Tim Berrigan and Tony Bitetti met in first grade. Bitetti was a newcomer to the York Elementary School, while Berrigan was an old hand at it. As 6-year-old children often can do, young Tony was not happy about his new school and made himself heard on the subject. He refused to enter the classroom. Fortunately, Berrigan was able to cool Bitetti’s jets.
“He was like, ‘Dude, chill out, you’re gonna be fine, it’s first grade,’” said Bitetti, who still divides his time between York and Orono. “The rest is history. We played Power Rangers together.”
Nearly 20 years later, the pair are two-thirds of the Orono-based garage rock trio Great Western Plain, with Bitetti on drums, and Berrigan and Michael Powers sharing bass, guitar and vocal duties. Bitetti and Berrigan met up in Orono all those years later — Berrigan about to complete a master’s degree in English, Bitetti a recent graduate of the New England School of Communications. Though they had grown apart from their childhood friendship, they found themselves drawn back together through music.
By the end of 2010, Powers and Berrigan’s old band, the alt-country rock foursome the Hampden Mountain Boys, was mostly finished, and Bitetti, ever the workaholic, was already in one band (the Orono synth-heavy indie rock trio Good Kids Sprouting Horns) and was a part-time member of another (the Bangor dreamy indie folk group In Houses In Trees). Why not start another band?
“I think we were ready to move on from what we were playing with the Hampden Mountain Boys, and Tony got the direction we were going in,” Berrigan said Wednesday. “His drumming is a lot harder, and that really pushed the change in our sound.”
Though the soulful alt-country twang that marked the Hampden Mountain Boys’ sound is still present, it now plays secondary role to the noisy, barnstorming, beautiful racket that Great Western Plain makes. There’s a bit of a Neil Young and Crazy Horse feel to the proceedings, though echoes of great Midwestern rock bands such as the Replacements and early-period Wilco also are present, as well as the fuzzy weirdness of Pavement.
“We like that raw sound, not too polished. That’s not the aesthetic we’re into,” said Powers. “It’s all happened really organically. We all just kind of ended up on the same page.”
It’s clear that turning up the volume and paring down the instrumentation has invigorated Powers and Berrigan, and three musicians seem to work incredibly well together. Case in point: Powers, Berrigan and Bitetti wrote and recorded a full-length album in less than four months. “Noise,” released in late April, features nine tracks of distorted but melodic garage rock, recorded over the winter in a living room in downtown Orono. Another full-length album is already on the way, due later this summer.
“At one point, we all just said ‘Stop writing songs!’ because we would just crank them out on a daily basis,” said Berrigan. “We almost have too much stuff to work with now. Everything is a group effort. If I come up with a verse, Tony or Mike will come up with a bridge or chorus.”
The three plan to write and record even more this summer, and though they don’t have any shows planned, they hope to play a few in Greater Bangor in the coming months. “Noise” is available for free download on the band’s website, greatwesternplain.bandcamp.com; keep checking back for the next album and future shows.
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