By JulieAnne Cross

A lucky few of us can turn artistic ambition into a career that pays the bills. For most, art — be it sculpting, dancing, writing, or music — exists as an avocation that requires balance with a full-time job.

The five musicians of PinWheel, a Newark-based indie band, are forced to worship at the altar of the shared calendar, carving out limited times to hone their craft and perform it.

Guitarist, vocalist, and full-time chef Jamie Brancaccio, of Wilmington, coordinates his band’s schedule with kitchen life, finding a daytime job cooking for a retirement community after years of working in restaurants. His peripatetic career as a chef, which started when he was still a Middletown High School student, once pulled him away from Delaware, as far west as Pittsburgh and as long as eight years in Baltimore.

Delaware’s 1 a.m. last call can be especially troublesome for musicians who work in restaurants, which often continue seating dinner guests as late as 10 p.m. 

“Baltimore was easier because we’d close by 11 or 12 p.m., and shows would go on with the last band at 1 a.m.,” Jamie Brancaccio adds. “When I moved back to Delaware, I was focused on getting a job that made that easier. The latest I ever leave is 8:30 p.m.”

PinWheel features Brancaccio’s brother, Joey, on drums. He recently got lucky when he was moved to first shift at his job as an area leader at a manufacturing facility in Elkton.

PinWheel guitarist-vocalist Jamie Brancaccio. Photo by Michelle McBride Minner.

“It’s a lot easier for me to make shows and practices now,” he says. “But for most of the band’s history, I was on second shift and I was using vacation days for shows.”

Rounding out the group are Brandon Ledeker on lead guitar, Rolland “Rolly” Butler on bass, and the newest member, Eric Longoria, who joined late last year and plays keyboard.

Longoria — the only member who isn’t yet in his 30s — says that his job in production at a Newport technology firm gives him Friday through Sunday off, while Ledeker manages a store and creates the staffing schedule. Butler drives a cement truck, a daytime gig.

Holding It All Together

Scheduling practices and shows for a band with five members and their individual schedules is challenging, but they have years of practice overcoming obstacles, and they share the load. Jamie Brancaccio takes the lead on bookings, while Joey Brancaccio focuses on merch, artwork, and their online presence.

It’s not just timing that creates an obstacle; travel time is also a consideration. The band considers itself “Newark-based” and practices there. But Jamie Brancaccio lives in Wilmington, while Ledeker lives in Elsmere and Butler hails from North East, Maryland. 

The band formed in 2018, and logistics were an immediate challenge — but not a barrier.

“We were running all over New Castle County and meeting up in apartments,” Joey Brancaccio says. “Me and Jamie linked back up musically after he moved back from Baltimore and me and Brandon had been playing in bands together since we were 14. When Jamie came back, the three of us got back together and started writing songs. We started playing out almost immediately.”

It’s the Music that Matters

Early gigs, at Wilmington’s now-defunct 1984 and neighboring Oddity Bar, were just those three members — two guitarists and a drummer. At first, the band performed sans bass, until Butler picked one up for the very first time.

“I tried,” Butler, still the bass player, says.

When Joey Brancaccio recalls that the mostly self-taught musicians’ attempt at instrument switching was “loathed by the community,” the whole band laughs.

Band members say they grew up on punk rock, and “all things in the alternative sphere.” Nineties nostalgia is in their wheelhouse and they say they’ve been “known to cover Built to Spill, and compared to Radiohead and Pavement at times.”

Michael Koh Bleinberger, executive producer of Koh Show Live, a music show (a complement to his Koh Show booking agency) that streams every Monday on YouTube, has had PinWheel on regularly since February, and has been booking them at venues since the live music world began to reopen in May 2021.

“PinWheel is the rock band we all need right now,” he says. “They’re a little bit grunge, a little shoegazey, and there’s some punk in there, too, but PinWheel is really about emotion and energy. There’s an element of danger with PinWheel — not that they’ll mug you after a show, but that they might go off the rails and give you something completely unexpected. They’ll lead you into chaos to create a feeling of ease on the other side, and I’m along for the ride.”

PinWheel’s members even help Koh with his show.

“I do a lot of the video and Jamie does the camera switching,” Joey Brancaccio says.

Koh Show Live isn’t PinWheel’s first foray into live streaming. During the early pandemic years, they live streamed from various locations. The footage and audio of one show turned out well enough that it still lives on YouTube. 

“We used some of those recordings and put out a release at that time,” Joey Brancaccio says. “While it was a bummer that we couldn’t play anywhere, and 1984 shut down, from a production standpoint, we used the time to keep grinding.”

Back to Life

While their schedule sometimes takes them to places like New York, and they’ve played downstate — at Mispillion River Brewing in Milford — the Wilmington area has embraced PinWheel the most. Dew Point Brewing in Yorklyn and Hangman Brewing in Claymont have hosted the band.

PinWheel members say they grew up on punk rock. Photo by Michelle McBride Minner.

The band is satisfied with its Delaware bookings, and Jamie Brancaccio remarks that some out-of-state gigs have been less than rousing successes. “Somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut, we were playing with a band from New York,” he says. “No one was going to be there. The owner was great, but he had some issues and he was doing shots with us.” 

Later, he says, the owner “comes out shouting about the bands being disrespectful because the toilets were clogged. He ran out and left. We drove four-and-a-half hours to get there to play for two other bands and a bartender.”

Back at home, the Jackson Inn Farewell Show on March 25 was stacked with a schedule of 11 bands, and the Koh Show booked PinWheel for the sweet hour of 10 p.m., alongside widely known groups such as The Bullets, Kitty Rotten, and MEGA. Attendance at the 12-hour event was estimated at 600 to 800.

Joey Brancaccio says, “That’s the one that’s going to resonate in my head for a while. It was packed from the stage to the exits. We’ve had some good shows, but that one was kind of emotional.”

All in Good Fun

Another historic gig remains on scenesters’ minds: 2019’s Rocktoberfest, the final pre-pandemic installment of an annual tradition at 1984, which never reopened after COVID-19. Back in the day, bands were invited to embrace Halloween musically by performing tributes to bands they loved.

For Andrea McCauley, former co-owner of Oddity Bar, what stood out about the event held right around the corner from her own establishment is that PinWheel (with a few friends joining the band for the night) performed as the Flaming Lips.

The Flaming Lips tribute, in many ways, could be seen as the perfect representation of the band’s musical leanings. That band’s biggest hit may be most memorable for its chorus that draws out and repeats the word “Vaseline.”

Says Jamie Brancaccio: “I was a big fan of The Flaming Lips, but I also wanted to use ‘She Don’t Use Jelly.’ I didn’t always wanna be playing moody, sad songs. That song sticks out as not being sad.”

His brother agrees that the band does, in fact, gravitate toward sadder, somber tunes, adding, “but at our heart, we want to make something fun.”

For a band closely associated with ‘90s nostalgia, they are not stuck in the musical past. Their influences have grown with contemporary artists.

Wet Leg and Ty Seagall are heavy in Joey Brancaccio’s listening rotation and Tropical Fuckstorm has his brother’s attention of late.

“I was into Mike Krol for a minute — he’s garage-punk-psych adjacent,” adds Joey Brancaccio.

What’s in a Name?

As for the band’s youth-evoking name, Jamie Brancaccio takes the credit.

“I had the name in my brain for years and years,” he says, “I was at a college party and we were playing a word game. The English major in me jumped out and I said my favorite word was ‘pinwheel.’ It was the most colorful word I could think of.”

Ledeker says that in his previous band, it took the group four months and 50 to 60 proposed band names before settling on one, whereas “PinWheel” worked right off the bat.

Jamie Brancaccio likes that the word has the “least connotation possible,” while his brother says the band avoids any actual imagery of a pinwheel when it comes to the art created for their music and gigs.

Six months on the heels of their last album, PinWheel is making another. “Pineapple Zest” is expected to be released on cassette this month.

Says Joey Brancaccio: “We’re working with Dan August of Red Birds for an album cover and Sam Williamson of Flat is helping with cassettes. Also, Mike Koh is helping with recording. It’s a very local effort that we’re excited about.”

A record release show is in the works, and the band has a show at Oddity Bar on Tuesday, June 6.