The Cat’s Cradle
Saturday, April 1, 9 p.m.
You just know that Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard (who, with a rotating cast of drummers, are the slyly popping Rosebuds) are tired of telling the story of their first gig, some two albums, one EP and a couple of 7″s in the past. But we asked, and they graciously answered.
“We got married and didn’t have the money to go on a nice honeymoon, so we decided to take the week off work and just stay home instead,” offers Kelly, setting the scene. “Ivan was playing guitar and I was painting, and that was good for the first couple days but I think restlessness set in. A girl called to see if Ivan could fill in for a cancellation at the local club and he said, ‘My band can’t do it, but my new band can.’ He hung up the phone and said, ‘We’re in a band and we’ve got a show tonight.’ So Ivan taught me five songs he’d been working on, and we played that night with a Sears drum machine, and everybody loved it.”
Now you know why we asked. And here are a couple of other things we talked about.
Independent Weekly: For both of you, the Rosebuds bio goes into detail about where you grew up (Ivan in rural Wake County and Kelly on the Outer Banks). What impact on your music and what influence on you in general did those locales have?
Ivan Howard: There seemed to be a lot of isolation in both of our childhoods–settings where we had to create entertainment for ourselves, whether musically or just the things kids do in everyday life. For me there was not a lot of peer pressure to conform, or at least I didn’t notice it because outside of the school/basketball environment, I kept to myself. I mean, I lived on a dirt road on the outside of town, so it was isolated. So I think I never developed a sense of community or whatever and I just lived inside my own mind a lot. I also didn’t know there was a difference between the kids who liked The Ramones, Depeche Mode or The Beatles because I liked them all, so it never occurred to me that anything I liked might not be cool. Now our music is difficult to classify and I think it’s because I liked what I liked and didn’t have a peer group, so I never got really into one type of thing.
Kelly Crisp: My experience was more rooted in music as an accompaniment to an oral tradition type storytelling. Music and stories went together in my family. It was a really isolating lifestyle for me too, so I can relate to the feeling of not having a peer group, although I did feel like I was strange and other people could tell that I had a weird life, so I was really shy when other kids were around. I wrote a lot, journaling all the time, and I worked on stories in my mind all day long. I used to get in a lot of trouble for not paying attention, but I was making plans and rewriting stories I’d heard or just regular scenarios from my own life. Everybody thinks “I should have said…” but I used to spend weeks puzzling out entirely new versions of a little conversation. I didn’t do very well in school because this thinking was a full-time job…. So now Ivan and I find it really natural to write these songs together.
IW: The catchiness and, borrowing a word from your bio, “breeziness” of your music probably draws some listeners’ attention away from the interesting and insightful songwriting that characterizes your work. Would you discuss/dissect a song or two for those who might have missed the words?
IH: I think “Wildcat” and “Boxcar” are good examples of this. They’re so heavy with darkness or sadness in the lyrics but the music is more breezy and the choruses are catchy. We think it’s best that way. In both “Wildcat” and “Boxcar” there’s a little bells-like passage into the verse and in the choruses, which implies youth–like a little girl’s musical jewelry box. But the lyrics are heavy. In “Boxcar” a couple is sitting in their car and they don’t want to go inside because they feel like talking. They talk about wishing they could go back and rescue themselves as children–go take their child selves out of their homes and raise themselves. Then the chorus picks up tempo and becomes more driving while the corresponding lyrics illustrate the couple’s plan for raising themselves.
KC: Can you imagine a room full of people dancing and singing along to “Boxcar”? It’s so moving because they know how sad it is but they are compelled to scream it at us while they’re sort of jumping up and down to a pop song.
IW: There’s always a Smiths reference in your reviews, and this might just be me, but I also hear the likes of the Housemartins and General Public. What do you think it is about your music that drives writers back to the ’80s for reference points?
IH: I’m not sure. I do like some Smiths songs and some of Morrissey’s solo stuff. I think writers always have to use reference points to give the reader something to compare the music to. We try not to sound like most of the rock music you hear out there on commercial radio because I think it is terrible for the most part. I am not upset about being compared to the Smiths or other underground, cult bands from the ’80s. It might be closer to us than most of “today’s music.” But I have to admit, I’ve never heard half the bands they compare us to. It’s funny when we have to research the bands reviewers say we’re “obviously influenced by.”
KC: Yeah, Morrissey. Well, honestly, with the richness of Ivan’s voice, who else could they compare us to? I don’t have Ivan’s voice, so the songs I sing get compared to grittier, folkier bands. But when Ivan sings, we get Morrissey a lot. I realize I sound like a doting wife, but the truth is, Ivan’s voice is our strongest asset. About 98 percent of successful bands on the radio have marginally talented singers. Most bands can succeed without it (good news for the rest of us). But it’s an honor to get compared to a stand-out vocalist once in a while.
IW: When you first saw each other’s record collections, what surprises did you encounter–both positive and negative?
IH: Kelly had a lot of old The Cure records and Run-DMC records. I had a lot of Afghan Whigs and Pet Shop Boys. That looked like a match that you couldn’t beat to me!
KC: Ivan played me his mom’s record (she was a country singer in the ’70s) and I felt so excited. I couldn’t believe it. Her voice was so beautiful. I didn’t know Ivan could also sing at that point. I just was overcome by surprise at how beautiful the songs were. Then he put on Thriller.
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