December 08, 2006
What's to say about Bound Stems? They're a band that covers a lot of ground, musically and personally. They're a five-piece, but their music is something grander, something bigger. Their songs are about life; while Chicago is their home, their debut album, Appreciation Night, is more an album of living life with Chicago as the backdrop. Their music is catchy, too, but the band's Janie Porche says it best when she proclaims that "we rock!" Yes, indeed, they rock; they rock in a way that rock rarely rocked in 2006--intelligently. In this bland, boring music world, it's refreshing to hear an album like Appreciation Night, and it's hard to deny that this band is clearly onto something. Their debut release, last year's EP The Logic of Building the Body Plan didn't hint at the greatness found on this debut, and if that's the case, what comes next may very well be even more mind-blowingly wonderful than this excellent album. It's safe to say that they released one of the best albums of 2006, and I'm happy to have talked to a very friendly Ms. Porche during a brief break between tours. Seek their music out; it won't disappoint you.
I've really enjoyed Appreciation Night! I take it you joined the band between The Logic of Building the Body Plan and the debut. How did you meet up with them?
I was roommates with Evan Sult, our drummer. They had all been working together for a while, and they had brought in another girl to see if they wanted to add her backups on another song. Then they decided to take the idea further and add vocals, but she wasn't really the right person for the job. So they asked me to do it, and I said yes. Within a few days, they started bringing in more instruments and adding a lot more layers. They liked my singing, so they added me, too.
Was this your first musical project?
I kind of had been making music on my own, writing and recording songs on my own, but nothing to this extent.
There are a number of songs on Appreciation Night that are...well, I guess the best example of this would be "Excellent News, Colonel," where it sounds like the song is actually a combination of several smaller songs put together, a la The Beatles' "A Day in the Life." Was this something the band intentionally came up with as an approach to songwriting, or is it merely something you tried and worked well?
I think that when you have five really different, creative minds working together and working at five really different day jobs, it leads…well, when we would go to the practice space, we'd have a lot of different ideas to explore. We'd bring a lot of different pieces in. It's not like one person writes something complete that the rest of the band then follows, because we're all open to ideas. Also, when we were writing, a lot of ideas were written in groups. One day, it'd be like, "Okay, Janie and Bobby, you go and work on this," and "Dan, you and Evan go and write something." We'd do that' we'd record in our practice space, and we'd see what comes up. At the same time, we're trying to look for really challenging music. We're not afraid of that.
Looking at the title, "Appreciation Night," and hearing how much Chicago plays into the lyrics, is the album a love letter to the city of Chicago?
I think it's more a letter that we were writing with Chicago as the setting. We've been given a lot of feedback an have been asked a lot of questions about how much Chicago figures in the lyrics, and I think that the city's role is important, but it's not to Chicago as it is about Chicago.
SO it's about living in Chicago, as opposed to being about Chicago.
Right! It's all about how we're making our movements through the city to do what it is we do on a daily basis. Like, we have to go to work and meet friends, we have to go to practice, we have to gather our gear and our coats; we have a lot of things to do, and we're doing them all in Chicago, which happens to be a very audible, sonic sounding city. There's a lot of transit here; there's a lot of movement. I'm sure if we lived and recorded in, say, Oklahoma City, the results would be different from Appreciation Night. Interesting, I'm sure, but entirely different.
I interviewed someone yesterday who had released an album with a lyrical narrative that's similar, involving citizens in a city, a much more stream-of-consciousness approach. From what you were just saying, was a decision made to explore these themes, or did you just write a bunch of songs and then, upon compiling them, you realized you had this theme and you saw what the album was about?
It's interesting. We had a few songs that we chose not to put on the album, because it was already too long. We had all of these songs that we'd written, and we were able to select them in a sequence that flowed together and told a narrative. We made--I have no how idea how many different running orders! (Laugh) We would be in the van, and we'd listen to so many different orders, trying to figure out what it meant for us. So that was a really conscious decision. Also, the transitions between the songs, we thought about them a lot--a whole lot--because we wanted to make sure they were good.
So, then, in your mind, was Appreciation Night a...I hate to use the word "concept album," because it has such a negative connotation...
Well, I don't think of it as a concept album. It was very musically challenging for us. It was something we were exploring--our town. Furthermore, replicating these songs live is very important for us. The fact that these songs rock, it's very important! (Laughs) We listen to a lot of rock music, so we want to make...we're a rock band. What you can take from a concept album is that it has a theme you can take as a whole, so yeah, that's something that can carry over. Also, concept albums are things you have to listen to a couple of times to really figure out, so that's something that holds over, too.
Ultimately, though, Appreciation Night sounds like it was a whole lot of fun to make.
It was a lot of fun! We go out on tours for long lengths of time, and there are things that are really frustrating, like our van getting a flat tire, or being stranded somewhere, or not finding a place to stay, while back home, our cell phone bills are coming due--these are things that happen that are really frustrating. But when we get on stage, we have the most fun that we could ever have. I hope that doesn't go away. We've played a lot of shows, and we're getting better at it. We've had full-time jobs, we've worked long days, and we know what it's like. We understand where we could be in life, and we really appreciate what we're doing. It's a ton of fun, yeah!
Bound Stems' debut, Appreciation Night, is available now on Flameshovel