Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sweep The Leg Johnny/Streganona - Split 7” + Bonus Track
It's a bass player face-off. It's a bass-off! Wil Freve (STLJ) and Mark Miyake (Streganona) go one-on-one to discuss this split 7", the camaraderie between the two bands, and of course, who's got the most game.
Wil: After leaving Notre Dame, Sweep The Leg Johnny quickly developed a friendship with an indie-rock band hailing from the University of Chicago: Streganona. In that first year in Chicago, Sweep and Streganona collaborated on a split 7” as well as played a vicious game of band vs. band pickup basketball (we kicked their ass).
Mark: The split 7” (The eSTaTe 003) was the first release from either band that was seriously intended for widespread distribution and was also the first release of the recording label wing of our Chicago and South Bend based music and art collective, The eSTaTe. Both bands were just starting to break into the North Side Chicago scene at this point, and this was intended as something of a calling card for both of us as we did so. Sweep spearheaded the project, asking us to record and release this with them and setting up our recording session in South Bend. We were greatly honored that they did so, as we had already developed a close friendship with them at this early point based on a great deal of love and respect for them as musicians and people. Sadly, however, Wil is right-- we did indeed remain extraordinarily intimidated by them on the basketball court.
TRACK 1: Sweep The Leg Johnny - “Similarities”
Wil: This song marks a bit of a departure for Steve’s saxophone playing, as it leaned towards the melodic element, and not just the rhythmic. I was disappointed with the stylistic pairing of the two songs on this 7” (by the way, if you haven’t listened to Streganona...please do—their music is much better than their basketball skills!). Although I’m a fan of both songs, they make for odd record-mates. I think Sweep should have paired a different song with Streganona’s “...Then I Had A Stroke”.
Mark: I love listening to this song, and it stands as a great record of both what Sweep was doing at the time and the musical direction in which they were heading. It’s also, I believe, their last recording with Wil and Jim, which is, of course, another reason that it represents a critical turning point for the band. When Matt and Scott replaced the rhythm section, the whole sound changed, as Matt played much darker and more straightforward bass lines (as well as adding another vocal element) and Scott played much busier and intense drum parts. These changes obviously marked a significant shift in the band’s sound, and even though Wil and Jim are playing on this track, you can hear the band already pulling a bit in that new direction. This song has a tight, clean, and heavy but intricate sound, and although Wil’s bass line is both representative of his style and a significant element of this song, this ultimately sounds more like the music the band would make after his departure than earlier songs of this era of the band’s songwriting.
TRACK 2: Streganona - “...Then I Had A Stroke”
Mark: We recorded this and two other songs on June 4th, 1995 with John Nuner at Miami Street Studios in South Bend. We intentionally recorded three very different sounding songs that day with the idea of then being able to choose what went best with the Sweep side of the 7”. But by the end of the session, we already knew that we’d be using this one because of the way it turned out in the studio, and because its darker, more sprawling nature (in comparison to the other two) seemed to be a better fit for STLJ’s emerging overall sound anyway. There’s a lot about this song that represents things we were trying out at the time as we were starting to close in on what would become our own more distinctive overall sound. Juxtaposing song parts with different feels, meters and tonal qualities, the two guitars pushing and pulling against and with each other over a steadier but still frequently shifting rhythm section presence, and the often surprisingly conventional overall song structure were all things consciously evident here that we kept refining and utilizing over the next few years. Personally, I was trying a lot of both old things (the style of the fingerstyle fills here sounds to me like something I might have done much earlier in my musical development) and new things (the big distorted bass chords that fill the verses and my attempts to control their expressiveness through their volume, sustain and coloring was pretty experimental for me at the time) in close proximity to each other in order to try to create something fresh and tasteful for me, the band, and the listeners. It took us all a while to figure out how to work things like this together into our cohesive band sound, but the basic building blocks are all here. This was also our last recording with Greg Heygood on drums, as he left us for an actual career (I guess some people consider building computer networks to be a more stable field of employment than punk rock...) just before we recorded How Do You Feel About Plastic? the following year. Greg had a very different style than our next drummer, Brett Norman, and although Brett’s drumming became a central feature of our sound in the following years, it’s always a real treat to listen to these older recordings and hear the original rhythm section as it sounded for so long through this initial phase of our existence. This didn’t end up being the best song we ever recorded, but it was definitely the best choice at the time and has, I think, stood up to the aging process fairly well and still sounds fun to listen to and to remember playing today.
Wil: What a cool friggin’ song “...Then I Had A Stroke” is. I always loved playing with Streganona (although this was tempered by a quiet anxiety that they might “out play” us). Not only was Streganona a great group of “U of C” guys, but they were very good at the style of music they played. I loved their signature, dueling guitars... sometimes sounding complimentary, and sometimes sounding hostile to one another. Streganona also used their dual vocals very effectively in their music. “...Then I Had A Stroke” is a great example of Aaron and Matt’s fine and expressive guitar work, as well as their ability to lay down the law and simply rock out. Matt screaming out, “My god... that wasn’t what I meant to do at all!” ranks up there with some of my favorite musical moments. Greg sets the stage with unapologetic drums, and Mark pushes all three of them with his driving bass lines. Please give this song a listen, as well as other Streganona songs (reviewed in previous blog posts)... you will not regret it!
BONUS TRACK: Streganona - "Angelico de Muerta"
Mark: This was one of the two “extra” songs we recorded at the Miami Street recording session, the other being “Encephalopod,” which ended up being released on How Do You Feel About Plastic? the following year. The reason that we never ended up releasing this song is pretty obvious- it’s a sort of fun, silly song that even we never took all that seriously. We intended it as a sort of change-of-pace B-side in case we ever needed anything like that or in case Sweep thought that it would be better to have a “fun” option for the 7”. This also includes some fine guest vocals by Steve Sostak-- Marlon Brando, eat your heart out…..
(the Bandcamp downloads contain the MP3s, scans of the Streganona postcard insert, 3 of the 4 STLJ basketball trading cards, a copy of the first eSTaTe newsletter, and more!)