Pocket Vinyl: Pianos, paintings and pragmatism

Nearly every up and coming band I've interviewed in my 15 years of writing about pop music has mentioned in passing some sort of goal for their career.

When we're talking, with the tape rolling, the goal takes the form of a record deal or steady touring, or the very natural ambition to have a good time.

But I think many of them are privately thinking what a blend of modesty and studied insouciance prevents them from shouting out loud: "We want to do this full time. This is life in full."

And then there's Pocket Vinyl, a New London band who arrived on the scene in 2011, that's growing in stature and popularity.

At last month's Whalies, New London's music award show, the band won two People's Choice awards and two critics awards, including Song of the Year for the ghostly and powerful "Quiet Epiphany."

Pocket Vinyl is Eric Stevenson on vocal and piano and his wife, Elizabeth Jancewicz, who paints on stage during their concerts, then auctions off the painting at end of the show.

It all sounds rather outre, but Pocket Vinyl are perhaps the most outwardly pragmatic group I've ever encountered. And I don't mean that pejoratively. I think it rocks and you should, too.

For instance, Pocket Vinyl list their goals on their website.

"Our goal number one is do this and live off of it," Jancewicz said. "The goals that we have, we want to build toward that as much as possible."

Included among them: release at least 3 albums; play at least one show in all of the lower 48 states; play at least one show on each continent; tour with a full band; get 100,000 facebook fans; have a "Tiny Desk" concert on NPR; and play the main stage at any national festival.

"When I thought of it," Stevenson said over a pint of Brooklyn Lager at the Dutch Tavern last week, "(I wondered) how has no one done this before?"

The list of goals also is a shrewd bit of self-promotion.

For instance, another goal is to appear on "Sound Opinions," the Chicago rock critics roundtable radio show hosted by music journo-lifers Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot.

"Maybe someone from the 'Sound Opinions' team who sees that, they might be like, 'I could help them with that,'" Stevenson said.

Jancewicz, 25, was born in Norwich but grew up on a native reservation in Quebec where her father works as a linguist helping to preserve the Naskapi language. She returned to the area for her senior year to get her high school diploma from Norwich Free Academy and immersed herself in the school's renowned art program.

From there Jancewicz attended Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y., Stevenson's small upstate hometown. They first met while students at the college.

Stevenson, 26, who had a Christian upbringing complete with piano lessons, had his own Saul-moment, when he heard Ben Folds Five's "Whatever and Ever Amen," which opened up possibilities of what one could do with the 88 keys.

While at Houghton, Stevenson had been a model for one of Jancewicz's paintings, but their romance didn't bloom until after graduation, when they were both working in Korea in 2010. They then fell in love and were married last summer in Norwich.

While Stevenson was still in Korea, he began booking a tour in various towns across America. Jancewicz, who is not a musician and doesn't sing much, wanted to come along.

Borrowing an idea from indie band Cloud Cult, they happened upon the idea of Jancewicz painting on stage during the set.

Both Jancewicz and Stevenson said they didn't originally plan for the painting auction to be the most lucrative part of their tours, but it happened to play out that way. A painting at a recent New London show went for more than $300.

It's a far cry from Pocket Vinyl's first show at a bar in New York City, where they played to nearly nobody and the painting sold for $6.

Jancewicz and Stevenson are trying to avoid the pratfalls of many young bands - like going into credit card debt to fund tours - and are living as frugally as possible. The couple are living in Jancewicz's family's house in Preston along with two other people to keep rent down.

They spent most of the first quarter of the year on tour but plan to keep a lower profile this summer, as a fall tour of colleges looms.

"College gigs tend to pay a little better," Stevenson said.

Sensible, that.

Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lives in downtown New London. Email him at schupaska@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @schupaska.

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