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SOMEONE STILL LOVES YOU BORIS YELTSIN
Injects Raw Energy Into New LP By Letting Go Of Studio Perfectionism
It has been ten years since the initial release of their widely acclaimed debut Broom – so there is no doubt the music of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin has gone through quite a bit of change and progression throughout their career. The band has captured a variety of stylings, from soft acoustic folk ballads to catchy indie-pop tracks over the years – all while managing to create an overall sound that is undeniably their own. However, where they shine the most and seem to gain the most applause from critics and bloggers alike is in their energetic live performances.
Which is why their fifth studio album, The High Country, may be their best work yet.
“One of our friends told me that before she goes to our shows, she wants to get pumped up by listening to our music,” says Phil Dickey (guitars/drums/vocals), “but the studio albums are never on the same level.”
From start to finish, however, The High Country is a raw, high-energy record sure to fix any SSLYBY fan’s craving for the feeling of attending their live performances.
After spending a month demoing and practicing, the trio of Dickey, Will Knauer (guitar/vocals) and Tom Hembree (bass) recorded the album at Seattle’s legendary Hall of Justice with the help of Beau Sorenson (Superchunk, Garbage).
“It’s more in the direction of Let it Sway – but there’s a lot more energy and it’s a lot more aggressive overall,” says Knauer.
Opening track “Line on You” is a high-octane track filled with fuzzy upbeat guitar riffs, followed by the fast tempo of “Step Brother City,” the first single off the album. Even the slower ballads, like “Madeline,” have their own sort of raw beauty.
The band attributes a large part of this sound to Sorenson, who previously worked with the band on Let it Sway in 2010.
“It was really great because there was never that moment of trying to get to know each other, so we could just get to work immediately,” explained Knauer. “He helped us to be very efficient and gave us some extra power that we don’t normally have.”
“I think sometimes when we’re self-recording, even if it’s a lo-fi recording, we tend to aim for perfection and keep doing things over, and one of Beau’s big things is trusting the recording process,” added Dickey.
Case in point – during a late night recording session, Dickey blew out his voice after screaming the lyrics to “Trevor Forever” – but Beau insisted on continuing to record.
“We decided to put ‘Trevor’ on first because it was late, and I thought it would be fun to scream,” Dickey says. “I think I was kind of already losing my voice at that point, and Beau thought my voice sounded kind of cool broken up like that so he put ‘Madeline’ on. I kept telling him, ‘I can’t really sing right now’ and I was trying to discourage him from recording that song, but we ended up keeping it – it actually sounded pretty cool,” he adds.
“When The Beatles recorded ‘Twist and Shout,’ the story is that they had been recording all day and John’s voice had blown out but he was like, “I have one more song in me.’ So he just started screaming the song – I was kind of going for that but you know, not as good,” Dickey jokes. “I had never screamed before on an album – basically, I had no idea what I was doing but it all kind of worked out.”
He also said the renowned recording space itself helped to add a bit of a rougher edge to the album.
“We also did the vocals to a cover of ‘Negative Creep’ by Nirvana that night. It was 3 or 4 in the morning and that’s the same studio where Nirvana recorded the album, so I let myself be affected by the sort of spookiness and history of that place to see how it resonated with me.”
Aside from the energy of the recording studio, the band says they draw most of their songwriting inspiration from things that go on in everyday life.
“A lot of stuff came from books I’ve been reading, movies I’ve watched or experiences that left a strong impact on me,” says Knauer. “I found myself constantly thinking about something I had seen or felt – those are the things that end up getting expressed through music whether you want them to or not because your brain is still trying to figure them out.”
One interesting experience that still resonates with the band – being named U.S. State Department Cultural Ambassadors in 2012.
After members of the Boris Yeltsin Foundation did a quick Google Search and discovered the band, they approached SSLYBY to visit Russia as part of an attempt to amend the former president’s name. The band spent their time headlining the Old New Rock Festival, one of Russia’s biggest music events, and even visited a high school where they played an acoustic set, ate lunch with companions of Boris Yeltsin, had their lyrics translated in Russian by the students, and later did a Q&A and tour of the school.
“And after the students went away, Boris Yeltsin’s friends gave us a ton of vodka,” laughs Dickey. “The whole thing was kind of a weird dream – those were a few of the craziest days of our lives.”
The name “Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin” is one that is clearly memorable, and has gotten them attention from the Boris Yeltsin camp and by those who are simply amused by it. But, much like the band’s music has progressed over time, as history takes its course, the meaning behind the name has inadvertently evolved as well.
“We came up with the name right about the time Boris Yeltsin was resigning from office and we were hearing his name all over the radio. I think people kind of thought of it and him as a joke,” Dickey explains. “Then he died in 2007 and people thought it was a little spooky that we were named after a dead president. And now I’ve seen some things online saying that our band name is so much more appropriate now with everything going on with Putin, so even its meaning has sort of changed and progressed.”
For a band that is constantly evolving and changing, one thing remains the same – they will always make sure to keep producing music their fans will love.
“I think it’s just always going through a new level of change that we may not plan or expect,” says Knauer.
The High Country is out June 2 on Polyvinyl Records.
Follow on Twitter @SSLYBY
photography by Calvin Todd & Shay Rainey