STNNNG song inspires mural at Chicago university

STNNNG song inspires mural at Chicago university
Photo by Adam Bubolz

A great part of local post-punk slice n' dicers STNNNG's mercurial presentation comes down to vocalist Chris Besinger: his lyrics match the music for both obscurity and narrative flair. You want an example? Try "Grand Island, Neb." off their last record, Fake Fake: a multi-voice absurdist tale of a Sisyphusian man in landlocked Nebraska determined that a submarine will protect him in preparation for an inevitable apocalypse. Vocals alternate between rant and roar as the band shifts tempos and deals dissonance like playing cards, yet there's something oddly catchy about the song, which begins at a slog and eventually picks up to a crescendo where Besinger's main character admonishes everyone around to "Keep rowing!" with a determination that ignores reality.

Now, that distinctive sound gets a visual component as well, as Besinger and his bandmates found out this week. "Grand Isle" is serving as inspiration for a large-scale mural being painted at DePaul University in Chicago. Besinger took some time away from the rising tide of TPS reports to answer a couple questions about being the new leaders of Midwestern Mural-Rock.

So, explain the mural--how did it come about? Do you guys have any input on it?

I got a phone call from a friend in Chicago who is a sort of bon vivant/man-about-town and he is working on this art installation project at DePaul.  What I understand is that part of the exhibit there is a large open space where they were planning on having a mural of some sort but hadn't decided on a theme or idea.  Faiz, my friend, suggested "submarine in a field" since he had just been listening to the song and I guess everyone else thought it was a good idea.  So there will be a 5 x 10 foot black and white painting of a submarine in a field at DePaul sometime this year.

What is the song "Grand Isle" about? Do you have any expectation of how that song is going to be reflected in the art?

The song is just about a guy with this idea that he's trying to see through to end, except its an absurd, impossible idea, but he isn't going to let that slow him down.  I don't really have any expectations for the mural, just the fact that it was even remotely inspired by something we did is flattering, whatever it ends up like I am sure it will be great.

There's a certain intentionally literary quality to your lyrics--what drives that? Who are some other lyricists that you think share that quality?

I think what drives any literary aspect to the lyrics is just that I like songs like that and I think in that way.  I take a lot of time working on the words and trying to get them to match the music as best I can.  And I like to read and I have always had an interest in writing so it just sort of comes out when I'm coming up with words.  I really like songs that tell stories, that have characters in them, in if I don't always fully understand what is going on.  Other lyricists I think like that, Mark E Smith of the Fall, obviously, but I'm also always blown away by the Donald Fagen lyrics.  He really knows how to spin a tale and invent characters and to do all to the weird/jazzy music is really impressive.  I was actually listening to a bunch of Joy Division this weekend and was really struck by quality of Curtis's words and he does a similar thing, telling a story, like on "Atrocity Exhibition."   Andy Cohen of Silkworm & Bottomless Pit is another one, Ben Wallers of the Country Teasers.  I could kind of go on and on.  I love a great lyric, even if in the end I think its not a really important part of a song.  There are plenty of great songs with terrible words, you know if its got a good tune and you can tap your foot to it you can looks past a dumb lyric.

Does this mean that you're going to start playing "Grand Isle" live again? It's been a while.

Probably,  I'm sure we'll get back to it sooner or later.  Actually during practice the other night I was thinking about the song.  So yes we will play it, but not this weekend.

In your future: more murals, or kids scrawling "STNNNG" on their 3-ring binders?

I'd love for the kids to scrawl STNNNG on their binders, on the toes of their Converse, in the halls, every available space, but I don't know, maybe we're destined for the mural set.

THE STNNNG play with Child Bite, Zoos of Berline, and Seawhores tomorrow night, SATURDAY, MARCH 27, at the HEXAGON BAR. 21+. Free. 9 p.m.

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