Monday, January 17th, 2011 | interviewZ, musiX, pdX | No Comments
Sic Alps haven’t put out a proper record since 2008′s U.S. EZ, but it doesn’t mean the San Francisco band has just been lazing about in some exclusive lo-fi vacation spot located on a secret island off the coast of Yemen.
Close. The trio—Mike Donovan, Matthew Hartman and new member, former Comets On Fire echoplexist Noel von Harmonson—have essentially been living out every band’s dream, opening for indie-rock heroes Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo as well as being hand-picked by the fellas in Pavement to perform at All Tomorrow’s Parties (Donovan also directed a schizoid video for Portland rock gods Quasi last year). No big whoop. It should also be noted that the band shares a zip code with TDoL faves Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, the Sandwitches, Amoeba Records, The Mother Hips, Escape From New York Pizza, Hank IV, SFMOMA … simply put: If it didn’t cost $1,500 a month for a closet-sized apartment, I’d be in San Francisco.
So what is it about Sic Alps? For years the band has been blasting out nuggets of rock that tend to stumble and lurch in beautiful cacophony. They continue to make good on that tenet with their latest Napa Asylum (out January 25 on Drag City)—a sprawling double-album filled with 22 concise little noisies. Of course, there are loads of shiny, happy hooks buried underneath the racket, and first single “Do You Want to Give $$?” offers only a small taste.
Sic Alps’ Mike Donovan took some time to answer TDoL’s burning (and itching) questions about the new record, playing ATP with Pavement, and a little San Francisco music history.
TDoL: Napa Asylum travels a lot of musical territory—thematically and stylistically—was that the point in doing a double record?
Mike Donovan: We had a lot of material going in, although at end the debate was on whether to go with the single or double.
It was originally supposed to be a concept album, right?
My friend John [Harlow], who makes some of our videos with us, has a picture on his wall that he bought at a yard sale—a pencil drawing of the Napa Asylum building which was torn down in 1949. Out the gate this was the inspiration for the album; but 22 songs about an asylum is just a crazy idea.
Do you have any particular favorite double albums?
The Basement Tapes. Although if I had a record press I would press up all 125 or so songs from the “Original Basement Tapes.”
Napa Asylum feels like an album in the classic sense. What do you think of the fact that most people these days just grab the mp3s they like?
It’s always been that way; eventually you skip ahead to the faves.
There’s an incredible amount of great music coming out of San Francisco. It seems pretty tight-knit …
Please come to the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on February 9 for a show with Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps and Ty Segall. It’s a benefit for the Homeless Coalition here in S.F.
So, Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane?
I’m the only guy in the band who likes the Dead, but it’s OK—I like them enough for everybody.
Moby Grape or Blue Cheer?
Death Angel or Metallica?
My friend Mike used to tour manage Death Angel if you’re looking for some off-the-record tales.
John Dwyer or Ty Segall?
Too close to call.
What went through your mind when you got the invite from Pavement to perform at All Tomorrow’s Parties last year?
That was the most exciting part—being asked to ATP and also to open for them at Brixton Academy in London. Brixton is a complete blur, but I’ll always remember getting that e-mail and flipping out. Pavement is a huge part of why I do this and it was a giant honor. We went and saw them the night before we opened for them in London and it hit me pretty hard. I’m not too easy on myself when it comes to music but it was hard not to reflect and say, “Damn, Donovan. You’ve done good.”
Are there any artists or things that inspire your live performances?
What’s the one thing you won’t leave home without on tour?
Markers and scrap paper.
So, what’s next for Sic Alps?
A coffee break.
“Do You Want to Give $$?” – Sic Alps
Photo by Jason Fisher