Claremont band looks back, while moving forward

Creating anything from thin air is a singularly satisfying endeavor. Whether it’s a recipe, a painting, a home or a poem, the thrill of making something new is rewarding in ways that are difficult to explain.

And if you’re good, lucky, or both, your creation may find a life out in the world. For songwriters, having a song—just one song—that resonates outside of one’s own bedroom, garage or studio is really the be-all, end-all. 

Claremont musician and songwriter Matthew Snyder, 57, is about to try his hand at this enterprise, albeit after a long delay. Thin Ice, the keyboardist’s band that he formed with a group of “band geeks” (Mr. Snyder’s term) from Bonita High in 1977, has released an anthology CD of material recorded nearly 40 years ago.

The overarching hope isn’t massive superstardom. It is, Mr. Snyder said, to simply find an audience. And regardless of how it turns out, the band is satisfied with just finally having the music out there. “It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Thin Ice Anthology is available at Rhino Records in Claremont and online at CD Baby. The group is building a website, thiniceanthology.com.

The goal is, “To get a response,” Mr. Snyder said, “and to hear what people think about this music. This is an opportunity just for people who have never heard the group before to hear this music.”

The CD’s 36 tunes were remixed and remastered by Martie Echito, whom Mr. Snyder credits as one of the driving forces behind the project. The band is Mr. Snyder, keyboards and vocals; Frank Hanson, lead guitar; David Chris (nee Matt Christensen), woodwinds, vocals; Michael Alvarez, trumpet, vocals, guitar, bass; Jon Hypes, bass, and Collie Coburn, bass. Thin Ice’s drummer, Elliott Schaeffer, was killed in an auto accident in 1985. The tragic event spelled the end of the band, Mr. Snyder said. The band’s manager was Gene Iacono. Mr. Snyder was the primary songwriter and arranger for Thin Ice, and Mr. Hanson was its principal lyricist.

The band began as many do, as a group of like-minded 17-year-olds. They were all part of Bonita’s award-winning jazz band program. “We really loved jazz,” Mr. Snyder said. “We thought jazz was just the greatest thing there was.”

So the kids put together a band to compete at the 1977 Hollywood Bowl Battle of the Bands. They did well, finishing in second place in their division. The success was a confidence boost for the young musicians. Thin Ice began rehearsing 30 hours per week and wrote about 25 songs in that first year. Soon they started gigging outside their home turf, including several shows at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood, where they began drawing big crowds. The goal, Mr. Snyder said, was to get a record deal.

But the moment wasn’t right. By 1979, with Thin Ice’s popularity peaking, punk and new wave were taking over Los Angeles. Suddenly, “our music was no longer very fashionable,” Mr. Snyder said.

The band was flexing its musical muscles with progressive jazz-rock and sophisticated pop with challenging chord changes, while punk’s urgent simplicity was quickly becoming the preferred platform. The ironic part is the guys in Thin Ice weren’t some older generation being swept aside by the Young Turks—They were contemporaries of the punks.

“We were just so jazzy,” Mr. Snyder said. “That might have been part of the problem. The record industry never really took note. It was a hard time to break in to the music business.”

The new/old record represents the band’s journey as songwriters. The early stuff was more raw and jazz-influenced, with the group arriving at a more elaborate pop sound near the end of its run. “We really did learn how to write songs,” Mr. Snyder said.

The band set its sights high. If there was a template for its sound, 1977’s “Aja,” by Steely Dan, was it. “We were just blown away by it,” Mr. Snyder said.

It could be that Thin Ice’s sound is better suited for today’s ears than it was back during the rise of punk and new wave. Interest in progressive rock is perhaps as strong today as it was in the pre-punk era. A listen to some of today’s “modern prog” heroes (Tool, Mastodon and The Mars Volta, to name a few) reveals a burgeoning market for challenging music. It could be that the timing is right for Thin Ice’s progressive jazz-rock-pop thing.

A stumbling block though could be the unprecedented glut of new music of all styles consumers have at their fingertips. The digital revolution has turned anyone with an iPhone and a decent microphone into a producer, capable of creating fairly professional sounding “tracks.” The upside—and the downside—is it seems everyone in the world is making music. It’s a constant firehose of art, 24/7, and it can be difficult to be heard over the din.

Mr. Snyder is well aware of the new paradigm. “We’re willing to take a chance and see if there will be an interest,” he said. “And if there is, then we’ll take it from there and see what happens. We never wanted to do anything other than to write and play music. The fact that we have created this large collection of songs that we’re very proud of and that we want people to hear—we don’t really care so much that there’s a vacuum. We’re hoping the quality of the music will stand out and that people will respond to it.”

Live shows and writing new tunes aren’t out of the question, Mr. Snyder said. “It just depends on what the level of interest is. We’re hoping there will be a new generation of people that will pick up on what we were doing, and that they’ll like it,” Mr. Snyder said.

For information on Thin Ice, email 60matthew@gmail.com.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

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