World on Fire,” might be its best. Sapronetti invites everyone to “party til the sun goes down” before thinking back fondly on a bygone summer. “It was a summer dream / I had everything, and I was with you,” she sings. The summer dream could be the party she sings about, in which case she’s inviting listeners into the idyllic memory. Or it could be a call to action, pushing forward with the party so as not to become stuck in the past. Or it could all be a dream. However you interpret the lyrics, you end up somewhere bittersweet. The chorus (especially the second time around) is celestial, a swirling coalescence of colors, with a wistful piano melody floating through the mix, crunchy guitar in the right channel for counterbalance, and Sapronetti’s intricately-layered, echo-garnished vocal harmonies.
“I put so many hours into the vocals for every song,” says Sapronetti. “All of the harmonies, everything. For ‘American Spirit Blues,’ I spent at least ten hours busting out the main vocal line and getting the harmonies. The guitar solo in ‘Eleventh Adventure’ took me months. It’s not like I was constantly working on it, but it took me months to come to a place where it was like, ‘Okay, I found the composition, now I have to bust it out.’ Every part, I mulled over it, over and over again.”
“Our other guitar player is also very obsessive about getting things to be – not just perfect, ‘cause technical perfection is very one-sided – but you want to capture emotion in it. It’s like acting. You’re laying out vocals, and not only are you trying to sing on the key, but you want it to actually have a feeling that people can latch onto.”
As a staple of the Akron music scene, Time Cat has become known for their live sets, during which songs gain extended solos, sometimes stretching to jam-session length. It’s easy to imagine the uptempo dance number “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and the sleazy blues stomp of “Get on the Road” expanding into solo-fevered crowd pleasers during shows.
Though three of the songs on American Spirit Blues clock in at over five minutes, there’s no sonic detritus. Time Cat pulls off a laudable feat: their album exudes the energy of their live shows while remaining contained, air-tight, well-crafted.
Album closer “The Party’s Over” builds on one of the most endearing four-beat phrases in the history of rock n’ roll – think of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” the Four Seasons’ “Rag Doll,” all the way to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey.” Time Cat peaks their addition to the rhythm’s annals with a spacy guitar romp and thick braids of vocal harmony, then bids listeners goodnight.
“I’m very proud about this album,” Sapronetti says.
And she should be. If it turns out that Sapronetti makes music to give listeners the same feeling she has while listening to “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” then, at this point in her career, American Spirit Blues is probably the closest she’s come.