Standout Track: No. 5, “Small Pills,” a laconic alt-country tune that unexpectedly dips into Tool territory at the chorus. Over syncopated, staccato power chords, singer/guitarist Jim Dempsey, 27, sings, “All the small pills/Don’t make my head feel/Better but they’re/All I got here.”
Musical Motivation: The titular pills are not, as one might assume, illegal drugs or psychotropic medication, says Dempsey, who wrote the lyrics while battling flu-induced insomnia. “The first thing I wrote down was, ‘All the cold pills,’ but I changed it later because I felt the need to give it more of an edge,” he says. “Cold medicine is not very rock star.”
Pill Poppier: Even with that lyrical tweak, the song still needed help, says Dempsey. In its original form, “Small Pills” was a ballad about a slowly dying relationship—not really a crowd pleaser. When the band’s lineup changed last year, Dempsey asked his new bandmates, guitarist Ian Burke and bassist Tracy Epperson, to punch up the song. Burke suggested adding a power-chord-driven ending, which eventually became the song’s anthemic chorus. “I think that ‘Small Pills’ is a good indicator of where we were going as a band,” Dempsey says. “The new stuff we are writing, we are trying to make it hookier…more uptempo,” he says. “I think you can be hooky without being poppy. I think you can be upbeat without being British electro-pop.”
The Moderate plays March 18 at the Black Cat.