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The Perfectionists

Dark Little Rooms plays to win at the 'Loser's Game.'

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Request an interview and you'll get a similar rundown: the place, the exact number of band members answering questions (Crowder did grant a one-on-one interview for this piece, though he initially wanted to include another bandmember), etc. Make an album with him, and you'd better be ready to work. Dark Little Rooms released its first serious recording recently after forming a year and a half ago as The Brill Building. Crowder, a tall, lanky 27-year-old who speaks with the careful sentences of someone who's thought about what to say, shepherded his group through a staggering 10 months of working on the album, agonizing over each song. That's remarkable enough, but even a little shocking when you consider that the self-titled work is a seven-song EP made chiefly for the ears of friends, club owners and the press. Dark Little Rooms spent the better part of a year on what is essentially its demo.

All that time was well spent, at least as far as results go. Though completely homemade and recorded, the elaborate pop-and-rock structures on these songs are simply out of the league of the everyday local rock band. The album sounds like it dares pigeonholing. It's fleshed out with inventive guitar riffs, rich vocal harmonies and deliberate percussion, all driven by captivating piano melodies, the kind that sound on first listen like you've had them in your head all along.

Crowder defends the time by pointing out that much of it was spent finding the right direction and making sure that he was proud of the results. Though nothing was ever done until he said it was, Crowder simply considers himself protective. It's not his way or the highway, but the details matter, and he likes to reserve the last word. Talking about the politics of his band, he says he likes to think of it as a republic, and likens its power structure to that of Radiohead. "They're like the United Nations," he says, "and Thom York is America."

Crowder learned his work ethic at a young age. He was introduced to performing music at the nondenominational church in Newport News where father is a reverend; Crowder played drums with the band during services. In his teens, he pretty much stayed to himself. Often left alone with the church and its equipment for a hangout, he taught himself to play and record various instruments there for hours on end, only breaking to eat. The results, "terrible rap stuff" at first, he says, are amusing to him now, but the imposed regimen of long, specific hours stuck, and now Crowder sees himself as the guy who's peaking with energy at 3 a.m. after hours of work when everyone else is passing out around him.

"In these last four months I gave everything I had," Crowder says. "It's what you do. You have to work to make whatever you're doing what you do." Crowder often talks and does business as though Dark Little Rooms is already famous, and to him it's really a matter of projection. If he thinks and acts like the big time is at hand, it will be. "You have to think like that," he says, "and if you can't see yourself doing it, you won't."

The only doubt is evident on the new album's first track, "Loser's Game," once under consideration for the album title. For Crowder, eyeing success, it means "getting involved in something you can't win," even if you succeed.

The lyrics in "Loser's Game," just one example of the thoughtful songwriting here, meditate on this dual nature of success. Crowder explains: "You're trying to be an artist, but at the same time you're trying to do art in a world, in an environment that is commercial. Can you keep your integrity and be true to your heart and still be commercially successful?"

In other words, Crowder doesn't want to sell out. After listening to his demo, here's hoping he doesn't.

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