“Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse… all beach, without a background… Nantucket is no Illinois.”
When Herman Neville penned these words in 1851, he envisioned Nantucket through the eyes of a weary whaler at sea. Yet 157 years later, his words resonated with two landlocked young men in the Midwest.
Michael LoPresti and Aaron Smith could empathize with the whalers of Neville’s Moby Dick. Their music was their Nantucket, beckoning them to break away from their day jobs and go back to what they loved. It was this longing that gave way to The Lighthouse and the Whaler.
In June 2008, Michael (lead vocals, guitar, mandolin, keyboard) and Aaron (violin, guitar, keyboard) met in a field in Ohio to take photos with a friend. Taking up their instruments – a violin and a guitar – the musicians had an impromptu collaboration session as the photographer snapped his shots. By the end of the day Michael and Aaron had written their first song, aptly titled “The Field Song,” which was released in December 2008 on a four-song EP entitled A Whisper, A Clamour. The band’s blend of ethereal folk and sweeping harmonies quickly caught the attention of Paste, which featured “The Field Song” on its acclaimed CD sampler. The band also earned early praise and recognition from Under the Radar and FILTER, which in July 2009 declared The Lighthouse and the Whaler its “Unsigned Band of the Month.”
While holding odd jobs as graphic designers, grocery clerks and freelance musicians, the band worked for its rightful place in the Midwest music scene, adding Michael’s younger brother, Matthew (percussion), to the full-time line-up. Their college friend Mark Poro (vocals, guitar, mandolin) soon followed, along with his musical collaborator Steven Diaz (vocals, guitar, keyboard, percussion).
Pursuing a do-it-yourself approach, the band booked itself regional tours through the East and West Coasts, sharing stages with notable acts including Sufjan Stevens, The Temper Trap, Carolina Chocolate Drops, A.A. Bondy, Via Audio and Hallelujah the Hills. During these shows the band showed off its multi-instrumentalist approach, impressing crowds at House of Blues, SXSW, Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, The Living Room, Schuba’s and other venues with what MTV describes as “really cool, melodic folk rock… and a live show you’ve got to check out for yourself.”
The Lighthouse and the Whaler was also busy preparing its debut, self-titled LP, just as it was named “Best Indie Artist” at the 2010 Cleveland Music Awards. Described as “colorful, eccentric and fantastically triumphant,” the album showcases the band’s ability to take seemingly simple instrumentations and layer them into something powerful and strong. “Windows” and “Of the Heavens and the Earth” offer punctuated melodies and sustained harmonies, while “Under Mountain, Under Ground” is marked by “sweet harmonies, a resonant barroom piano, and propulsive percussion to an exuberant climax” (KEXP). The lyrics, which hint at the band’s studies in philosophy and theology, provide room for fans to interpret and correlate the music with experiences in their own lives: struggles, triumphs, good ties and bad.
And while Neville’s protagonist looked out longingly for a home that was out of reach, The Lighthouse and the Whaler is wasting no time chasing down what it loves. “We’ve equated music to be something by which people can really be changed and moved,” explains Michael. “There’s something beautiful in music and powerful in music and when faced with a choice of this or other things – other ways to make money or other ways to fill our heads – we would choose this every time.”