Sweet Ideas

Young Ideas have the soft touch

Young Ideas with John Southworth and Dan Bryk at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Friday (August 2), 9 pm. $tba. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN

there’s something about young Ideas that trills Julie Andrews. The local dreamy piano-pop trio spin tinkly technicolour vignettes that recall those surreal Mary Poppins-style musicals — slightly campy, a tad wide-eyed and filled with quirky details that keep you coming back for more.It’s taken Young Ideas some time — and much more than a spoonful of sugar — to find their inner Julies, though.

“I started playing with a bunch of guys three years ago,” explains founding pianist Mitch Willer, “and we tried to be all kinds of things. I was listening to Soul Coughing and Luscious Jackson, and since I’m not that great a singer, I figured I’d talk over the tracks.

“We were just trying to be cool. But you can’t try to be cool. The world doesn’t need us to be anything except ourselves.”

Willer was saved from his Rebel Without A Cause pretensions when current percussionist Greg Millson came on board. Taking Willer’s day job as a wacky children’s theatre instructor into account, Millson suggested that his bandmate could explore a different approach.

“He turned to me and said, “Play me the silliest song you’d never bring into a rehearsal — something you’d make up for kids,'” chuckles Willer. “I played it, and he said it was the best thing he’d heard so far. It didn’t take long for the rest of the members to quit.”

Nothing like a little inner child therapy to get the creative juices flowing. Still, things didn’t gel till the boys recruited trumpet Sarah McElcheran to lay down a couple of horn tracks.

By the time she finished, the band had found a brassier sound and a new bassist.

“We couldn’t believe she wanted to join our shitty little band. And she wasn’t sure we wanted her in the band,” offers Millson cheerfully.

McElcheran says she’s thrilled to be a proper band member as opposed to a horn for hire.

“As a trumpet player, you always know you’re icing. As a bass player, you really belong. I’ve tried to minimize the other bands I play with now.”

What emerged from that convoluted evolution was a winning sound that’s simultaneously refreshing and strangely familiar.

Their first EP, To Care For A Baby Bird (independent), pulls together five songs that combine the bah-bah-bah brass of Bacharach-backed 60s flicks, Pet Sounds-style vocal harmonies backed with piano à la Ben Folds.

Sweetly naive lyrics lend the tunes an urban-fairy-tale sparkle, particularly on the layered album closer, Bottle. The total effect is quite powerful.

“I think a bit of that comes from Mitch’s children’s theatre background and a little comes from Broadway song arrangements. It’s not your typical indie rock thing,” says Millson. “More songs sound like Annie for little kids than, say, My Bloody Valentine.”

At any rate, a charming innocence governs the Young Ideas approach. Over the course of our lazy Sunday interview, they reference Barney Rubble, Donkey Kong and kitschy 80s memorabilia. Even the title of their EP has a sad fairy story behind it.

“My girlfriend found a baby bird and brought it home in a box,” sighs Millson. “I became the bird’s daddy for about two weeks. I’d lie on the couch watching Letterman while the bird sat on my chest and laid little hot poops on it.

“We searched on the Internet for baby bird care instructions, and in the My Documents folder there was the title “to care for a baby bird.’ I liked the way it looked on the screen. I thought it was kinda cute, and the music is kinda cute, so it fit.”

After three weeks of home care, Millson decided to take the bird to a wildlife sanctuary.

“They said it was some rare European bird that shouldn’t have been here in the first place and had to be euthanized. My poor little buddy! I was in tears.”

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