Jazz rock quartet Inn Vinegar has converted years of side project material into a finished album, Pastel Places | Photo by Rūta Smith

The loose-fitting style of local four-piece Inn Vinegar’s debut album Pastel Places teeters on a foundation of jazz polished with diverse rock intricacies.

Guitarist/vocalist Jesse Shafer, bassist McCarthy Fitch and drummer Alex Brouwer started playing together in high school, and by 2018, the band took on its current form with keyboardist Misha Pekar. Since then, Inn Vinegar has been a welcome reprieve for the four musicians as they navigate college life. 

“It was kind of an unspoken agreement really — just us playing music and the collaboration of influences that made our style what it was,” Brouwer told City Paper ahead of the band’s performance at The Royal American last Friday. “A lot of agreements and a lot of creative disagreements that came into one thing, and it turned into an 11-track album somehow.”

Besides jazz, Inn Vinegar’s compositions are a collision of many loves, including Tool’s progressive metal and Jeff Buckley’s underground alt-rock. 

“When we first started it, I wasn’t really sure what kind of music we wanted to play,” Shafer said. “We had some country songs, and we had some almost, like, metal songs, and then we started throwing jazz into the mix, and then it ended up blending into this weird kind of heavy, slightly-twangy-yet-jazz-chord-influence kind of music.” 

As a songwriter, Shafer takes an unconventional approach by fitting together music and lyrics formed separately from a conveyor belt of options. Yet this piecemeal method resulted in a thematically cohesive album. 

Pastel Places evolves as you listen, moving from a math rock constellation on “Friendship Station” to a bluegrass infusion on “Something About a Hero,” with Shafer’s soulful vocals as a guidepost throughout a fringe rock landscape. And while many of Shafer’s lyrics are relics of teenage angst, the music retains a timeless potential for improvisation in a live setting. 

“It’s constantly changing — the way we play it now from the way we played it three years ago or even six months ago,” Pekar said. “I think that’s great because it keeps it fresh and makes it interesting to keep performing the same 11 tunes. There’s an element of freedom. It comes down to in-the-moment communication and it can go 500 different ways on 500 different days. And that makes it fun.”

The recording of Pastel Places was completed across three distantly scheduled sessions last year at The Space recording studio with local producer Wolfgang Zimmerman, giving the band ample time to explore interpretations and bring textural depth to the material. 

“It was three days really far apart, and in between, someone would have an idea like, ‘Oh hey, what if we just set up a mic in your bedroom and throw down this part? What if we go in and take that blueprint we did on day two and layer this on top of it?’ The space helped make it a little more mature and settled,” Pekar said. 

The solid musicianship projected by Pastel Places might give the illusion of an equally solid future direction, but Inn Vinegar has no set plans. 

“Talking about what’s next — honestly, I don’t think any of us could tell you,” Brouwer said.

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