|by Frank DeBlase 08 May 2008|
|Zen and the art of the short song
PREVIEW: The Gifted Children (5/17)
By Frank De Blase on May. 7th, 2008
Straight-up rock 'n' roll ain't so rock 'n roll if you stay within the guard rails. Where's the brevity, the urgency, the now? Where's the chaos, the contrarian defiance it once brandished?
Rochester's Gifted Children is a prolific quintet that churns out songs faster than a meth lab run by Advertisementspeed freaks. To some, the band's songs are only fragments of songs waiting to be paired up with others floating in the band's collective head. But they aren't abbreviations or shortcuts; guitarist/singer/keyboardist Jeff Suszczynski, drummer Aaron Boucher, guitarist Jim Sahr, guitarist/saxophonist Brett Dreyer, and bassist Bill Trautman all play to the point.
The songs - some clocking in at under a minute - are the antithesis of the epic rock opus trap some indie bands fall into. So despite the experimental distortion and wash, dreamy vocals, and thoughtful guitar, there's more danger and adventure in these five lads than you'd think.
I sat and chatted with Suszczynski about the band's ever-growing catalogue and release schedule - three LPs and eight EPs are scheduled for release this year alone - writing whole records in one night, and being open to trying new things... even cowbell.
City: How did you arrive at writing short and sweet?
Suszczynski: Well, I've been writing songs for a long time, but I switched to the shorter songs after hearing Guided by Voices' "Bee Thousand." Up until that point I was laboring over every song, to get those 10 to 12 perfect songs all polished, then [ I would ] save up money to go into the studio and bang 'em out. I heard "Bee Thousand" when I was a sophomore in college and it was like an epiphany. All of a sudden I hear these guys recording in their basement, these kind of half-finished but brilliant songs. It was like, "I don't have to toil over these anymore."
But wasn't that just their version of complete?
At the time it sounded half done. But I've drunk their Kool-Aid.
Do you consider your songs half done?
No, no, they're done. It used to be in order for a song to be done, it had to have verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/chorus. And hearing that album just freed me from those restrictions. It made so much more sense to write a song linearly. Or as soon as the lyrics were finished - I'm big on lyrical content - instead of repeating a chorus for no reason. If the lyrics are done, if it's a little snapshot of life or whatever, then it's done whether it's 45 seconds or five minutes.
So this took the creative pressure off?
Yeah, and it just freed me and the other guys in the band to just not be so concerned about polishing every little turd. "Let's release it. It may not be the best song, it might suck..."
So what do you do with the free time other bands spend writing and tweaking longer songs?
It frees you up to do more production. I can do a full album on my four-track. So we started doing that and releasing stuff to our friends.
How long is it from start to finish with a song or a batch of songs?
We were recently recording a bunch of songs we'd been working on for several years, so that's the longer period. During that weekend we got a little drunk and decided to record an EP that night. So we banged out five songs in eight minutes. So it's anywhere from literally writing it and recording it on the spot to stuff we've been sitting on for five, seven, 10 years. It runs the gamut, I guess.
How do you typically approach it?
I'm a real control freak with the recording. So I'll start with all my tracks - guitar, voice, keyboards, a bunch of stuff - first. Then we'll add the drums and bass and everything else after that. We can't all get together at the same time so we'll have recording parties where the drummer will bang out literally 25 songs. And he's never heard those songs before that day.
I would like to go into the studio with a producer and actually surrender some of the control at one point.
Are there songs you regret releasing, songs that could have stood more work that really weren't complete?
They're all kinda like your kids in a way. So even the ugly ones you love in a weird, perverted way. Some of the stuff I'm embarrassed by, the goofy, really poppy stuff we did nine, 10 years ago when it was all clever word play and super hooky.
Do these songs grow or change over time in a live setting?
Sometimes organically, and definitely on purpose at some point. I welcome more input in the live show.
How do these short songs translate live?
Sometimes they don't at all. Sometimes they just confuse the hell out of people. Sometimes people are baffled: did they mess up? Are they gonna start it over? And they wait on the applause.
Is there any end in sight? How long is this gonna last?
A long time. We've got another 20 albums to be released, and then we're always writing. The end goal is to get it all off my chest. There was a period where we hadn't released anything in four to five years and I was like, "We've got hundreds and hundreds of songs we need to get out there so we can push and do new things." The goal is to release a full-length about every four months - three a year. And then in between, pepper that with EPs.
How many songs have you written so far?
We figure it's about 1300 songs since we became a band in '95.
As an experimental band, where do you draw the line? What will you never do?
Cowbell is probably about the only thing. Pretty much anything I would try... Well, yeah, even cowbell. What the hell?
The Gifted Children
w/Township, Highway Lights, Skull Maracas
The Bug Jar, 219 Monroe Ave.
Saturday, May 17
9 p.m. | $6 | thegiftedchildren.com
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