Good luck pinning down The Problems. One spin of the New York-based band's latest album, Powder Blue Bone, offers a rich and engaging blend of roots rock, pop, country, alternative and even a splash of punk. That's the way lead singer and songwriter Frank Caiafa likes it. "We hate being pigeonholed into one category," Caiafa explains. "Because of this band's ability to play whatever the songs demand, the songs take on a life of their own."
That dynamic fueled the creative process behind Powder Blue Bone, The Problems' second full-length independent release following the success of their self-titled debut in 2001. But whereas the first album was written and recorded in a short span of time, Powder Blue Bone was a project three years in the making, with all sorts of twists and turns along the way. “My original concept was for more of a 'rock' record, bringing in friends and musicians that would help in that direction,” Caiafa recalls. A serendipitous meeting with Eddy Goldberg and Kate Kilbane, however, convinced Caiafa to reconsider his plans. “It became apparent quite quickly that those songs and that concept just weren’t in the cards,” he says, “so I wound up scrapping or rearranging almost an album’s worth of material to then fit into a more rootsy arena.”
With Kilbane (bass) and Goldberg (banjo, harmonica keys and vocals) joining Caiafa (guitar, vocals) and fellow founding member Barbara Corless (drums), The Problems began writing and recording the 14 songs that would ultimately make up the Powder Blue Bone track list. Welcoming two new members into the fold presented a unique set of challenges, but it also allowed the band to experiment with everything from instrumentation and production to songwriting. “One advantage of taking our time with the recording process is that the songs really had a chance to grow and fill out,” Caiafa says. “Eddy's ability to not only play many instruments but hear where they should go allowed me to be as adventurous as I could be with their arrangements. And Kate, who approaches her songwriting from an entirely different place than me, helped me finish writing ‘Schoolyard Steps.’ The benefits of having such a talented group of people playing on Powder Blue Bone cannot be overstated.”
The Problems also were joined in the studio by vocalist Charlene McPherson (from the NYC band Spanking Charlene) and guitarist Rich Hinman (from the NYC band Madison Square Gardeners), but as Caiafa explains, Corless helps bring it all together behind the drums. “We have been playing together since 1995. Her ability to play everything from punk to country allows me the freedom to write in whatever style I choose and know the song will quickly have a voice.”
The release of Powder Blue Bone has been a long time coming for The Problems, on the heels of all sorts of critical acclaim and exposure for their first CD. Billboard magazine awarded “This Town” an Honorable Mention in the Rock/Alternative Rock category of their 2004 “World Song Contest.” In 2006, NBC's "Today" show prominently featured the song "The Lottery" in a segment, and in 2007, GarageBand.com chose "This Town" as their Americana "Track of the Day" while The Ultimate Band List (ubl.com) selected The Problems as a featured artist later that year. Additionally, Caiafa and The Problems have dipped their toes into the film world, scoring songs in the award-winning independent, “The Dying Light” as well as renowned artist Lonnie Hanzon’s documentary, “Working the Magic.” Caiafa and Kilbane then collaborated on “Schoolyard Steps” for the short film, “The Truth of Fiction” (Winner! Best Short: NY International Independent Film & Video Festival), in which Caiafa also makes a quick cameo appearance. (Don't blink or you may miss him!)
While The Problems have enjoyed writing songs for movie soundtracks, they are most excited about Powder Blue Bone. “Everyone involved with the album was in it for the greater cause and not just ‘doing their job,’” Caiafa says. “Whether it was scheduling their time or making financial concessions, everyone from the studio owners, engineers and the musicians all went above and beyond. I felt a good kind of pressure to make sure this album wound up meeting or exceeding everyone’s good intentions and efforts.”