Southside Desire on analog recording, old-school retro, and Hymie's

Southside Desire on analog recording, old-school retro, and Hymie's
Photo by Nick Olson

It's always a little jarring to hear music that expresses an emotion you've been trying to put into words for so long. Minneapolis band Southside Desire's new album Songs to Love and Die To, does just that. It is a reflection of life, introspective in the sense that it projects one thing and makes you feel another. The songs manage to be endearingly emotional, yet measured in portions by someone who is cautious to let others in.

Gimme Noise spoke with lead singer and songwriter Marvel Devitt before the album release on Saturday on her take on the album and get her thoughts on the local music scene.

Band members:

Marvel Devitt, Gloria Iacono, Jenny Hatfield Blonk, Damien Tank, Paul Puleo, Trevor Engelbrektson

Gimme Noise: A lot of music is pushing the limits and redefining genres these days. How do you feel the different musical backgrounds of the band contribute to the unique sound of Southside Desire? 

Marvel Devitt: Our histories are what make this band. Most of us come from musical families and have played together before. Trev's stepfather and my dad were in a band called the Strange Friends, and we both grew up listening to them. We were little kids who wanted to be rockers. Now we're married and carrying this legacy. It's wonderful and hilarious. 

I grew up across the alley from Gloria, and we started writing songs together when I was probably 15 or so, with her on guitar and me writing that sappy, teenaged stuff that is now both embarrassing and endearing to look back on. We've been playing together off and on since then. 

Trev and Damien have been playing in bands together since high school, too. Trev has always, always been in at least five bands. Bitch n' Brown, the Fillmores, the Bootstrap Family Band, Brown Moses, Neil Dynamite and the Heartlights -- he's nuts. Paul Puleo's been in Moonstone, Fortified Five, Knifeworld, and Your Loving Tiger, to name a few. Damien played with Paul in the Skinnys some years ago. More recently, Trevor, Damien, and Gloria were all in a band called the Running Scared. This is the first truly active band that either Jenny or I have been in, and the influence is all over the place. Some of us love punk rock, some of us would rather listen to '90s R&B or some delicious classic prog rock.

My siblings and I grew up watching my uncle's soul cover band play at outdoor festivals and go to see the full band perform Earth, Wind, and Fire songs and the like. It blew our minds, and I have deeply ingrained love of classic soul and disco because of it. I think that wide range of tastes and experiences in this band lends to keeping us fresh and different with less focus on one style. 

The girl group aspects of the music are spiked with some of the punk in us. The disco can float in and out, rhythm and blues from all eras can come together in our songs, while Paul's guitar will unpredictability blast from that framework and redefine it. The homage to those styles is there, but it's still modern. It's taking your past and weaving it with right now, making a unique thing with what you've come from.

What's the meaning behind the album title Songs to Love and Die To? 

We were almost done recording, and I was driving myself crazy trying to find the unifying essence to these songs. They sounded beautiful together, and I was sure that they belonged together to create this album, but I wanted to pick something that just said it, you know? I wanted the name to be the crown of this creation. Naming something can be so hard, because you're usually overthinking it.

I was taking a bath and singing to myself, obsessing over the nature of them, and it struck me that these songs are beyond being sentimental or emotional, intensely morbid. They were written during a time in my life that was dominated by an obsession with mortality. 

I also have a sick love of classic old record titles like "Hugo and the Whatnots Do the Cha Cha!" or "Songs to Tango the Night Away" -- brightly colored pictures on worn, old sleeves. It made sense to call it what it is, a throw back to that simple "Songs to" style and to replace the technicolor with darkness on our street. It's retro, but it's new, and it comes from right here. 

How did you meet your recording engineer, Mike Wisti, and how did you come to choosing him to work with on Songs?

The choice was greatly influenced by the positive experiences that a lot of our members have  had in working with Mike at Albatross studios while in different bands over the years. I remember going over to visit Trev a while back while the Running Scared were in the studio, and I thought the place was awesome. There are pictures, knick-knacks everywhere, Simpsons memorabilia, bowls of candy, and a little black and white TV that is always playing the Spanish channel. You could tell this was the kingdom of an eccentric and dedicated man. I think I share a slight disdain for the newfangled with him, and I could tell that this would be the perfect place to expand into the past and make a more classic album.

You used analog in the recording process. Why did you choose this method? Did it change the overall feel when recording? Did you have to think things out more carefully when in the studio?

We wanted a method that worked well with our retro angle, and after seeing Mike's place and listening to all of the great analog recordings that have come out of it, it was just obvious. There is certainly a romantic aspect to sitting in the studio and watching Mike manipulate the tape machine with his hands, turning back a few inches of the reel to review a sound here or there. You get to experience the old school craft of making an album this way. We came to rely more on the initial performance. Before we started tracking, we told Mike we wanted the songs to sound like an early '60s Stax record, so all the instruments were recorded simultaneously in the same room with only a few microphones on the drum kit. As a result, everything bleeds together. If one note is bad, it shows up in every instrument track of the tape. You can't just punch it out, you have to do the whole thing again to capture the right one. I think it makes you grow together as musicians when you do it this way, and when it's right, energy buzzes throughout the room. There are definitely some things that would have been more fussed over wth a different recording method, but in our opinion, those little mistakes make the record more vital, genuine, and unique.

You write a lot about love and all the emotions tied to it. Do some of these lyrics come form personal experience? Is it incredibly difficult to open up about some of these subject matters?

I'll let you in on something: I'm a nerd. Always have been, and like most nerdy people, I was teased as a kid, harassed, all of the things that come with being a little bit different. This kind of stuff shapes people, like a shining personality gets quiet and shy, afraid to open up. I think that my soul got squished. It hid away inside of me, but I started to build love for myself and the desire to give people the real thing with reckless abandon and complete honesty. I wanted to get a real level of communicating myself to the world, and all the conversations I could ever have didn't seem to sum up the feelings within my life -- not the way music can. So these songs are dangerously personal; they are my attempt to give my true self to others, despite any vulnerability that comes thereafter. They are very much a slice of me, and sharing myself with people who love our music is one of the greatest joys of my life. I look out while I sing and see how the things that we're projecting affect people. It's a big deal.

Any favorite tracks off the new album? 

I am learning that if you pick a favorite, the ones you neglect can suffer for it and possibly cause a bit of trouble. Sometimes I find myself guilty of this (I really love "Keepsake"), but there is something beautiful and personal about each of these songs. They are a snapshot in time, and I know that their meaning to me will probably be a little different than what they mean to any other listener, but that doesn't matter too much. What matters is that people can attach the messages in the songs to their own lives, or just dig the sound of it and bump it while they drive to work.

What's the best and worst thing about being done with an album when you've been working on it for so long?

This album was actually made in an incredibly short amount of time. We started playing together in February, played together regularly after March, and recorded this during a few weekends in May. Trev and I were going out West for the summer, and we had a very small window of time to get into the studio and finish this, otherwise we would have probably been recording it last month. Yeah, doing this fast meant that we didn't get to fiddle with it, fuss around and obsess; we had to concentrate our energies into a finite space of time, but as I grow and continue to learn about the elements of creativity, I find that these parameters are what nurture expression. Context adds depth. Limits are just the walls of your pimp castle. When I listen to it now, the energy that went into the album is right there. Leaving this album is leaving a time that I loved, but what can you do? Time goes one way, for the most part, and all I can do is say farewell and work on the next one. 

Why did you decide to do a special exclusive release for the first month at Hymie's? 

There's something really special about Hymie's. Most of us in the band have long ties to that shop, either by growing up in the neighborhood or going to high school nearby. It's where I bought my first vinyl copy of Sorry, Ma when I was a kid. I totally had a crush on the girls who used to own it, and even interviewed them for school once! In both its former and current locations, the shop has a certain mystique about it. You'll never be able to look through all the records there. The bathroom houses more albums than I'll ever own, and the staff there are the complete opposite of the "record store guy" stereotype. They're always friendly and happy to talk and offer suggestions. Dave and Laura [Hoenack] are also extremely supportive of local musicians and conspicuously display Twin Cities releases. The store is super kid friendly. They have a fish tank and a nice dog and a stage for in-store performances. It just kind of feels like home in there. We're really just proud to have such a place in our city, and we're hoping that some of their magic rubs off on us. 

What can we expect at the album release show? 

We have put a lot of energy into involving some of our favorite artists and businesses into this event. We are being sponsored by PBR, Pinata Records (our label), The Hive Salon, who will be blessing our heads with stylish retro dos, and local designer Sarah Stubbs, who is custom making our dresses for the night. It is the weekend before Halloween, so we thought it would only be fitting to make it a costume contest, and you can certainly expect some hilarious and bizarre prizes awarded to the best dressed monsters. We'll have our limited run vinyl copies of the album for sale (just $12) along with download cards. With these, we'll have buttons, posters, and maybe a wink if you're nice to Ari, our hot merch maid. We'll be joined by sexy soul revivalist JT & The Sloppy Seconds, our garage rockin' brothers The Sex Rays, the wild, blues rock stylings of The Goondas, and Hipshaker/Hotpants DJ Brian Engel will be spinning tunes from his collection of rare funk and soul 45s. Oh, and did I mention that it's FREE? 

Southside Desire will release Songs To Love and Die To at The Nomad on Saturday, October 27, 2012 with The Goondas, The Sex Rays, JT & The Sloppy Seconds, and DJ Brian Engel.
21+, Free, 9 pm

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