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Transmission
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Feature Thu Sep 21 2006

Bound Stems in So Many Words

The Bound Stems, a band comprised, as so many often are, of friends turned roomates turned bandmates, is a tiny universe within Chicago. Each of the five members contributes to the collective sound of the group in a way that resembles an auditory turning out of the pockets. This is not to say that the mix is miscellaneous in nature, or that it's not treasured — it's quite the opposite. Because the band is so close, and their lives intersect in that same way that Chicago often resembles a small town with its shrinking degrees of separation, the end result is a vision of one object from neighboring viewpoints. Nearly every song is tagged with sound bites and tape playback gathered from train rides, cabbies, walks down the street and even a roomate's classroom. Their songs are densely layered with squeal and drum and poetry, with the pop and fade of outside sounds brought inside and with secrets thrown down on the page and read aloud. This is indie rock as it grows up. These songs stand up and take a look around at all that is bruised and beautiful in life.

Their first full-length album, due out this week, Appreciation Night (Flameshovel) really showcases what the band is capable of doing. The Bound Stems: Dan Fleury (guitar), Bobby Gallivan (vocals, guitar), Janie Porche (vocals, guitar, sampler, violin, etc.), Dan Radzicki (bass, keys, vocals) and Evan Sult (drums, tapes) present us with no option but to follow them as they explore the city and all its joys and faults. We hear them as they ponder a trip past a school yard, sit on the porch and gaze at the horizon, and run down the street to scream on the sidewalks and suddenly they are all our old friends who we grab a beer with at the corner bar.

Appreciation Night-coverweb.jpg

Conversations with a Couple of Bound Stems

I was lucky enough to ask Janie Porche and Evan Sult of Bound Stems about the city they love, Chicago, and how it affects the band, the tour, and the new album, Appreciation Night.

AH: Obviously the album pulls from your experiences in, out and about town. Chicago is a city that's inspired everything from poetry to encased meats. What do you think it is about this city that lends itself to so much art?

JP: Between the amount of time that we spend touring, and the amount of time that we spend lost and looking for clubs in a strange town, I end up wandering in lots of cities and their unique neighborhoods. I think that Chicago is a city that works hard. The sidewalks are worn smooth with commuters, bankers, messengers — the trains are heavy at 5:00 with people paying the bills. Then comes a cool Friday evening in the summertime, or the St. Patrick's Day parade; the Sox make it to the playoffs, the sweaters come out of the trunk, your parking ticket, dismissed! — and then Chicago rewards herself for a hard day's work. It's a balance, I think.

AH: Where does your Chicago inspiration hit you?

JP: I personally feel a very strong connection to the CTA. It's an amazing display of people and behaviors, dipping into and then back out of the ground. We're all there, flirts and allergy sufferers and church-goers and bike thieves, and we are all in a hurry.

The Green Line is over a hundred years old, and was engineered and built well enough to last another 500. That thing that happens when you ride the Red Line tip to toe, where all the black people disappear just north of downtown? The sudden race to offer one's seat to a grandmother? There are a lot of very human things worth investigating there.

AH: Are you very sad that the announcement "This is Grand" has been replaced by "This is Grand and State" on the Red Line?

JP: Devastated. Equally so with the Blue Line announcement that says, "This is Grand and Milwaukee". I've mentioned it to some higher-ups. We're coping.

AH: First and/or best Chicago music memory?

ES: Years before I moved here from Seattle, Harvey Danger toured through Chicago. Our show was fine — we played the Guinness Oyster Fest in the middle of the day, which was enjoyable — but that night we went to the Empty Bottle, where Pinebender was playing. It's such a great space, the way it's put together, and the sound was perfect. The band was great, but I came away most strongly with a memory of the Empty Bottle itself. It was the first club I went to when I moved into Chicago.

AH: What was your biggest surprise in making this album?

ES: The whole album was a surprise, because we were writing in batches, then recording a batch, then writing a new batch while mixing the last one, then listening back to mixes, making new decisions, just kind of tumbling forward. Very often Bobby didn't have the lyrics written, or even a melody decided on, by the time we were laying down the instrumental tracks, so we were always really curious to see how the song would finally sound. That's a pretty big piece to not know until later. So I think I was most surprised sitting in the control room, listening to lyrics and melodies for the first time. "Excellent News, Colonel" was a jolt, when I first heard the vocals. I thought at first it was a story about a relationship I'd been in, which was very disorienting. It wasn't, but it might as well have been.

AH: A lot of the songs on Appreciation Night have an almost desperate insistence to their presentation — the rocket-like vocals, the squealing guitars, the aching drums, such as in "Andover" and "This Is Grand", while others, like "Refuse the Refuse" sweep up and down in their mood — do you feel that there's an ongoing urgency to be expressed?

ES: The album is packed with stuff — a lot of songs, a lot of sounds, a lot of parts, a lot of ideas. We really went for every idea we could, because we were just making by ourselves (plus Tim Sandusky), for ourselves. We made a conscious decision to do whatever we wanted, then figure out how to play the songs later, and then we just buried ourselves in the act of making music. We learned so much so fast that I think it's audible. Every song was written at the far edge of our capabilities — I wrote a lot of drum parts before I could physically play them — and we just kept trying to outdo each other. That was a really charmed, incredibly focused time in our lives, and it sounds urgent because we were feeling urgent: we had to get this thing done because we wanted to know what we sounded like.

AH: What artists/bands would you say inspired your "sound" the most?

JP: We have some pretty varied influences — we're caught in the triangle between Pavement, Charlie Parker, and Paul Simon. Can you even say that?

AH: What's playing on the tour iPod?

JP: D-Plan, Field Music, The Black Keys, Maritime, Mirah, Mitch Hedberg, Jeff Mangum, Otis Redding, Rogue Wave, Odetta, Kanye West, REM, June of 44, Warren G and Nate Dogg?

AH: How did one of Thax's poems end up at the end of one of your songs, "Book of Baby Names"?

JP: He showed up at a bunch of shows, and we asked him to come to the studio to record this piece, "Bound Stems":

the proud stalactites are not an inspiration for a future ghost, who doesn't need a shelter, since the raindrop of any nearby union of misfit electrons will do. In fact, it's the moulting ghost shedding its skin like damp paper towels that needs being sheltered from.

AH: What role did Liz Parrott and the students of the Chase school play in the album? How did that come about?

JP: Liz's voice is the last on the album — she's reading a story that a group of kindergarteners wrote and performed at the Chase After-School program last fall.

The story goes: a girl is carving a pumpkin when suddenly it starts to wiggle and shake, obviously then a flying lamp pops out. Suddenly a Monster appears at the little girl's door, because he is desperately missing his flying lamp — when he is away from it, he turns mean. The little girl wisely reunites the two, and since now the Monster isn't mean, she invites the two of them to her family's home for Thanksgiving. They eat so much that they keep getting bigger and bigger, and finally the only place they can fit is the ocean. So they walk into the ocean, and then they turn into sharks, and then they swim away.

Not coincidentally, Liz shares a house with Janie, Evan, and Radz.

AH: The way you present your lyrics isn't the typical line / line / line format one sees in poetry and standard liner notes. It seems almost that they are micro essays or prose poems. How do your creative processes lead to these visual organizations of thoughts that make up the songs?

JP: Evan did the layout and editing for the package design, and he comes from a rich graphic design background — but also his roots are firmly planted in his English major. We pass around a lot of books, and felt it would only do credit to the lyrics to present them in the most interesting, readable way possible. I love that first hour of buying an album, ripping open the notes and following along. We're really trying to be present in all of the details, each decision we make we hope someone will appreciate. It's nice that you asked, for example.

AH: Are you rock and rolling full time yet, or are the day jobs still there?

JP: We're a full time touring band right now, which is terrifying and perfect and exactly, exactly what we want to be doing.

AH: Is this your first big tour?

JP: Next week will be our first trip to the west coast, and then we're headed out there again between CMJ and Thanksgiving. We're trying to glean lots of lessons right now. We're learning about things that are way outside of the practice space: we get tire pressure checked, we learn that tuna sandwiches aren't best in the cooler, we learn to stretch in the morning, to call home at night.

AH: What are you going to do while you stop (briefly) in Chicago?

JP: Hopefully hug all of our loved ones, while eating falafel sandwiches. Or maybe we'll all ride our bikes to the park and act sneaky, making boat drinks.


You can catch the Bound Stems while they're home in Chicago at two shows Friday night, September 22, at Schubas. The first starts at 7pm and is all-ages with Metal Hearts opening, the second starts at 10pm in support of Asobi Seksu. Both are $10.

-Anne Holub

main_doorway3_brubeckweb.jpg

(From left to right) Janie Porche, Dan Radzicki,
Dan Fleury, Evan Sult and Bobby Gallivan.
(photo by Brubeck)

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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