Home / Music / Music Feature / Soul Low Indulge Garage-Pop Tendencies on ‘Sweet Pea’

Soul Low Indulge Garage-Pop Tendencies on ‘Sweet Pea’

May. 26, 2015
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Photo by Lex Allen Photography
By his own account, Soul Low guitarist Jake Balistrieri writes a lot of songs, more than he could ever hope to use. “Some of them I don’t even share because they’re so stupid,” he says. “Some of them aren’t even funny; they’re just bizarre. Like, I have a lot written about sardines. No one else in the band even likes sardines.”

But as many songwriters can attest, sometimes material never intended for public ears has a way of making it out to the world. It’s been two years since Soul Low released their debut, Uneasy—a ceaselessly infectious set of jittery, sometimes jazzy indie-rock that the Milwaukee music scene greeted with immediate open arms—and with their follow-up album still a work in progress, the group wanted to release something in the interim. So for their new Sweet Pea EP, the band tapped Balistrieri’s stash of demos, reworking some of the cheeky little garage-pop songs he’d been writing on the side.

Balistrieri had assumed some of these songs would be too straightforward for the band, but bassist Sam Gehrke says that simplicity was part of their appeal. “We have a tendency to make our songs really complicated,” Gehrke says. “This was a project that let us just play up our pop elements. There’s still some aerobic musical undertones to it, but mostly we wanted to do Jake’s demos justice by retaining their garage-pop feel. I think it was good for us. All the songs we’ve been working on for the full-length are like these eight-minute tracks, so this was like a breather.”

More so than anything else they’ve released, Sweet Pea is unabashedly quirky. Balistrieri slips one of his sardine lyrics into the two-minute opener “Always Watchin’ Out.” “OMG STD” sets a tale of venereal disease to the tune of a swinging, Grease-style rocker. Hitting home the sense that it’s all kind of a lark, the EP is being released on cassette with a second side of demos that lay the whimsy on even thicker. Among them are “I Found a Job,” an early rock ’n’ roll hip shaker that would make Jonathan Richman grin, and “I Want To Die,” where Balistrieri sings of boredom and porn addiction but mostly rhymes a bunch of words just for the hell of it.

“There’s a fine line between being a joke band and being a band that’s funny,” Balistrieri says. “We try to walk that line. But with the album we’re working on, we’re kind of getting away from anything funny and taking a darker route. Real issues that matter to us, things that are heavy emotionally—that kind of thing.”

Along with its wide-ranging predecessor EP Kind Spirit, which Soul Low released online this winter, Sweet Pea gives the impression of a band that’s figuring things out, still trying on different hats and seeing which ones fit right. There’s some truth to that, Gehrke says. The band’s tastes are still developing.

“When we first came out, we were all 18 or 19, and then we put out an album and all of the sudden everybody was talking about us, which for us was super weird,” Gehrke says. “So I think at first that shook us up a bit. That’s why it took us a little bit longer to get our next project out, especially since Uneasy touches on so many different sounds and genres. A lot of that album was written over the course of four or five years, with some of those songs going back as far as high school. Initially it was weird for us, but I think we’re a lot more comfortable with it now. We’re getting much more comfortable with the idea of just putting out what we want to put out, and knowing there will be people who enjoy music and will understand what we’re trying to do.”

Soul Low plays an EP release show Friday, May 29 at the Cactus Club at 9:30 p.m. with Split Single and Heavy Hand. Cassette copies of Sweet Pea will include free temporary tattoos. Stream the EP below.


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