WHEN THE Alialujah Choir first decided to create music together, they all agreed that it was best to set a few ground rules.
First and foremost, the trio—made up of local music fixtures Adam Shearer, Adam Selzer, and Alia Farah—were to bring all operations to a halt and take a break if and when things ceased to be fun. "And we've been starting and stopping since 2008," says Shearer, who also fronts Weinland. "Every time the songwriting and recording felt like too much work, we would table it for a while."
"But then we would inevitably miss playing the songs, as well as each other," says Farah, the unofficial matron of the group. According to Shearer, Farah—who teaches music lessons and has been known to compose entire arrangements for children's musical theater—is the "technical singer." She's the one plunking out everyone's harmonies on the piano and keeping the boys—hilariously self-described as "character singers"—in line. The group dynamic is truly adorable: While talking with Farah and Shearer, Selzer (who was unavailable at the time of the interview) texted in a few comments and concerns. Namely, "You guys better not be talking shit about me"; when asked who his muse was, Selzer simply texted, "Alia."
But back to the rules: It was also deemed necessary to protect the band's pristine and quiet sound. Both Shearer and Selzer had found themselves in musical situations where their well-tempered folk aspirations were ramped up to rock band proportions. "Norfolk and Western [Selzer's now defunct band] got really prog-y, with lots of weird time signatures and swirling feedback solos," says Shearer. "And as Weinland grew in numbers and progressed, everything got louder and bigger. Which has never been a problem, but we're still the kind of guys that are up in our bedrooms at 3 am writing these quiet songs, and we needed somewhere to put them."
To help enforce this very important tenet, the group drafted a subdivision of bills. To begin, no one else could play on the album, or even be present in the studio while the tape was rolling. "We both learned how to run the boards and set up the mics so that Adam [Selzer, who helms Type Foundry Studio, where the group's self-titled debut was recorded] could record his parts," says Farah. Also, there would be no drum kit or bass found in the live room; all percussion had to be relegated to auxiliary status. "We were good about sticking to our many limitations," says Shearer. "And we knew it was because we wanted to preserve the good thing that we had."
While it seems that the Alialujah Choir have worked hard to keep themselves in line, the musical connection that permeates the trio is something that exists far beyond anyone's command. For instance, on the standout track "A House a Home"—the song that's ultimately responsible for the band's inception—every third line finds Shearer, Selzer, and Farah singing together in bone-chilling, otherworldly attunement that eventually collapses into an astral haze of hand claps and improvised piano. And even in the more gossamer moments on their self-titled debut—of which there are many—all of their voices come together and resound above the spare instrumentation, thus packing the exhilarating punch of a sprawling chorale. And that's something that can't be written into the law books.