Veterans of Pleasure is STNNNG’s fifth full-length, and the band’s signature intensity remains undiminished.
The lyrics are still absurd, the rhythms still driving, and the guitar riffs still alternately soar and skitter like the rats, spiders, and crows Chris Besinger is so fond of singing about. Besinger’s prophetic delivery allows vice and darkness to reign while the band skips through time signatures and bends chords to suit his jagged reality, externalizing the angst and terror of our contemporary moment. We caught up with Besinger and guitarist Adam Burt ahead of STNNNG’s show at the Entry tonight to discuss the new album, which came out April 1 on the Modern Radio label.
City Pages: What’s it like to be looking back at 10+ years of STNNNG?
Chris Besinger: It’s strange, I certainly never thought it would last this long. Every album takes a lot of work and after we finish one I can’t ever fathom making another. But eventually we do.
Adam Burt: I'm glad we've stuck it out for this long. We're all good buddies and still enjoy making music together, so I guess it comes as little surprise that we're still doing this.
CP: What kind of live experience are you trying to give at your shows? How do you get into the right headspace to perform?
CB: I personally want the live show truly be an experience, I want people to feel something, anything -- happiness, disgust, annoyance, whatever it is I just don’t want it to be a passive thing. I read a quote by the recently passed Dutch jazz pianist Misha Mengelberg about wanting to amaze people, then give them too much to grasp all at once and to have music and performance to “linger in their minds long after the show is over,” and that about sums it up. You can love it or you can hate it, I just don’t want you to forget it.
CP: I was excited to hear a spare arrangement on “Top Hat Man,” which gives the lyrics some extra breathing room. What’s your songwriting and arranging process like?
CB: “Top Hat Man” is a little weird because that was essentially an improv, where I gave the vaguest possibly direction to Ben about an idea for a drums and vocal song, he came up with the beat, we tried it a couple of times in the space, and then did the take that’s on the record. We never really sketched it out. Which is basically the opposite of how we normally write and arrange songs, where someone comes in with an idea or riff and then we all bang it together until it feels right. Writing lyrics in the band is different than writing poetry or fiction because in the band I almost always write to fit the song. I might take ideas from other things I’ve written but usually I am trying to serve the song.
CP: What other lyricists, poets, or writers do you admire?
CB: As for lyric writers, Richard Hell, Lou Reed, Mark E Smith, Chris D from the Flesh Eaters, Andy Cohen from Silkworm, Nick Cave all pop to mind. Poetry, I tend to like brainy, odd, singular stuff from mostly the 20th century, but lots of the weird 60s, 70s mimeo stuff as well…poets who either committed suicide like Frank Stanford or lived for forever like Frederick Seidel -- not dead yet. Fiction, I tend toward Eastern Europeans with a grudge against the world or South Americans who might not exist.
CP: You played a show for Bernie Sanders last year. What was it like to engage with politics that way? Does the band feel any more or less political today than when you penned “New National Anthem”?
CB: I don’t exactly think of us as being political, at least not in an overt, explicit way, there’s stuff we express in song I think you could probably extrapolate over views on, but we don’t have an agenda. I was talking with a friend about “New National Anthem,” which when we wrote was hyperbolic satire and now… fuck, now it feels subtle.
AB: Bernie was and is great and I was proud to participate in that event. I'm not sure if I'm any more or less political these days. I've certainly been paying a bit more attention. The sheer horror and ugliness of the current administration is hard to miss.
CP: What’s the story behind the album art? How did you discover the work of Reynier Llanes?
AB: Chris had a vague notion that we ought to find a piece that somehow reveals people wearing themselves out from having way too good of a time. I found that painting on the internet and contacted Mr. Llanes, who was about as nice of a guy as I could've hoped for and very willing to work with us. It is indeed a mind-blowing piece of work.
When: 8:00 p.m. Fri., April 14
Where: 7th Street Entry
Tickets: 18+, $10/$12; more info here