A toilet noisily flushes outside the offices of interCities, a small web-design firm in Adams Morgan. “We’ve heard worse from in there,” laughs Free Range Pilgrim guitarist Nat Soti, who’s also one of interCities’ principals. Since August 1996, Soti and Jon Carson, his Internet partner (and fellow six-stringer in Pilgrim), have run interCities out of this small, two-room space. But when the two began webbing, neither Soti nor Carson knew jack about the Net.

“I had never been on the web,” says Carson.

“My extent was e-mail,” admits Soti.

So the two Georgetown graduates simply sat down and taught themselves web design from books. “Don’t give that away—how easy it is to learn,” Carson whispers.

While Soti and Carson earn money from their web creations, it’s their own Outer Sound site (www.outersound.com), featuring Scratch, a music magazine, and Outer Sound University, a collection of how-to articles offering industry advice to the DIYer, that is interCities’ raison d’être.

“We started the company for Outer Sound. We wanted to make a huge independent music resource on the Internet,” Soti says.

“The Internet has so many parallels with the underground music scene,” Carson says. “It’s so open, and people haven’t really found a way to control it. So there’s a lot of opportunity to do it however we want and still succeed on some level. With the web there are no costs. Rent is really our only expense.”

There are a few options left where you retain full control of the message, such as publishing a web site or even buying advertising, but…they take up valuable time that could be better spent writing and performing. So why not let your friendly newspaper geek help you out? You call them up, you let them nose around in your rehearsal space for an afternoon and they write a story. All the while, you go about your business and never once reach for your wallet.—from “Local Heroes: Get on the Cover of the Tribune Before Bothering Rolling Stone” by Thomas Conner, on Outer Sound

On the way to Free Range Pilgrim’s practice room, Soti explains the peaceful relations within the group.

“[The band is] remarkably nonconfrontational. We almost never have disagreements,” he says.

“Yes, we do,” responds Carson.

Actually, the well-behaved Pilgrims’ only discordance is in their music. The quartet’s debut CD, Tracing Paper, is a slow-grower that thrives on Carson and Soti’s off-kilter, intertwining guitar figures, Jackie Briskman’s rigid drumbeats, and Dan Dresser’s choppy but melodic bass lines. (The band cites Jawbox, Sonic Youth, and Polvo among its inspirations.) The five-song EP features the charging rhythms and soaring chord progressions of the wonderfully immediate “6 a.m.” The track is a simple plea for a loved one to stay because “this could be the last time/Sunrise at noon.” (When Soti, the composer, is asked about the lines “Stick around for tonight/Take the last train out of town/Stick around for tonight/I’ll make you want to get down,” he sinks in his chair and smashes his hair down as his bandmates laugh. “If anybody asks, ‘Sex Machine’ is my middle name,” he offers.)

Soti and Carson, who have played together for three years, found their bandmates through the classifieds. And before finding the right lineup, the guitarists appropriately suffered through the usual cast of bozos who respond to every musician-wanted ad, regardless of the influences it cites.

“One of the bassists who tried out was this guy who brought—what are those things called?—a Chapman stick? It’s one of those world…Peter Gabriel-type instruments. It’s this thing that you strap to your belt and you play it by just tapping it,” says Soti. “He was, like, ‘Dude, let’s try it out!’”

“The drummers were even worse,” adds

Carson. “We got all these calls from weird

crack addicts…”

The apparently crack-free Briskman is almost 5-feet-nothing in heels and thick socks. She chokes up on her drumsticks like a musical Bucky Dent. Briskman joined Pilgrim last December after her old band, Ex-Atari Kid, broke up (“We’re your rebound,” Carson tells her), and her drumming is the anchor the band needed; with her bandmates always ready to sail off into the stratosphere, Briskman tethers them to her insistent beat.

Pilgrim practices in a tiny, sweaty laundry room. Its walls are lined with ratty patches of carpeting, and the band members all stand within a few feet of each other. Hanging above Briskman is a Pepto-Bismol box recently tacked up by Carson and a caricature of the drummer done at her stepbrother’s bar mitzvah. For reasons unknown to Briskman, the artist drew her in a Metallica T-shirt. And for reasons unknown to the band, there’s a Megadeth songbook resting in the room.

Briskman’s drumming is almost methodical. She constantly hits her ride cymbal, laying down a sound sheet almost as linear as the pattern of her snare strikes. She rolls her pants way up (“You look like a sailor,” says Dresser) so they don’t get caught up in her gear. When Briskman sits down, the crash cymbal blocks out most of her head, and only her downturned mouth is visible. Her expression changes only once while she’s playing, when a drumstick flies out of her hand as she counts off a song and she breaks into a grin. Briskman seems unflappable, but being in a band with three guys, I imagine she has to be.

“It’s cool. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she insists. But Free Range Pilgrim has yet to go on tour. The foursome haven’t spent time together in a cramped van, when around the 12th hour of travel the vehicle becomes a locker room on wheels, as baser instincts emerge and the men become cavemen, all bodily noises and monosyllabic exclamations.

“We’re sensitive ’90s guys,” counters Soti.

“I suppose Jackie has some evil habits we don’t know about. It could very well go the other way,” adds Dresser.

“Like hanging my stockings out the window on the highway?” she cracks.

If Briskman’s game face is like stone, the guys’ are like rubber. Even in practice, Dresser contorts his mug and angrily pounds his bass as if he’s in front of an audience. The skinny Dresser lurches around, his slicked-back black hair staying firmly in place. (In his Sun Studios T-shirt, Dresser looks like a rockabilly version of Revenge of the Nerds’ Robert Carradine.) Carson, the huggable linebacker of the bunch, grimaces as he rocks from heel to heel and heel to toe as if it’s the first time he’s playing the songs. Like Briskman, the boyish

Soti is reserved, though even he

freely bounces on his toes and

bobs his head.

The commenting comes afterward—the dreaded reviews. The entertainment critic, likely the same person who’s doing the allegedly objective reporting part, comes to see your show or listens to your disc and writes his or her opinion on its quality and worth.—from “Local Heroes”

When Free Range Pilgrim plugs in for its CD release party at Galaxy Hut, three guys with necks the size of small watermelons—and with heads to match—hastily exit the club in search of silence and more college football.

Galaxy Hut is not much bigger than the laundry room, and because the place is packed I have to sit directly in front of the band. The guitarists flank the sides, and Dresser, with his back turned, stands in the middle.

Pilgrim begins its set with the CD’s title tune, a pop song that gets consumed by repetitive stop-start rhythms. By the second song, “Literati,” Dresser has turned fully around. Despite starting out backward, Dresser is the Pilgrim who most understands the performance value of facing forward and freakin’ out. He flexes his jowls. He twitches his head. He jerks his torso. And when he barks his backing vocals, it looks as if he’s going to have his banged-up microphone for a snack.

Until the third tune, “Tied to the Boy,” Briskman’s frozen expression (as well as her rolled-up pants) is the same as it was at practice—that is, until a drumstick flies out of her hand again and she melts into a smile when Soti hands it back to her. Briskman’s stick fumble hardly slows the band down, though. The same is true when Soti breaks a string during Dresser’s “6’6″.” Between Carson’s fuzzy drone and Briskman’s ever-present cymbals, the absence of Soti’s guitar seems like an arrangement decision rather than bad luck. When he jumps back into the mix, it’s a jolt.

The band continues with Carson’s muted “Paint Out the Light,” then goes on to two new songs. After the first one, another masterful, skewed popper by Soti, I ask him its name, which he refuses to tell me.

“Oh, come on!” Tell him!” Carson chides. “It’s pornographic. It’s named after a film technique,” he continues.

“Is it ‘Rim Job’?” I ask.

“No. But thanks for your input,” Carson replies.

Dresser’s catchiest number, “Parisian,” follows the mystery tune, and the band moves on to “N.Y. Song,” which features a chest-rattling feedback section.

It’s getting close to 11 p.m., the band’s cutoff time, and still no “6 a.m.” Before I can heckle the band about it, Soti bangs away at the song’s first chord. I write no notes during the song, because I get so caught up singing along to it. It’s about midway through the piece when Briskman catches me bellowing along and cracks another smile.CP

Tracing Paper is available for $6 ppd. from 1752 Columbia Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20009.