Southside Desire revamp their sound

The rock-tinged R&B group release a remastered debut ahead of the Memory Lanes Block Party

A little over a year ago, Marvel Devitt took some vocal tracks recorded on her iPhone and played them for her husband and friends. Even in raw form, the soulful melodies proved striking enough to prompt the formation of rock-tinged R&B outfit Southside Desire, and they were fleshed out on the band's stellar 2012 debut, Songs to Love and Die To.

"That's actually how I write all my songs," says Devitt sheepishly. She and the band have gathered for their City Pages interview on a lovely spring evening at the spacious northeast Minneapolis headquarters for the band's Piñata Records — formed on a whim when a Nashville record-pressing plant asked drummer Damien Tank what label they were on.

"I feel a little bit tacky about [writing this way]," Devitt continues, "because I'm kind of a technology hater, and I have disdain for people who look at the phones before they look at people. But it's nice having something audible to listen to when you have a dumb idea — you've got to catch inspiration when it strikes, because it dances away sometimes."

Innovation gels on the soulful, harmony-fueled "Keepsake," the churning, guitar-laden urgency of "Fast Hands," and the breezy, doo-wop pulse of "When I Was Your Queen." Each is a modern twist on a classic Stax sound that reflects the disparate influences of each member of the veteran sextet, whose musical ties are undeniably extensive.

Before they were married, Devitt and bassist Trevor Engelbrektson became friends while her father played in a band with his step-dad. Engelbrektson and Tank have history in garage-rock bands like Running Scared and the Fillmores dating back to high school, and Tank and guitarist Paul Puleo played together in gritty rock band the Skinnys. Years ago, Devitt and backing vocalist Gloria Iacono, also a Running Scared vet, were childhood pals while living across a Minneapolis alley from each other. The group's easy interactions signify a bond not solely from making music together.

"We're pretty eclectic as a group, and when we come together to write songs we all can have a different approach to them sometimes," says Devitt. "But part of that successful fusion of our different influences is just a matter of no one having too much ego, and everyone being willing to bend their ideas if someone else's idea is going to meld with it and make it good. I think it happens pretty easily, actually."

Recorded in about three days at Albatross Studios with Mike Wisti, Songs to Love and Die To is one of Engelbrektson's proudest moments. "I think we played really well on it, and it doesn't sound like a scrappy, rushed production at all," he explains. "It captures a definite moment in the beginnings of this band."

Now, those nascent sessions are revamped in a newly remastered digital version, featuring a louder, brighter sound than the vinyl mix. While revisiting Songs to Love and Die To comes with an obvious affection for their initial batch of songs, Southside Desire are eager to create more, and build on the momentum of an appearance on TPT's MN Original and their upcoming gig Saturday at the Memory Lanes Block Party. Songs initially written with Devitt's voice in mind were expanded with the help of Iacono and recent addition Joy Spika. Later this summer, this enhanced lineup will release a new split 7-inch with fellow retro-soul act Black Diet, who play before Southside Desire at the block party.

"I was joking that the songs on the record felt old to me, but they just came out a few months ago," Devitt says with a laugh. "They're not old by any means, but we're coming to a point now where we're finally solidifying. We're not building the components anymore, we're building on that strong foundation."

 
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