Web of Sunsets smooth out, slow down on Room of Monsters
Photo by Graham Tolbert
In Web of Sunsets, three self-described "wallflowers" have created an informal support group for one another. It's a necessity for music that lingers on intimate moments, shared in turn by each member: Sara Bischoff, with a wool cap pulled down over her hair; Sarah Nienaber, with her long bangs and well-worn cowboy boots; and Chris Rose, his hands tucked in his pockets and a slight smirk fixed on his face. Together, they can huddle closely around the microphone to share their secrets.
"There's something about all three of us, our personalities. If any one of us is being overly exposed out on our own, it feels weird. So we kind of buddy up," says Bischoff with a giggle. "If you're playing a song that's really personal and it's quiet and really vulnerable, it's nice to be like, 'Okay, now your turn.' If I had to do that every song, I couldn't do that."
Bischoff, who also plays with Rose in Heavy Deeds, had admired his lyrical work since his days with psychedelic trio Vampire Hands. They joined Nienaber in 2012 to start a band where they could turn down the volume and sing as softly as their voices would allow.
"You can sing in a different way; you can be quieter, you can understand the words. It just takes more of that front and center," she says. The structure of the band -- there's no drummer, and the members switch instruments from song to song -- lends itself to understatement. Their country-soaked invocations channel the somberness of the Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star, imparted as though the words might crumble if sung anywhere above a whisper. "I'm a writer and I'm a word person. That's almost more my entry to the music than the music.... I feel like if it weren't for the lyrics, I probably wouldn't be doing it."
With Room of Monsters -- their first full-length, and the only thing they've released besides the "Fool's Melodies" 7-inch in April of last year -- the band has grown into its sound, smoothing out and slowing down their already spare approach. When the instruments seep in from the background -- the stab of a synthesizer, or the swell of electric guitar reverb -- they're like glimpses of light in a cloudy nighttime sky.
Tracked in one day with engineer Neil Weir at Old Blackberry Way studio in Minneapolis, the songs are often simple, mostly just doubled vocals and double guitar parts with droning accompaniments. Still, they touch on something deep-seated and sad -- an ebbing and flowing, without bridges or choruses, that drifts inexorably into the ether.
"When I wrote [7-inch B-side] 'Neon Blood,' I was thinking a lot about, 'How can I write a song that's good for this band' -- which I don't normally do," recalls Nienaber, who also plays in Gospel Gossip and Is/Is. "All the other songs were more natural. After getting used to playing with each other, they're just our songs. We're not thinking about what they're supposed to be."
Photo by Graham Tolbert
Somewhat unintentionally, Monsters draws more sparingly on the vocal harmonies that colored its predecessor, which gave those songs much of their warmth and communal raggedness. Lead single "Foreign Body" is a prime example of the album's emotional cool, its images of isolation echoed in the music's cavernous spaces.
"Since you have all the things going on in this band, it makes me want to hone in and do really simple actions -- be very content and happy being subtle," says Rose. While the 7-inch was written during summer months, Monsters was mostly composed, as Bischoff puts it, during "the shittiest, depressing part of November." But the more cryptic romantic themes are also balanced out by songs like "Sad Forest," which root the album in an undercurrent of economic hardship and real-world problems.
This is an album of stark, raw beauty -- not exactly the stuff of late-night concerts in noisy bars. The band began recording before they'd ever played live, and it's been a work in progress to figure out how best to present themselves in concert. Now they're looking to tour before summer.
"There's something to playing music that's really subdued in a bar setting; you can't really go play every week," says Rose, who admits, with a laugh, that "our stage banter feels kind of weird." But then Web of Sunsets has had a lot to do with getting better at the little things. "It's definitely easier to be in a loud band, at least for self-confidence," adds Rose. "You can't hide behind the lights."
WEB OF SUNSETS
play an album-release show with Anonymous Choir and Invisible Boy on Saturday,
February 22, at Turf Club; 651-647-0486
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