The Time, Not the Weather
"I was biking on the street the other day," says Ladyslipper's singer-guitarist Jonathan Kennedy, "and this guy with a thick Russian accent stops me on my bike —it was so cloudy and it looked like it was going to rain—and he goes, 'Excuse me, is it going to rain?'"
He's talking about how we talk about the weather, reclining on a couch in his living room with drummer Noah Paster next to him. Keyboardist Sam Morrison sits on a chair nearby.
"It's weird that our life passes by in front of us and the weather is the one consistent thing, even though it's constantly changing."
The title of Ladyslipper's debut album, The Time, Not the Weather, comes from a lyrical fragment in their song "Chicago."
"It's the only love song on the album," Kennedy continues. "But the whole line is, 'It's a funny thing, it's a funny thing/The time, not the weather/How it passes by while I'm staring at your eyes.' And I think people always sandwich together the time and the weather. And people always talk about the weather."
It's true—it is the one thing we all share on a day-to-day basis, but if Michael Stipe stopped Ladyslipper on the street and gave them the choice between talking about the weather and talking about the government, they'd probably choose the latter. Their fiery, and sometimes angular, post-punk approach would seem a perfect fit for socially conscious music, but Ladyslipper aren't preaching or protesting so much as balancing on the hinge between the personal and the political.
"They're all over the place," replies Kennedy when asked about his themes. "I really love songwriting, and I like tackling different subjects when I write. I enjoy every aspect of it. There's one that's a storytelling song; there's a couple that are about social issues and are calling for change and action—anything that I feel is important to me or sparks my interest. One song, 'City at Night,' is about our city getting taken away at night by bulldozers and pickup trucks, tearing down record stores and independent restaurants and eateries and putting up more condos."
"City at Night" is not so much filled with spleen as regret, a lament angled directly at the heart of what matters to musicians. "You tear down your properties/Eclipse, Let It Be," Kennedy and company sing, name-checking one record store lost, and one just returned from the dead.
The song is a churning mix of long-striding, anthemic verses, and an uneasy and restless bridge. Kennedy's gritty walls of guitar crash over Paster and Morrison's sludgy backing. It sounds a bit like a car wreck in slow motion, a throwback to the late-'90s heyday of post-punk bands like Jets to Brazil, Burning Airlines, and Texas is the Reason—Ladyslipper's concern with how the individual relates to an increasingly alienating society is another trait they share with those earlier bands. For a beautiful moment, emo (though still a dirty word) wasn't all borderline-goth bands moping about girls and self-abuse—it was bracingly melodic, both toothy and toothsome, and we all thought the Promise Ring was going to be the next huge band. Oh, well.
Aside from their sound, Ladyslipper's roots also stretch back to the more innocent times of the '90s. "I've known Noah since elementary school," says Kennedy, and Paster adds, "Yeah, I think I met you in the sixth grade." After a few casual rehearsals at Kennedy's apartment ("I just brought a snare drum and was trying to play as quiet as possible," says Paster), Ladyslipper began to coalesce for the same reason that friendships do when you're younger: because your parents live near each other.
"I moved in with my folks," Paster says, "and [Jonathan's] mom lives like a block away from my folks. So we would practice in his mom's basement. That's where we wrote four of the songs, until I moved back out to the city and got a rehearsal space."
For a while, they were joined by guitarist Andie Mazorol (who's now in Hex), but they've been a power trio since last December, with Morrison confined mostly to the low end of the keyboard in the role of bassist. A lot of keyboardists would probably resent being so restricted, but it's actually a musical decision that Morrison embraces.
"There are some really good sides to just playing low end," he says. "I can use both hands if I need to do jumps. Concentrating on it, I can be flexible and improvise the bass lines more on the songs where that works."
On the tongue-in-cheek "About the Beatles," the keyboards lend a woozy, fuzzy quality that would be all but impossible to achieve with a traditional electric bass. The song conflates verses about the lives of stars (in the astronomical sense), with the pervasive significance of the Beatles in popular music; it's about both longevity and legacy. Whether approaching issues with caustic humor, as here, or with a note of warning, as on "City at Night," Ladyslipper bend their music out toward the world while keeping it rooted in everyday experiences.
"I think an interesting point of the record," waxes Paster, "is that there are messages in these songs—"
"Yeah," interrupts Morrison. "Play 'em backwards," he deadpans, and the rest of the band breaks up in laughter.