Michelle Limanje’s vocals seem to invoke both the compellingly alien aspect of Grace Jones and sonically varied and imaginative traits of Lower Dens on her single “Sane.” The vocal processing gives the lyrical delivery an artificial human quality in moments and more vulnerably human in others. The guitar melody runs a gamut of textural and delicately filigreed in structure to more robust and distorted while engaging directly with the chorus. Synths give a counter melody that runs through the song and expressive percussion seems to control the flow of the song’s constantly evolving dynamic. And that’s what makes this song so interesting, it establishes a mood but its ways of maintaining that atmosphere shift from the beginning to the end so that it’s like a tour of some of the more experimental rock of the 1990s but with a hybrid aesthetic that could only be fully possible now with an almost sound design approach to the arrangements. It’s like a gentler version of Curve’s fusion of dream pop and industrial music and it’s treatment of the subject of a complex relationship and the suggestion of an element of co-dependence and dysfunction being worked out adds yet another layer of disparate energies reconciled as the song progresses to the end. Listen to “Sane” on YouTube.
Those familiar with Chris King’s post-punk band Cold Showers will appreciate his solo project Kai Tak and the single “Tung Chung.” The track features the vocals of Chelsey Holland aka Chelsey Boy whose vivid style is reminiscent of Toni Halliday of Curve, equal parts soulful and emotionally direct. King’s ethereal guitar has an urgency in its emotional swirl, the electronic drums accent the beat well rather than drive the song and the wash of synths and samples brings a strong sense of place like you’re hearing the song steeped in thoughts of regret—of bridges burned in life, of a relationship on the rocks due to being driven too much by ego and unchecked emotions and letting oneself hit a low place in the psyche. But inside that there is a sense of a willingness to be patient and to act with integrity rather than guided by the foolish impulsiveness of the past. The music King has been putting out under the moniker of Kai Tak is not so far removed from that of Cold Showers but more infused with synth pop and shoegaze sensibilities and fans of Tamaryn and the more downtempo end of Blushing will appreciate what King has to offer here. Listen to “Tung Chung” on Spotify and follow Kai Tak at the links below.
After their psychedelic/shoegaze band Creepoid dissolved a few years back, Anna and Patrick Troxell took some time out to further explore the pop and electronic side of their songwriting. Lovelorn emerged out of that process and its 2021 debut full-length What’s Yr Damage echoes with the influence of 80s, noisy psychedelic soundscapers and fellow travelers on the line of blending rock instruments with electronic sensibilities, Spacemen 3 as well as grimy industrial dance acts like My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and experimental rock band Curve and its own gift for perfectly blending electronic dance ideas with cathartic psychedelia. But the sentiments expressed and the tenor of the record is very much grounded in the present and the challenges faced by us all as the fallout of income inequality compounded by a continuing global pandemic and a now seemingly endless climate crisis crashes throughout our lives, casting stark shadows on the near and foreseeable future. And yet the album is not despairing, rather an embrace of life and a lingering will to strive toward a meaningful and vibrant existence. Lovelorn offers no convenient or pat answers but its music resonates with the certainty that your feelings about the world are real despite how politicians, pundits and the mainstream media spin events. We had a chance to pose some questions to Lovelorn via email so read on and if you are so inclined give the band a listen on Bandcamp (linked below) where you can pre-order the vinyl release of the record due to ship out in late November.
Queen City Sounds (Tom Murphy): “Get a Job” is reminiscent to me of Curve from the albums Cuckoo and Come Clean. That sort of difficult to classify blend of pop, industrial and noisy guitar rock with programmed beats. What artists, if any, did you find inspiring or interesting that influenced that aspect of your music? What moods/emotions do you think that sound lends itself well to expressing?
Lovelorn: We are getting a lot of Curve references, which is awesome but definitely not something that was at the forefront of our minds when making the LP. “Get a Job” was actually a song that kind of snuck its way onto the record last minute. We had the beat for a while but hadn’t fleshed it into anything yet. The night before our 2019 SXSW tour, the Baltimore date was canceled due to weather. So I went down into the basement with that beat and wrote the vocals—turned it into a song. We ended up playing it every night on that tour and letting the live performance really inform how the song would take shape. Honestly, I think I was thinking more of it being a Rapture type thing at the time. The sound was angry to me, and I wanted to tap into this pissed off existential dread vibe.
Q: The title of “Get a Job” also sounds like a common refrain creative people hear from family, friends and strangers who think as an artist you’re not doing anything serious and that, in fact, takes work that isn’t always easy to quantify. As if working hard at some mundane, often essentially meaningless job just to survive is something to which one must aspire. What are some jobs you’ve done that have made you recommit to doing creative work?
L: Oh man, we’ve both had some terrible soul sucking jobs. The worst job I ever had was selling Colorado Prime steaks over the phone. You had to lie and pretend they didn’t have to buy an extra freezer but they totally did. Patrick has had basically every shitty job you can imagine. We’ve both also been super lucky and had amazing jobs. When we made the decision to quit our jobs and go on tour full time with Creepoid, I had a wonderful job teaching art history at a college in Philadelphia. Ultimately though, there’s nothing as fulfilling as working for yourself.
Q: How would you answer someone that tells you to get a job instead of doing a musical project if you had to give a serious response?
L: I’ve had this conversation several times with all sorts of people. People are either being a dick or they genuinely do not understand the amount of work that goes into being a full time band. Most of the time you can get people to see reason. What’s more frustrating to me is when people say things like “Oh, well its time to get back to real life” or some other stupid reference to touring not being a legitimate source of income. I don’t know, it feels pretty fucking real to me.
Q: It seems to me that the economy for being in a band has changed drastically over the course of the last eight to ten years from venues you can play, being able to have a job to sustain yourself and pay rent at home, transportation, getting your music out into the world and promoting it in order to get your band talked about and reaching for various opportunities. How has that changed for you in ways that may have impacted Creepoid dissolving and Lovelorn navigating the new music world landscape? As a musician and writer myself I saw music blogs implode, alternative weeklies drastically reduce activity or disappear, the ways bands seem to have to market themselves is strange to me, DIY spaces especially after the pandemic and many clubs being gone, the “indie” model of music festivals and radio formats making things less diverse. Etc. Just wondering about your perspective on that and how that has affected your life as a musician both before and currently with Lovelorn.
L: The pandemic has taken out a lot of great venues and bands, that is a sad and undeniable truth. But, I think there will be a reawakening of new DIY spaces that will emerge in the next few years. You can’t break the DIY spirit. We just recently played at an amazing DIY space in Houston, and it was awesome. Kids for the kids, no ego, a safe place for all. The marketing thing is funny too. I try not to get too caught up in how to flex on social media, use it to promote the hell out of yourself for sure but also stay authentic.
Q: “Sickness Reward” is about failure and I feel it’s a bit of an illuminating exploration of the experience and meaning of that concept. How has your understanding of failure evolved in your understanding of what it is and how much weight we need to give it since adolescence?
L: It’s sort of about failure. It’s more specifically about my eating disorder, which I had in my early 20s. It’s about chasing an ideal that will never come, and ultimately feeling disgusted with yourself in every way possible. It’s true though, this idea of ‘SUCCESS’ is drilled into all of us. Creatives aren’t able to escape either. I think if you’re ever going to feel satisfied you have to carve out your own definition of success, instead of chasing after someone else’s.
Q: A number of people I know who have made and do make music that gets lumped in with shoegaze have always been or have become interested in Detroit techno and the like in the past decade and more. How did you become interested in it and how do you feel it fits into your overall way of thinking about and making the music you do?
L: We both have been interested in those sounds since high school. But honestly, I am much more influenced by hip hop and pop when I make music, and Patrick is more influenced by 90s Brit Pop—so together we create this weird little drug pop child.
Q: “Hole In Yr Soul” and the album title What’s Yr Damage seem to me oblique references in some way to late 80s and early 90s popular culture and music with Sonic Youth and Bikini Kill using the shortened “yr” for “your” and maybe Heathers and the line “What’s your damage?” Maybe it relates to “Get A Job” and adjusting to what seems to me a world culture hell bent on leaving everyone not already wealthy (and even them long term) broken or crippled in their psyche and ability to resist and blame themselves for not making that adjustment because of the “rules” of how things have been working, or rather, not working. What is the significance of that title and song for you perhaps in the context of the album and what seems to me an extended commentary on life in late capitalism?
L: Both “Hole in Yr Soul” and “Whats Yr Damage” are more directly about mental illness than a more general comment on society – though that certainly feeds into the issues of mental illness. To us, the use of the “Yr” places the tone of the question in a specific voice, hopefully one that the listener relates to, and trusts. Yr not alone.
Q: Why do you feel Spacemen 3 has continued to resonate with you creatively?
L: Spacemen 3 continues to influence me because they still have a hand in current music. Sonic Boom has touched so much over the years from MGMT, Panda Bear, Beach House, and Yo La Tengo. J Spaceman takes a different approach, spending years orchestrating beautiful live shows with Spiritualized. At the end of all that, they still hold their DIY roots, making it very difficult for record collectors and I love that.
Spunsugar from Malmö, Sweden released its debut album Drive-Through Chapel in October 2020 on Adrian Recordings. Rather than the ethereal post-rock that passes for entirely too much shoegaze and psychedelic rock of late, Spunsugar’s music has a grittiness and emotional urgency that pairs well with elements of an industrial aesthetic. In that way Spunsugar has more in common with groups like Curve and A Place to Bury Strangers that have embraced a similarly hybrid approach to songwriting and soundscaping. We recently sent some questions to the band about its origins, the subjects of its songs and its decision to sing in English. Connect with the band at the links following the Q&A. Article and interview by Tom Murphy.
Queen City Sounds and Art: Cordelia and Elin met at 13. What did a small town outsider clique look like at that age and what mutual interests draw people who are part of that together?
Elin Ramstedt: We mostly hung out with the weirdos and bonded over music, alcohol and alienation.
Cordelia Moreau: We also had less parental supervision than a lot of the kids at our age so that made it easier for us to do mischief at nights without repercussions!
Q: Cordelia and Elin spent some time hardly speaking to each other and not writing music for several years. What were they discovering and exploring separately that seemed to inform what they would do with the new band?
E: I wrote music by myself but always felt that I wanted Cordelias input because of the way that we complement each other when writing music. I felt restrained. I listened to a lot of music and went to concerts and built up the eagerness to play music with others. I mean it is not easy to be a female in a male dominated industry and I guess it took some time before I realised that this was actually something that we could do as well.
Q: In what ways do you think coming up as the children of farmers and fundamentalists and “trailer trash” in small towns in Sweden shaped your view of and approach to making your music?
E: Maybe that we don’t really take anything for granted. We don’t really feel the urge to be famous or anything, we are just very thankful that we make music that people like and can relate to.
C: It makes us less snobby, I think.
F: Yeah, and it’s something to be proud of. Pride is a feeling we haven’t got an abundance of growing up. I spent a lot of time in my teens being somewhat ashamed of the circumstances around my upbringing, family etc. So to have this thing (the band) that is 100% our own is a great source of pride.
Q: What kinds of places did you play before moving to Malmö and how did that environment influence your early development as musicians?
E: Spunsugar didn’t exist before we all lived in Malmö, from 2018. Cordelia and I played in a band when we were teenagers. We mostly played at youth centers. One time we participated in some kind of music competition and the judges told us that we looked like we were dead on stage.
F: Haha, the same here. I played in several metal bands and also a cover band. We played Creedence, Rollings Stones and Ted Gärdestad songs. That kind of stuff. We played shows at small pubs in front of audiences of a bunch of 50-year old women trying to hit on us. Which was strange for me being 18 at the time. I mean, these gigs weren’t the most inspiring but it gave me a lot of experience of playing live and solving situations revolving playing live.
Q: Knowing virtually nothing about the music world of Malmö myself, I wonder what it’s like for an independent even underground band to develop, book shows and connect with other bands to perform and cultivate an audience? Are there places to play that were integral to your growth as a band? Publications/media outlets that write about local band that were helpful to Spunsugar and other groups?
E: Malmö is a city with a lot of really great pop and rock bands! There are a few places that we have been playing at in Malmö. I think that it is kind of easy to get to play small gigs around Malmö, even if you are a new band. We have played at Plan B like four times haha. We haven’t really had any contact with local media outlets. I mean 2020 has been shitty and we haven’t really played that much live at all since we started the band, but we’re aiming at replacing COVID-19 in taking over the world.
F: Yeah, like Elin said, Plan B has been important to us. They gave us a chance for our first gig and our relationship with them has kind of developed with the growth of the band. We had our release-show for our album there and it was a fantastic night. The local media has been awfully quiet to be honest, but that’s not a problem really. There is a big scene of alternative bands and venues that talked to and about each other so I feel that bands can evolve anyway.
Q: You once opened for Nothing. When and where was that? In what ways do you feel Nothing is an influence on your own art?
E: It was at Plan B in Malmö November 2018. It was our first gig ever!! I think Nothing inspired and inspires us to write heavier music. When we started playing music together our music was much poppier but then we realised that we wanted to play music that is a mix of Britney Spears and Slayer.
C: Also, the soundscape of their latest album is really inspiring. Melodically, their geniuses, and they have a certain atmosphere in their songs that are gentle but hard, depressing but catchy. That’s a great way to write music.
F: I think that gig was a bit of an eye opener too. It was quite daunting to play with a band that we respect so much on our first show. It made me realise that this is real and experiences like this actually could happen to us as well, not only to other more fortunate people. I think we put in a higher gear after that. We took things a bit more seriously.
Q: Your songs are in English. What informed that decision and what helped you coming up to learn and connect with the language in a way that makes it a comfortable choice for creative expression (assuming it is)?
C: I guess it’s because pretty much every song, movie and TV-show we consume is in English. It’s personal enough since it’s a language we speak but if I wrote lyrics in Swedish I’d sometimes lack the ability to reference things I want to reference, as well as a vast enough vocabulary. But I sometimes write in Swedish but not for Spunsugar.
E: It would be too embarrassing for me to sing swedish lyrics. You really can sing about nothing when it is not your native language and it sounds cool anyway.
Q: The title Drive-Through Chapel suggests much like the nature of religion and its role in society. What inspired giving the album that title?
E: You could actually say that we are antichrist himself, kind of, and I think that we are fascinated about commercialization of religion and how it can be expressed.
F: And it’s a good title. I mean, I like how it sounds and looks.
C: I grew up in a religious village, it shaped me a lot. When I moved with my mom I got to see something different while my dad was still in that southern religious world. My mom was heavy into rock music and dark movies so she showed me a lot of dark stuff at a young age. That was a scary, intriguing contrast, but it gave perspective that helped me question organized religion. If that music and those books and films were so evil, why did they make me feel so nice? It planted the seed for my obsession with the plastic workings behind these small time churches.
Q: “Video Nasty” is an interesting title to a song as it references a category of film given that designation in the UK in the early 1980s. How did you become familiar with that concept and do you have particular video nasties you like and why?
C: I’m a horror movie buff and have always been fascinated with the idea of media ruining young peoples minds and making them violent, because I was scared into believing that was how it worked as a child. It doesn’t, by the way. In that song I use this concept as a metaphor for peoples invasion and fear of the sexualities of others. I haven’t done many deep dives into the most obscure ones but I absolutely love I Spit On Your Grave, The Last House on the Left and The Beyond.
Q: There is a real synthesis of electronic music and rock in your songwriting with the drum machine fully integrated. What about that sort of sound have you appreciated in other artists?
E: I like the contrasts.
C: I think it blurs the lines of what time the music belongs to. It’s a little bit 80s, a little bit now and a little bit future sounding. I am a big fan of late 80s to late 90s electronical/industrial sounding metal. Everything from Type O Negative, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, it has a certain type of grit to it while at the same time being cheesier and more mellow than other types of metal.
F: It’s very much a mix of all the things we like. I was a big heavy metal kid growing up, and a quite conservative one too. It was a big eye opener when I found bands that could blend that intensity with other influences. That you didn’t need to sound like Entombed or Sleep to sound heavy or that you could sound beautiful and heavy at the same time.