Why? The Ruby Suns Islands
Grand Archives Peachcake
SOUNDCHECK connecting the artist and the audience
Cloud Cult Summer 2008
Publisher: Michael Marshall Director of Photography and Design: Randy Cremean
“This one is really about
Editor in Chief: Caitlin Caven Managing Editor: Tricia Marshall Director of Public Relations: Joanna Hackney Associate Editor/News Director: Elliot Cole Contributing Writers: Caitlin Caven, Elliot Cole Callie Enlow, Carly Kocurek Guest Columnists: Danny Seim, Casey Dienel Staff Photographer: Victor Yiu Contributing Photographers: Aubrey Edwards, Nathan Lanthrum Cover Photo: Cloud Cult Photographed by Randy Cremean Printer: MagCloud www.magcloud.com
“Connecting the artist and the audience.” Soundcheck is dedicated to offering artists a vehicle to promote their music to audiences, as well as providing a thorough and objective source of information for music fans. In an effort to keep the content fresh and original, Soundcheck actively seeks creative contribution from new writers, photographers and graphic artists. Advertising information: firstname.lastname@example.org Writer submissions:
The Ruby Suns
Checked Out 18
Artist’s Perspective: Danny Seim of Menomena
On the Verge: Peachcake
On the Road: Casey Dienel of White Hinterland
Tom Waits performs at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, MO
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photo by Nathan Lanthrum
rebirth and about learning how to put a smile on while we’re living through this experience and absorbing what we’re in right now…we really have to pay attention to the present and have tools for making a beautiful living moment.”
....Because they said so. words by Caitlin Caven photos by Aubrey Edwards
f the women’s bathroom can be considered a viable source of art criticism, Why? is set. “That was so good!” gushed a girl to her friend after their show. “I know!” the other one sighed. The dreamy devotion in their voices is key: it suggests that these girls were weighing their legitimate respect for the band’s music against an encroaching desire to stow away in their tour minivan. Before the show, in the line outside the venue, four male college students started a slightly-too-loud, pontification-heavy conversation about philosophy. In the midst of dropping phrases like “post modernist, post-functionalist”, one of them took a drag off his cigarette and mused, “What would Hobbes say about Why?” The other one half-scoffed, half-laughed, “Indie fucks!” It was an obnoxious interaction, sure, but it speaks to Why?’s appeal. Through their trademark blend of darkness-laced pop melodies, mind-sticking beats, and unflinching honesty, they have carved a very particular niche. They are literate and intellectually stimulating enough to appeal to (pretentious) lovers of philosophy, but seductive enough to make fans swoon in the bathroom. Well before any of this takes place, singer/percussionist Yoni Wolf and his brother, vibraphonist/percussionist Josiah, sit hunched on a curb in the midday sun, answering interview questions. Josiah eats a sandwich during the interview, and apologizes: it’s just that their schedule is tight and he hasn’t eaten all day, he explains. Their air is so casual that, in a matter of minutes, it comes to feel like we’ve known each other for years. At one point, Yoni says to Josiah, “Hey, lemme have your white shirt,” and Josiah snaps, “No!” His tone of voice is that of a petulant toddler, and Yoni wheedles: “I’ll trade you for something. I’ll—I’ll buy you a new one.” The foursecond exchange feels like a time warp to the Wolf brothers circa 1986. That moment, coupled with their striking curly hair and shared bone structure, illustrates just how close the two are. Keyboardist Doug McDiarmid is the other part of Why?’s nucleus: he is not of blood relation, but he may as well be. McDiarmid and the Wolfs went to school together in Cincinnati, Ohio, and have been musical collaborators for years. This closeness among the two brothers and almost-
brother is perceptible. There is an easy flexibility to their interactions that suggests they know each other inside and out. The stability among them is important: it explains how they are capable of conveying both raw perversity and heartmelting sweetness, of bringing to light the seediest truths of one’s inner thoughts and making it all seem like no big deal. The openness the musicians exude in person is also accountable for their music’s success. They craft percussion-heavy, lyrically-focused indie
hip-hop with a deadpan (but sincere) delivery. Their albums are mixed to bring Yoni’s halfsinging, half-rap to the forefront: though it is underscored by solid musicianship, his distinctive turns of phrase are the centerpiece of Why?’s sound. “I think I’m a very sensitive person, for one, and things strike me…I think certain people are just born that way,” Yoni says of his approach to lyrics. “But I also think I’ve developed a way to express those things that I feel deeply, or the little things that touch me. I’ve developed a way to express those over the years through
“I think that’s kind of the idea of poetry in general—bringing to surface those things that everyone feels underneath. And everyone feels it in a very specific way; everyone has their own specific sort of imagery to express those things. I just try to use my own, and hopefully it becomes universal because of that. Because it’s so detail-oriented, it’s so from my own personal way of thinking…”
trial and error.” He says this in a modest, almostoffhand way, but the idea of sensitivity—or perceptiveness—is integral to their music. One gets the sense that Yoni just sees details others don’t, that his brain works in a way that focuses on minutia as a way of interpreting the big picture. That world-processing idiosyncrasy is precisely Why?’s strength. “I think that’s kind of the idea of poetry in general—bringing to surface those things that everyone feels underneath,” he clarifies. “And everyone feels it in a very specific way; everyone has their own specific sort of imagery to express those things. I just try to use my own, and hopefully it becomes universal because of that. Because it’s so detail-oriented, it’s so from my own personal way of thinking…” In keeping his head down and focusing on the little things, he pins down abstract concepts in a particularly poignant way. Between 2005’s Elephant Eyelash and their most recent release, Alopecia, these sharp lyrical skills took a dark, confessional turn. Interestingly, as the sentiments got more barbed, they also got more cartoonish. Whereas Elephant Eyelash generally has a sweetness-covering-sadness feel, Alopecia seems to delight in forcing the audience’s eye toward the seedy, the dark, and the deplorable. In discussing this shift, Yoni is vague. He credits “just the stuff that [he] was going through” around the time of making each record with influencing the mood, and when he trails off, we leave it at that. Really, the events in his personal life that sparked certain songs or even entire aesthetic shifts are immaterial. The finished product—and the images and emotions that it evokes in listeners— is of far more consequence than the precipitating factors. Take, for example, a line off of Alopecia: “Jerking off in an art museum john util my dick hurts/the kind of shit I won’t admit to my head shrinker.” These two lines could be considered a microcosm of what makes Why? unique. Within a span of five seconds, they mix intellectualism, in setting the scene in an art museum; animalism, in the form of masturbation; tinges of vulnerability and selfloathing, and a surprising frankness about it all. These phrases are revealing not because of their literal content, but because of the broader themes they speak to. Why?’s lyrics are, in a way, based on a process of vacuum-packing ideas and allowing fans to re-animate them in their own minds. The images they spin will germinate slightly different in each listener’s imagination, and that ensures that each person takes away a different, yet highly resonant, message. This active engagement between the music and the audience means that fans bond with Why? in a particularly intense way. At the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia, two boys in their late
teens wear cardboard question marks suspended over their heads. A girl in the crowd yells “I love you!” several times during Why?’s set. Many audience members—curiously, predominately male—close their eyes and sing along with an intensity generally reserved for evangelical youth groups. Perhaps this comparison is appropriate: the concert does take place in a church (in fact, McDiarmid’s set list is scribbled on the back of a children’s coloring sheet of a hot air balloon), and the zeal in the room is palpable. The audience’s voices often drown out the band’s vocals, and, twice during their set, Yoni asks the audience to “step back like a foot and a half” to avoid squishing the front row of people. One kid tries—and mostly fails—to crowd surf. In many ways, it is less an audience of music fans and more a collection of Why? devotees.
An hour or so after the show, the girls in the bathroom have regained strength in their knees, the college boys have returned to their copies of Leviathan, and Yoni, Josiah, McDiarmid, and touring guitarist/ bassist Austin Brown are packing up. They joke around, mock each other, and finish their beers. Their normalcy stands in stark contrast to the exalted image of the band the audience held; all four seem oblivious to how many starry-eyed looks had been trained their way. I recount the philosophical conversation I’d overheard outside to McDiarmid, and he demonstrates exactly how his band has captured so many people’s hearts through their minds. He listens bemusedly until I repeat the question, “What would Hobbes say about Why?” Without missing a beat, he replies, “They are nasty, brutish, and short.”
R u b y
S u n s and the New Pop
Horizon words by Elliot Cole photos by Randy Cremean
yan McPhun, songwriter and percussionist behind New Zealand’s The Ruby Suns, doesn’t really seem to have much of an affinity for mainstream fashion. His shorts are ungodly loud: a swimsuit with some type of f loral design meant more for a 1980s movie than indie rock. His cap’s visor points upwards, while his sky blue shirt seems to portray Alaskan wildlife. It’s a far cry from tight-fitting jeans, V-neck shirts, or ironic scenester mullets. But, somehow, that absence works for The Ruby Suns. The Auckland trio is, after all, a far cry from the general hipster comfort zone. But, as is made apparent by both their hodgepodge attire and their expansive sound, The Ruby Suns are just fine with not fitting in. Prior to our interview, I thought that I had the band pegged: Californian-turned-New Zealander McPhun’s songwriting is a combination of his two homelands, an amalgamated twisting of Western pop and internationally-influenced rhythms. Even if this has some degree of truth to it, the band - formed in 2004 and also featuring multi-instrumentalists Amee Robinson and Imogen Taylor - is taken aback by the concept. They speak more of New Zealand’s “rugged beaches” and “variety of weather” than they do the actual music of the area, and they shy away from overdone comparisons to an experimental, wordly Beach Boys. Those elements are there, but The Ruby Suns is much more complicated: the band’s style is an always-unpredictable, sometimes-eccentric culmination of random rhythms, pop sensibilities, myriad instrumentation, and layered, multi-faceted songs that range from tropical to dance-y. Pegging the band may be more difficult than I had originally thought. So what are we to call this array of sounds from all over the globe? “It’s just pop music,” contends McPhun, a good-natured and humble guy who seems a lot more comfortable surfing than answering questions about his band. But his reply only tells half the story: McPhun’s definition for pop is broader than that of most music fans, unlimited by eras or geography. His pop is not restricted to The Beatles and Madonna; it’s a far-reaching, daring sound that isn’t afraid of dabbling in anything that creates a memorable melody. “Random African bands in the ‘70s – African bands that had instruments and recorded in studios - their music was just as catchy
as The Beach Boys’ music was,” says McPhun, adding with a laugh, “Or just as catchy as the new Britney Spears single.” It’s evident that The Ruby Suns’ sound is rooted in something unique (or, to be more accurate, many things), but pulling out each of those roots is a difficult task. “There probably isn’t any particular thing,” suggests McPhun. With this admission, McPhun reveals the core of the group: figuring out The Ruby Suns isn’t a matter of discerning their singular influences, but understanding that everything influences the band. The aforementioned African bands from the ‘70s and Britney Spears are just as likely to influence a song as, say, Paul McCartney or Mauri tribal music. It’s all in there, jam-packed into the acclaimed album Sea Lion. He is a sponge of a musician, and it’s most apparent in tracks like the tropical, sweeping “Oh Mojave”, a tribute to the Mohave Desert, and the absurdly-but-awesomely-named “Kenya Dig It?”. Just like their respective titles, the songs bounce around the globe, but find their rooting in an eclectic pop cornucopia. McPhun admits that “It’d be great to absorb everything and make music that sounds like anything and everything”, even if he isn’t sure that he can do so. Instead, he settles for doing what comes naturally: being different. His musical ethos, he explains simply, is to “just settle with stuff I haven’t done before”. This need for variability is just as evident in their live set. They bounce around on stage from instrument
to instrument, darting from toms to keyboards to horns and guitars. It seems like they never do the same thing twice, and therein lies the strength of the band. They turn inconsistency into an attribute. The obvious byproduct of all this unpredictability is that any given night’s audience, particularly stateside, doesn’t always know how to react to the band. And while American fans may be a little more reserved (“There’s no dancing in this country!” laughs Robinson), they are also starting to figure it out. More and more people are packing in to see the group, even if they do need time to let it soak in. “It’s cool,” says Robinson regarding the audience’s occasional confusion towards the band. “I think, for a lot of people, they enjoy the show because there’s a lot going on and stuff.” The night of our interview, the performance has the potential to go to holy hell. Strings are popped, guitars are lost, and playful banter fills the amps in an effort to stall. Some bands would understandably just cut the set short. Others may pout and yell at an unassuming sound guy. But The Ruby Suns adjust on the fly, whimsically adapting to the situation and approaching it with an endearing smile. They rearrange their instruments and sweep through their songs by filling the void with whatever instruments they have laying around. The Ruby Suns are okay with things being a little different. SOUNDCHECK
On Evolution & Existentialism words by Caitlin Caven photos by Randy Cremean
he crowd at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia is restless. The venue is packed to the gills, and teenage boys shuffle on their feet in a way that suggests that they are almost literally itching to start some sort of mosh pit. The six members of Islands come out and set up their equipment, then disappear backstage. Five minutes pass, then ten. The audience starts cheering and the house lights dim…then they come back up. Fifteen minutes pass. People check their cell phones and small-talk conversations run out of steam. It starts to feel like some sort of joke, like Islands is just sitting backstage and basking in the audience’s impatience. People begin to jostle and yell, chant, plead for Islands to start their show. After twenty minutes, the band files onstage. “Alright,” the message seems to be, “You’ve waited enough. You’ve paid your dues.” The band, for their part, are in a unique position to mete out judgments like this. They have waited enough, and they have paid their dues. Now, they’re in control. They explode into the first song of an incendiary set. Most things pertaining to Islands requires a trust that anything good is worth waiting for. “I was lucky enough to get—in such a random, roundabout way—to get a really solid group of people that is definitely not in flux anymore,” front man Nick Thorburn says. The six members of Islands and I are in a hotel bar in Austin, Texas, and Thorburn is sitting in the center of a semicircle made up of his band mates. “…[The past year] was our growth period, and I think we’re all grown up now.” It is impossible to take present-day Islands out of the context of the broader whole: its current existence is the result of several Phoenix-like rejuvenations. Thorburn (who then went by the stage name “Nick Diamonds”) was one of the two founding members of The Unicorns, a jagged, oddball pop outfit. When that group split in early 2005, he and Jamie Thompson, another ex-Unicorn, went on to form Islands. They released Return to the Sea in 2006, an ambitious, engaging album that featured many notable guests, but few permanent members. While touring in support of Return to the Sea, Thompson announced his departure from Islands. Islands’ future now fell squarely on Thorburn’s shoulders: he dropped the stage name “Diamonds” and formed a new line-up, consisting of drummer Aaron Harris, bassist Patrice Agbokou, bass clarinetist/guitarist Patrick Gregoire, violinist/keyboardist Alex Chow, and violinist Sebastian Chow. “The band [now] is a band as opposed to a project,” Thorburn points out. “[Return to the Sea] was kind of more, um, bringing in friends to play on things, and still like developing and defining the sound and… this line-up…and this record was a lot more of a deliberate thing.” The implication here is that, in some ways, Return to the Sea was a practice run of what Islands was capable of. Now, with Arm’s Way, they’ve figured it out. Perhaps good things come to those who wait. Though the rest of the band members occa-
sionally jump into the conversation, it is clear that Thorburn is Islands’ mouthpiece. He is quiet but sharp, with an excessively dry wit. His quips masquerade as straight-faced statements; if you lose focus, they might slip by you. “I think [Arm’s Way]’s something that takes a little bit to wrap your head around,” he explains. “It’s a bit difficult, so…so I don’t expect people to immediately, kind of, get behind it. But it seems to be the case…it seems to be…” He inhales thoughtfully. “…[Its reception] seems to be open. That’s what this record needs. It needs an openness because it is so…so…careful. It is such a carefully-planned record that requires a bit of patience.” “Patience” is the operative word here. As Thorburn speaks, he does so deliberately, with pauses that suggest he is measuring each word. This sensibility is evident in his music and his approach to performance, as well as his conversational style. His assessment that Islands is “grown up now” is especially accurate: listening to The Unicorns, Return to the Sea, and Arm’s Way in succession is a musical equivalent of watching an educational time-lapse of a fish growing legs, climbing onto land, and developing mammalian traits. And, as with any important evolution, these things take time. Given all of the changing, tightening, and maturing of Islands’ line-up and sound, the darkness of Arm’s Way is particularly significant. It’s as if the band has had enough of adolescent levity and are taking a long, hard look at themselves in the sober light of adulthood. Arm’s Way seethes where Return to the Sea effervesced. Lyrics like
“You said you had my back/But I was attacked by a pack of dogs frothing at the mouth/stabbed in the face/glass in my guts, crash!/Passed in the passenger’s side, you were drunk” are standard on the album. “In the Rushes”, one track on Arm’s Way, was even anecdotally inspired by German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concept of mortality. “[Heidegger] had this thing called augdenblicht [einblitz], I think—it’s ‘a sudden in-flashing.’ I think it’s a word he made up, but it translates as ‘a sudden in-flashing,’” Thorburn explains. “And it’s about—I think; I’m probably butchering it—but it’s a moment of realization of one’s own finitude. And that’s something I grapple with and tackle with a lot of the songs and a lot of the material.” Existential crises may have been uncharted territory for Islands’ previous incarnation, but such topics are written all over the new album. It could be assumed that the natural result of any maturation is an accompanying sense of gravity; in this case, the gravity manifests itself as tight, dynamic, and engaging songs shot through with an ever-present threat of violence and pain. Perhaps it is appropriate that death is so thoroughly embedded in Islands’ present day sensibilities—it is, after all, the natural endpoint to any evolution. When asked what he would want his epitaph to read, Thorburn is momentarily taken aback. “God, that’s a dark question,” he replies. “I haven’t thought about it yet. Something funny. Something darkly funny.” A hint of amusement sneaks into his voice as he adds, “I don’t want to put anything in stone.”
A Moment with the Feel- Good Ghosts of
words by Elliot Cole photos by Randy Cremean
n the span of the last year, we’ve seen Radiohead self-release In Rainbows, Nine Inch Nails go anti-industry with free downloads of Ghosts I-IV and The Slip, and several artists publicize the fact that they are converting their vans to go “green” on their respective tours. This fresh, admirable trend has been rightfully celebrated in the press, bringing to light an array of musicians who are putting their morals before profitability. Meanwhile, somewhere on an organic farm in Minnesota, Cloud Cult has humbly released their eighth album of orchestral indie rock bliss, and done so while turning down major labels, avoiding distribution companies, and shunning manufacturing plants. Instead, the members of Cloud Cult have shown a consistently remarkable integrity: an honesty in their business sense that makes their compelling, layered melodies and emotive lyrics of their music all the more convincing.
“A lot of the past albums have worked with the issue of mortality and tried to understand where we go and why we’re here. This one is really about rebirth and about learning how to put a smile on while we’re living through this experience and absorbing what we’re in right now… we really have to pay attention to the present and have tools for making a beautiful living moment.” Situating themselves in the surrounding greenery of Austin’s Enchanted Forest—three acres of woodlands that plays host to the Art Outside series—the band members look at home amidst the recycled artwork. From broken microwaves to dilapidated cell phones, everything weaves itself into a combination of art and environmental consideration. As the sun peeks through trees, it would be an understatement to say that the band looks comfortable in the setting. It’s not that Cloud Cult’s business practices entirely define the group, but they do serve to provide a general impression of what makes it tick. Following their debut album, singer/songwriter Craig Minowa established Earthology Records in 1998, a non-profit label founded to embody his environmentalist leanings. Due to the use of PVC on CD packages, a polymer notorious for both its effects on environmental health and the fact that it is seldom recycled because of costs, Minowa opted to package Cloud Cult’s albums himself, using only recycled materials. “There’s really no point in running a business if you’re
not going to do it pursuing some sort of balance,” explains the soft-spoken Minowa, offering a middle ground between his musical endeavors and his industrial model. Of course, these peripheral aspects of Cloud Cult only exist because of a phenomenally versatile and gripping sound. Minowa has been penning songs since 1995, investing himself in elements of folk, indie rock, pop, and electronica while ensuring that no two songs are overly similar. Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) is the group’s latest offering, sprawling even further into the eclecticism that has produced evocative lyrics, vivid orchestral dynamics, and the occasional art-rock oddity. For such a diverse and exploratory sound, it makes sense that it would take a veritable city of musicians to craft it: flanking Minowa is cellist Sarah Young, violinist Shannon Frid, drummer Arlen Peiffer, bassist (and former Tapes N’ Tapes member) Shawn Neary, and visual artists Scott West and Connie Minowa, Craig’s wife.
Incidentally, the most beautiful sounds Cloud Cult has crafted are intrinsically rooted in tragedy. The 2002 death of the Craig and Connie Minowa’s son Kaidin has been an ever-present motif in his thematic lyricism, and the songwriting has mirrored the struggles of the Minowas to come to terms with the intangible forces of loss. Feel Good Ghosts, however, is a foray into a new premise for the band: appreciating the present, valuing the now. “Everything kind of came full circle with this album,” Minowa offers. “A lot of the past albums have worked with the issue of mortality and tried to understand where we go and why we’re here. This one is really about rebirth and about learning how to put a smile on while we’re living through this experience and absorbing what we’re in right now…we really have to pay attention to the present and have tools for making a beautiful living moment.” The band makes a conscious effort to separate these artistic pursuits from their aforementioned SOUNDCHECK
environmentally-sound business ventures. (“Craig doesn’t write music that actually sings about recycling or buying something in particular,” notes Young.) They don’t lecture, nor do they interrupt their performances to give the audience a rehearsed spiel. “It’s more of a personal responsibility,” Young continues. “Any time someone looks at [Cloud Cult] and is inspired by it to buy an aluminum can and recycle it… [that’s] great. But if they don’t, it’s their choice.” Minowa understands the need for this divide from his experience with his former band, and offers some inherent flaws in writing environmentally-oriented songs. “It didn’t feel genuine because you’re constantly aware of your own hypocrisies. There’s enough information out there that we don’t need to be preaching about it anymore—people just need to take a hold of it.” It’s choices like these that make it difficult not to fall in love with Cloud Cult immediately. They have a collective sincerity and honesty towards their craft, and they speak of their music in a completely disarming, earnest manner that is void of any conjured image or formulated persona. Everything the band does is, in one way or another, organic. That being said, there is a seemingly unavoidable conflict in putting their ethical sensibilities first. Cloud Cult has been offered several major-label deals, but has refused them all. It’s not difficult to assume that with it they’ve turned down major distribution, money, and significant 14
publicity and touring opportunities. The group is, surprisingly, completely fine with this. They don’t even blink when asked if they feel that their business model is somehow holding back their chance to reach a bigger audience. “In the big picture, it’s more important that that message gets spread out than the music. If there’s a 50-50 split, that’s fine,” says Minowa. Cloud Cult also values their label independence for other reasons…namely, that they are, to put it lightly, a quirky band. Take Exhibit A: the visual artists. West and Connie Minowa start each show with a blank canvas. As soon as the first chords are struck, the duo begins with their own stanzas and measures, wielding colorful brush strokes and variable imagery to complement the performance. “We try to make it as different as possible,” West states. “The paintings tend to be, obviously, about the music and the message, but they’re also about the experiences we’re having on the road and…the good and the bad.” Cloud Cult also employs backing videos in many of their shows, openly accepting fancreated submissions for their backdrop. In truth, the band is happy where they are. A major label couldn’t provide the artistic and business flexibility that the group needs to thrive. “I don’t think [Cloud Cult] could have accepted…a major label deal and done any of that and still be what it is right now,” theorizes Young. “What it is right now is what we want it to be.” The grav-
ity and implications of her words are immediate: Cloud Cult is, yet again, relishing the now. There is another reason that the present is so important for the group: the future is becoming hazy. Minowa has said publicly that the band may not write another album for a while, if at all. If that’s the case, Feel Good Ghosts is a more than capable finale to a stunning discography. In fact, we may never see another Cloud Cult. How many bands would donate all of their label profits to environmental charities? What other groups can match Cloud Cult’s blend of creative artistry with captivating honesty and modesty? But the most important questions may encircle the band’s place in the ever-changing musical world. If Cloud Cult is successful in their model, it may serve as a litmus test towards how musicians can mix their morals and their music without any degree of pretension. Ultimately, success is relative to what the band aims for, and Minowa explains that “the art itself is the goal, and that is just inherent—needing to create.” It’s safe to say that Cloud Cult will never base their success on record sales or venue sizes, but rather on molding a creative outlet that is as wonderfully entrancing as it is a reflection of an unwavering integrity. For the moment, at the very least, we can savor every moment of Cloud Cult. And, for right now, that’s all that matters.
words by Callie Enlow photos by Randy Cremean
South by Seattle: “The only thing we were trying not to do was the typical gloomy, dramatic, depressing Seattle music,” says Grand Archives front man (and longtime Seattle resident) Mat Brooke, referring to his current band. What helps Grand Archives escape grunge’s long shadow? Whiskey. Plenty of friends. A house in the country. Vegan bar-b-que. And a little more whiskey.
grand archives Que, the legendary restaurant/music venue. The guys (guitarist Brooke, pianist Lewis, drummer Curtis Hall, guitarist Thomas Wright and bassist Jeff Montano) were on a “maiden voyage” east of Chicago to support the album after a successful appearance at this year’s SXSW, and would play the basement stage later that evening.
Grand Archives, a collection of veteran Seattle rockers, definitely have a southern flair, though only Virginian Ron Lewis hails from the region. The quintet’s self-titled debut album, out on Sub Pop, is a collection of relaxed pop songs heavy on the pedal steel and harmonica. That style, plus their predilection for four-part harmonies, helps make the album sound like it was recorded during a front porch jam session in Appalachia with the Brian Wilson-era Beach Boys.
It’s a far cry from the Grand Archives’ first tour experience opening for Modest Mouse during the Midwest leg of their tour last spring. “We played like, hockey arenas and stuff,” said Brooke, boasting the scruffy beard and charmingly crooked front tooth of a mountain man. “That’s in over our heads, but it’s kind of fun,” he grinned. Prior to that tour, Grand Archives had performed live just once at a local Seattle venue. When asked how they prepared, Brooke answers, “Lots of whiskey. We practiced a lot and then, right before we got onstage, we drank a lot of whiskey and forgot everything we practiced.” The band, sitting on the edge of the Modest Mouse-appropriate, larger Stubb’s amphitheater, described the tour as almost uncomfortably surreal.
Soundcheck caught up with the band in the most appropriate of settings: Stubb’s Bar-B-
For this tour, Grand Archives are just fine playing the smaller basement room. “We’re
such a new, smaller band that if we’re gonna be headlining, we prefer to be in the smaller rock clubs where it feels a little more intimate,” said Brooke. Friend Sera Cahoone, another countryinfluenced crooner from Seattle, is opening for them on most of their tour dates. Cahoone also appears on the album, just one of the twelve or so people that dropped in during the Grand Archives’ recording sessions last summer. In the album’s liner notes, you’ll see additional help rounding out the Archives’ guitars-and-keys instrumentation with horns, violins, and pedal steel guitar. They even credit a “coconut technician.” “Seattle’s just full of so many musicians, it’s not hard to find good people. Find your folks,” says Brooke, gesturing to the rest of the members of Grand Archives. In fact, it’s been pretty easy for all the band members to “find their folks” in Seattle’s vibrant music scene. Many of them are currently in other bands. Montano plays bass for New Mexicans, who have recorded with Phil Ek (Built to Spill, The Shins). Brooke was associated previously with Carissa’s Wierd, a cult shoegaze-y local band. “We did well in Seattle and we did not do well anywhere but Seattle,” laughed Brooke. He spent 8 years in the band, during which he met
Cahoone and Ben Bridwell, lead singer of Band of Horses. Brooke has often been linked to Band of Horses, though he did not found the band with Bridwell, as is sometimes stated. “They were a ready-to-go band and I went on a couple of tours with them playing back-up guitar,” clarifies Brooke. “Subsequently, we got home and [were] rushed into the studio real quick, so I was there to help a little. By chance, it ended up that a couple of songs I’d written made the final cut. It was kind of just recorded in one afternoon and not assumed that we were gonna use it. They started coming out with the track list…and I had a couple songs that made it. At that time, I was just a contributing studio hand, you could say.” Brooke’s writing contributions to Band of Horses’ debut album include the lovely “St. Augustine” and “I Go to the Barn Because I Like the.”
“I think Seattle gets a little overly excited when we feel like we might be doing something collectively that’s not grunge. Seattle’s been trying to re-find its identity since grunge and this is an attempt at that. But it doesn’t really hold all that much water.” Grand Archives’ album (written by Brooke) shares the same intense focus on vocal harmonies as Brooke’s contributions to Everything All the Time. Like many of their Sub Pop contemporaries, including Iron and Wine, The Shins and yes, Band of Horses, Grand Archives are hooked on Americana. Though many of these bands are Seattle-centered, Grand Archives is skeptical of labeling it a local movement. “To try and pigeonhole that [sound] to Seattle is to discount every
other band that’s doing that in Omaha, and New York, and San Francisco,” says Lewis, shaking his head. “It’s not a Seattle-centric thing by any means.” Brooke is slightly more understanding. “I think Seattle gets a little overly excited when we feel like we might be doing something collectively that’s not grunge,” he says. “Seattle’s been trying to re-find its identity since grunge and this is an attempt at that. But it doesn’t really hold all that much water.” Despite Grand Archives’ protestations, it’s hard to deny that something is happening in Seattle. There’s the aforementioned cadre of alt-country musicians that showed up to make Grand Archives’ hootenanny pop album, and names like “Phil Ek” and “Sub Pop” float freely around the Emerald City. Ironically, the movement (whether limited to Seattle or not) inherently shuns the big city. That’s exactly what Grand Archives did while recording their album. Partially recorded at Paradise Sound in tiny Index, Washington, miles and miles northeast of Seattle, Grand Archives sounds like a record made with all the time in the world. Even their video for the whistle-happy (but cynically written) “Miniature
Birds” has the band driving through an idyllic countryside and visiting a llama farm. Live, the quintet strike an amusing balance between looking like a bunch of good ole boys in tight pants and sounding like a bunch of angelic choir boys in tight pants. During their intimateyet-packed set at Stubb’s, they displayed their fondness for the upper registers of the vocal range when they covered Sam Cooke’s version of “The Shape I’m In”. Brooke, decked out in a denim work shirt, sheepishly acknowledged, “There’s nothing quite like five white guys singing a Sam Cooke song.” After this tour ends, the band will return to Seattle to record a new album. “I’m looking forward to picking up the pieces of my broken bar,” said Brooke, referring to Redwood, his “hole-inthe-wall” in the hip Capitol City area. Wander in when Grand Archives is not on tour or holed up in the country, and you’ll likely find either Brooke or Wright manning the bar. What do they serve there? Bar-b-que, vegan bratwursts and chili, Shiner Bock on tap, bourbon and sweet tea. You know, southern things. And shots of whiskey.
Danny Seim of Menomena aquatic broad-tailed rodent (or worse yet, a ton of said creatures). But Lake Oswego turned out to be even further from my ideal. For starters, I quickly learned that the city’s nickname was “Lake No-Negro”, due to its, ahem, rather shocking lack of cultural diversity. I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks. Rich white people in Land Rovers were everywhere you looked. This was not good for me and my extensive rap cassette collection, not to mention my lone aspiration of becoming a professional skateboarder/gangsta.
All the Music That Influenced Me Most In Life Is Music I Can No Longer Listen To: Twelve Favorite Albums by Twelve Favorite Bands (1988 - 2002) 4. De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising In 1990, I was a new teenager and about to finish grade school. My life was just about perfect. I was still living in Hawaii, I enjoyed my friends, I got along with my parents, I skateboarded or egged houses on a daily basis, and N.W.A. had opened the floodgates to a whole new, wonderful world of obscenity and misogyny. But just like Ice Cube, I was due for major change. Cube once rapped that he’d rather “kick the bitch in the tummy” than pay child support for his unborn child, and then went on to star in the movie Are We There Yet?. (Long, awkward pause for reflection). Well, I guess I really don’t have anything to compare with that metamorphosis. But, I did get some earth-shattering news shortly after graduating 8th grade: My dad accepted a job in Beaverton, Oregon. And I guess you could say I took it like a kick to the stomach. Okay, that was too easy. Beaverton? How insulting. I had just spent over half my life in tropical cities with exotic names like Wahiawa, Mililani, and Honolulu. And now we were moving to a foreign city that just sounded... Uh, kinda gross. I dug in my heels as hard as I could. I was about a decade past the age of being able to get away with throwing a tantrum, but I still gave it my best shot. No luck. I was two months away from my freshman year in high school, and we were uprooting across the Pacific Ocean. I was temporarily relieved to discover that we would actually be living in a city called Lake Oswego, not a city named after a large, semi18
I was enrolled in a Christian high school (surprise, surprise) and I immediately felt out of place (surprise, surprise). It wasn’t the same alienation I felt as an Aryan youngster in an all-brown Hawaiian grade school. This time, at least my pale skin fit in. But the clothing covering it was seemingly from another dimension. The school was helplessly preppy. I’d like to say I raged against the machine, but no...My collection of Stussy, Vision Street Wear, Airwalk, and Billabong clothing was dropped off at a Goodwill, then systematically replaced by Levi’s and B.U.M. Equipment. Saddest of all, my Jason Lee (yes, the same guy who went on to star in Alvin and the Chipmunks) skateboard was left to collect dust in our new basement for the entirety of 9th grade. Sophomore year was different, though. I made friends with a couple of dudes who also had skateboard skeletons in their closets, and we soon agreed that it was time to rekindle the fire. Just in time, too. I received my first portable Sony Discman for my 15th birthday and immediately started a Columbia House (16 CDs for one cent! Not to mention a lifetime of legal threats and unreasonable obligations!) membership behind my parents’ back. My first order was a bunch of music that I hoped would make me cool, Lake Oswego-style. UB40, Snow, INXS: White, white, white. And those are the least embarrassing ones. Yeah, skateboarding definitely reentered my life at just the right time. There was this store in a giant shopping mall that was the closest thing suburban Portland had to a decent skate shop. It was called “Zumiez”, and I begged my mom to drive me there at least twice a week. I felt so alive in that place. As the mid-’90s approached, popular culture was taking a strange post-Grunge turn, and all of the clothing I loved (and that Zumiez oh-so-happily provided) was colorful, baggy, and borderline hippie. But it wasn’t the clothes or skateboards that motivated me to keep coming back. It was the music. I discovered that the same guy worked on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I really liked this guy. I was never brave enough to introduce myself, but his friendly, laid-back (years later, I would learn the correct term for this personality trait
was “stoner”) demeanor reminded me of Hawaii. And, he would inevitably be blasting De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising out of the store’s overhead speakers. This album was already a couple of years old. Koolthar, my old best friend/explicit lyric fiend, did not approve of this group back in Hawaii. De La Soul had the right skin color for the Rap genre, but their lyrics were far too peaceful, loving, and altogether (gasp!) moral. Sure, there were vague drug references sprinkled throughout (um, “3 Feet High and Rising”?) but these were nothing compared to my usual cassette intake. There were also a few sexual overtones on the album, but again, my bar had already been raised (pun sadly intended) so incredibly high by the likes of Too Short, Geto Boys, and 2 Live Crew, that hearing De La’s MC Dove rhyme, “Positions, muscles flexed/Dove was lost in a Ghana hex/passed her test/felt her teddy/Jenifa oh Jenny!” seemed like more of a poetic nursery rhyme than something I wanted/needed to hear alone. (With headphones. In the dark.) Plus, I was roughly 2604 miles away from Koolthar’s judgment. I quickly placed my first obligationfulfilling, full-price ($25, shipping excluded) CD order from Columbia House. Within two weeks, a little corrugated square arrived in the mailbox. I immediately unwrapped and began memorizing. Michael Sweet’s gorgeously chiseled Stryper physique was the earliest inspiration for my future drummer obsession. Next, Lars Ulrich’s nipple ring flapping against his man-breast during Metallica’s glory days helped fuel the fire (giving me that which I desired). But most importantly, De La Soul was the group that made me want to drop everything and become a vital part of the Rhythm Nation. And they didn’t even have a drummer! It was through this glorious 3 Feet High and Rising album that I first heard John Bonham’s pounding (“The Magic Number”), Steely Dan’s sleazing (“Eye Know”), Sly & The Family Stone’s funking (“Say No Go”), and Kraftwerk’s krafting (“Ghetto Thang”). Unbeknownst to teenage me at the time, I was absorbing all of this influence in one sitting. Listening to 3 Feet High and Rising nowadays is a bittersweet journey. I can still lip sync along to every song. The game show skits still make me laugh, Zeppelin still has never sounded so good layered upon Schoolhouse Rock, and “Plug Tunin’” is still the banginest of bangers. But overall, it’s hard for me not to be distracted by all the samples, especially now that I know and love most of the original songs (one obvious exception being Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That”... I don’t just love that song, I adore it). Still, though, there’s no better soundtrack for my weekly drives through Lake Oswego in my Land Rover. Just keeping it real.
On the Verge
f o e c i l S t o H
words by Carly Kocurek photos by Randy Cremean
eachcake is part band, part punch line. The act started up on a lark in the summer of 2003, a bit of a joke by founders Stefan Pruett and John O’Keefe. The two are veterans of the Arizona hardcore scene who’ve been playing together since the eighth grade, which makes them an unlikely team to mastermind a synth-driven indie dance pop act. “We grew up playing punk, indie, hardcore, screamo music,” Pruett says. “I was in a screamo band for like 3 years. That stuff is really in-your-face.”
Peachcake’s frenetic live shows, often filled with outlandish costumes and playful props, are arguably as “in the audience’s face” as any hardcore act, just in a different way. “I think [that screamo sensibility] is where the live element comes from,” Pruett explains. “People see it and they very immediately react to it. There’s not much of a gray area. It’s either ‘I love this,’ or ‘I fucking hate this and it doesn’t make any sense to me.’” Enough people love the act to sustain it; five years after their founding, Peachcake is still going strong. They frequently tour the U.S., and have been featured at SXSW and on the Vans Warped Tour. Their first full-length, What Year Will You Have the World?, is slated to be released October 21st. What Year… is a follow-up to a pair of EPs, including a split with Less Pain Forever. The album comes at a moment of change for the band: they’ve expanded their membership both for stage and for studio, adding guitarist Mike McHale and drummer David Halicky. Even with the bigger lineup, Peachcake remains electronics-fueled, relying heavily on synthesized sounds that include that smirk-inducing mongrel, the keytar. “I didn’t know too much electronic music [before we formed the band],” O’Keefe says. “Mike Parker, a guy we make music with, he showed us the Chemical Brothers, right when we were starting. I’d heard a couple hits of theirs, but not the whole album front to back. It’s cool how they blend sounds.” Although O’Keefe and Pruett have, over the years, come to have a greater understanding of electronic music, they have not deviated too far from the bands that first compelled them to pick up guitars and try to start a rock band when they were in junior high. “I wouldn’t say [Chemical Brothers] are really our influences. I’d say our influences are more like punk bands like the Clash and stuff mixed with all these electronic band sounds,” O’Keefe clarifies. Peachcake has grown past the “Here’s three synthesizers, now go start an electronica band” 20
point. In other ways, though, the band remains true to its origin as a gag. Their sound is playful, occasionally flirting with parody. Even though the music has increased in complexity, it sticks to a sort of accessible, open vibe that attracts unlikely listeners and leaves plenty of room for in-jokes and hijinks. “We’re a band that’s primarily electronic, and synthetic in that respect, but it’s kind of parodying it at the same time, the idea of falsity,” Pruett says. “And that what you’re creating and what you’re doing are kind of a masquerade.” The masquerade for Peachcake is sometimes excessive in the best way possible. When I interview them at the Beauty Bar in Austin a few hours before their set that evening, they’re sorting through props. Masks and signs emblazoned with slogans like “PARTY ZONE!” mix in with American flags and other bits of everyday life. Pruett is wearing a hat with rabbit ears. And, at one point, Pruett and O’Keefe delve into a side discussion about the props, many of which are purchased at party supply stores. O’Keefe suggests that they should work toward doing something more personal that’s less likely to implicate them in a sweatshop economy. “I’d like to research where they’re from,” O’Keefe says. “It’s all plastic and really cheap. I think that’s our next step. We can be more creative than just buying cheap stuff at party stores.” Even if the band does make the switch to less mass-produced accoutrements, odds are that
“To have another option of positive influences and good vibes, that’s what we want to do, and that’s what we’re pushing for on the recording. I think about if my cat would like it, or different animals. When you blast metal music around animals, it affects them. I did it with Slayer, and I like Slayer, but my cat does not. I think animals would like Peachcake, if they were open-minded to music.”
they’ll stick to the rough ‘n’ tumble, improvisation-heavy nature of their live acts. As Peachcake has evolved, Pruett and O’Keefe have worked to strike a balance between chaos and order. “It used to be really chaotic,” Pruett says. “I thought it was organized chaos, and then came to realize it wasn’t organized in any fashion. We’ve done a good job of learning to contain certain aspects of the prop usage and of the variety of things on stage. That’s something that comes in learning how to put it together and make it a little more cohesive.” That cohesion has not meant leaving the sight gags and costumes behind, but has rather meant a refinement of their use, and knowing when to say when. Retaining that sense of playfulness is an important goal for the band members, who are trying to create something that’s a bit more fun than most pop music. “To have another option of positive influences and good vibes, that’s what we want to do, and that’s what we’re pushing for on the recording,” O’Keefe says. “I think about if my cat would like it, or different animals. When you blast metal music around animals, it affects them. I did it with Slayer, and I like Slayer, but my cat does not. I think animals would like Peachcake, if they were open-minded to music.” The lines drawn may seem a bit touchy-feely for a band that puts out dance music and wanders around wearing animal masks and pajama pants, but O’Keefe and Pruett are nothing if not sincere. “If you remove yourself from [negative] elements, you won’t have to find pleasure in being self destructive or destructive to others,” Pruett says. “I feel like that’s our goal, to bring awareness to people of these things. To say ‘you’re a beautiful person, and if you believe that, which you should, you have the power to spread that to other people.’” And perhaps that message is something that resonates. Peachcake has netted a loyal following, including some fans from unlikely corners. Winning over audiences has been one of the main measures of success for Pruett. “In Arizona, we opened for a band [called] Ozma— they’re good pals of ours,” Pruett says. “At this show we’d been doing a space-themed thing, and I had this weird-ass suit and a panda mask that went over my whole head. This guy comes up, and says ‘Hey man, I just wanted to say, you guys were amazing tonight. I go to a lot of shows, and you guys do it better, even better than my favorite band of all time,’ so I asked what his favorite band of all time was. And he peels back his sleeve, and he has a Metallica tattoo, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, the crowning glory moment of my life has come.’” Maybe Peachcake is changing the world through electronic music, one tattooed metal fan at a time.
On the Road
Casey Dienel of White Hinterland
So what do you do after a show when you’re in a town you’ve never been before and you can barely afford the gas to get you to Albuquerque? You find a willing host--preferably with a carpeted floor, a magnanimous sense of hospitality (remember the body odor, the squabbling?). Or maybe just a floor, period. Being on tour means constantly oscillating between your own standards of comfort. After a few weeks, La-Z-Boy couches look like the presidential suite. A linoleum floor covered in Maine coon hair is still better than a cold night out in the van, right?
“Me? Uh…yeah, I do now. My roommate moved out. Left all her stuff…don’t know where she went.” Jerry shuffled a handful of knives sitting out in the counter of the kitchenette and started slicing onions. The side-effects of Liz’s first trimester was an extreme aversion to the smell of onions. I noticed her blanche a little bit over by the futon. Our friend Dylan looked kind of freaked out, too.
Through this sort of home-hostel system, I’ve made some wonderful friends on tour, friends who I make a point of seeing whenever I return to their cities. But every so often, the tour-hostel-program goes awry. It’s risky business, like taking the Fung Wah bus between Boston and New York. You have two choices: take the Acela train for $60, or take the $15 bus. What you lose in comfortable amenities or assurance you make up for in your wallet. Maybe the bus won’t show up on time, maybe it will catch on fire or be busted in a drug sting on your way to Manhattan. It doesn’t matter. You’ve saved yourself $45—you and the Fung Wah company are both fully aware of who’s swindling whom.
“About two years, now. I was living in Missouri—but I had to leave. I was on the lam from the law.” At this juncture, Jerry bit his lip a little and smirked. We couldn’t tell if he was joking. “A friend of mine and I had a little falling out, was all. I don’t want to get into it.”
A couple of years ago, we were driving a few hours from Los Angeles. The town we were due to play will remain nameless. We had booked the tour entirely on our own, and many of the shows had been unpredictable. When we arrived to this town, the promoter of the show ended up being a guy named Jerry* who was young, wearing a Tour-de-France bicycle hat and plugs in his ears. Jerry seemed sort of squirrely and anxious. There was no one inside of the café where the show was supposed to be held, save for a middle-aged couple sipping Gen Mai Cha from a pink teapot. The sun was beginning to fall behind the tickytack mesas on the outskirts of town, and the whole town seemed abandoned. A few doors down from the café was an abandoned barber shop, the windows smashed in and vinyl chairs ripped up. It was a really quiet place—and up until we saw Jerry outside of this café, we hadn’t seen any people wandering around. “Duuude—I should have called you guys…no one’s coming to this show. There’s a football game going on tonight across town. Show’s cancelled.” He shifted around his hat and played with one of the rubber stoppers in his ears. We were 3/4 of the way through this tour, my friend Liz was in her first trimester, and collectively we were all pretty exhausted. You could hear a small sigh from each of us, half in perturbed defeat, half in relief. Like the sound of a fat guy giving up just before the finish-line of a 12K race, maybe a bit premature, but understandable. “We could stop by the store and get some vegan foods to bbq with. It’s a shame to have you come all this way…” He lingered on “way” like somebody trying to turn a word into chewing gum. He got into our car, and took us to a Safeway store to get some hot dog buns, then back to his house. Jerry lived in one of those southwestern-style condo complexes on the outskirts of town. The whole place seemed deserted. Down the street there was a Borders complex and a giant stretch of railroad tracks that disappeared into the mesas. The cargo trains hurtled past the condos at night, and because they were about as well-constructed as a house made out of playing cards, the walls would rattle, prompting bits of dry wall to crumble out from the ceiling. He opened the door to his one-room apartment, and I heard Liz gasp. It didn’t take more than a glance to see why—the apartment was a top-to-bottom mess. On the floor there was garbage, big teeming piles about three feet high of papers, wrappers, empty cigarette cartons, used razors, old food. At first we couldn’t see the futon couch, but when Liz gingerly brushed aside a heap of old Boca Burger boxes and banana peels, sure enough—there it was. Stuck to the plywood wainscoting walls were crude drawings, little scrawls of punked-out women in the nude, a few Megadeth posters. I kicked aside a copy of “Arabic for Dummies” and a Rosetta Stone: Chinese edition to get to the bathroom. “So, you’re into languages?” I asked. “Well, my girlfriend is half-Chinese, so I’ve been picking it up. It’s really not that hard.” The living room was just a prelude to the horror show that lay in the bathroom. There was hair everywhere—big black tufts of it stuck to the vanity mirror, the toilet seat, and the shower tiles. There were medications labeled in Russian all over the floor. The shower curtain had a blossoming crust of mildew and rust all along its bottom hem. The doorknob was inexplicably sticky. “Do you live alone?” I inquired. I noticed now that Jerry had a funny way of not looking anyone in the eye when he spoke.
“How long have you lived here?” Liz asked.
Dylan cleared a little patch for himself on the floor, right next to some gum stuck to the carpet and a pile of water-stained Russian Vogues. Just like when we had stayed in Omaha while some roommates of our host upstairs did crack, all Dylan had to do was put in some earplugs and curl up in his sleeping bag. Liz fell asleep on the futon, and Jerry was nice enough to give me the bed. “Thanks—but don’t you want to sleep in your own bed?” I said, looking for the sheets to put on the bare mattress. Maybe they were hidden under the mounds of books or half-eated candy Hostess wrappers? “No, I’m a night-person. I don’t really like to sleep much. In fact, usually I sleep on the floor, if anything.” Jerry had been playing with his cell-phone all afternoon, constantly checking it, as if waiting for a call. I rummaged to get everything off of the bed, when I felt my hand brush up against something sharp. I pulled out the machete sitting open on the twin-size mattress and asked him, “Is there a sheath for this?” Liz tried not to bolt out of bed, and Dylan peered out from the safety of his sleeping bag. I held the machete in the air, not knowing how or where to put it down. Who the hell keeps an open machete just sitting out in his tiny one-bedroom apartment? Is he thwacking sugar cane? Clearing the mess with it? “Oh, I keep it out to practice with it,” Jerry said, so nonchalantly that, for a minute, I paused to think that maybe it’s not unusual for someone to be honing their machete-wielding skills. One could compare it to knitting or wood-carving. Maybe it’s a nice household centerpiece, like a Dadaist coffee-table book. What did I know, anyway? “Here, I’ll show you.” Jerry took the machete from my hand and whipped it overhead like a helicopter propeller. I ducked down. “WHOA! CAREFUL!!!” I was really scared at the point, and huddled next to the bed. I imagined Liz’s unborn child cowering in her womb. I decided if anything happened from there on in, it would be my own fault. Jerry laughed, with his pudgy head cocked to one side. In doing so, he looked a little like a pirate. He put down the machete with a flourish, and rolled up the sleeves of his black Adidas jacket. “Why don’t you guys get to sleep? If my phone rings in the middle of the night, don’t worry. It’s a friend of mine.” He went outside to smoke, and I whispered across the room to Liz. “Are you guys okay?” Liz nodded. “Where are we anyway? Who IS this guy?” “I don’t know, but I think we should get out of here before he wakes up in the morning.” “But he said he doesn’t sleep. He’s an insomniac.” Liz countered, her eyes wide and serious. “We need to get out of here before dawn, we don’t want to make him suspicious of our suspicions.” In my head, I had already devised a plan. But before I could say anything, Jerry came back into the apartment. Liz and I pretended we’d been asleep the whole time, and sleeplessly waited for him to pass out on the floor. Turns out Jerry was a heavier sleeper than he thought he was. Around 7 in the morning, I crept out of bed. I tried soundlessly to gather my things, but it was hard not to rustle the garbage snaking across the floor of his apartment. Liz was already awake, fully dressed. Dylan grabbed his things, and together the three of us made a mad dash for our van. We shoved everything into the trunk, and as Jerry wiped the sleep out of his eyes from the porch, he called out “Hey, where are you guys going?!” But it was too late: we were already on our way to the next town. *=name changed for his own protection.
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Michael Stipe of R.E.M. at Stubb’s, Austin, TX Photo by Victor Yiu
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