photo by Nev Brown for FiddleWhileYouBurn
Their Sexy Spinning Universe
by Ben Malkin
"I believe in God, only I spell it Nature." – Frank Lloyd Wright
"I don't think I'm into space as something that's separate from where we already are,
we live in space." – John Ceparano, Soundpool
You here reading this, you are sitting on a planet spinning on its axis, in an orbit spinning around the sun, in a galaxy extending outwards infinitely. Yes, this is obvious to us in 2007, but all to often we forget this fact. We don't feel like we're spinning (save when we're drunk), and we don't feel eternity in a grain of sand (most of the time). Usually we're just trying to get to work on time ("we shouldn't have to work," Kim Field, lead singer of Soundpool throws down like a silk glove). In other words, we need to be reminded to cleanse the soot off our doors of perception once in a blue moon. Enter Soundpool, a band in 2006 who came along with an album (On High, on Aloft Records state-side, and Quince in Japan) so delicious as to make the familiar fresh, and remind us that infinity can be liberating, rather than horrifying and that it can be exhilarating instead of exasperating. It can be joyous.
For the record, Soundpool reinterpret infinity through sound. As Kimberly Elman points out in her essay "Frank Lloyd Wright and the Principles of Organic Architecture," "...organic architecture is a reinterpretation of nature's principles as they had been filtered through the intelligent of minds of men and woman who could then build forms which are more natural than nature itself." Soundpool's architecture is made out of sound, but the principle above is the same (though Field admits, certain sounds rolling out into infinity are tricky: "I can't even roll my rrrrrrrrrr's. I don't even know how people do that stuff").
Their repertoire is full of phenomenal songs. There's the take-off-for-the-stars-with-one-chord-and-a-dream "On High," whose chorus elongates each dazzling syllable to four slow motion beats. There's also the Smiths-esque racing space age showtune "Span the Universe" with its urgent message of interstellar love and each note of every chorus so bright and bursting it may as well be long loping super-novas (each syllable a light year). "Millions & Billions & Trillions" sports a two note anthemic chorus just crushing you against the wall. How about the Neu-like trance of "Moonglow," complete with ‘ba baaaammmm' exploding background vocals showing us with just how far out you can take one part. For my money though, the top of the pop song this new century is "Hear Me," which, remembering the wild turkeys, the snow falling on the forest in the morning looking out Kim & John's Poconos window, all glass doors and windows [ala their song ‘Moonglow']. "Hear Me" perfectly captures raindrops falling, turning to nimbus, circling outwards, & rippling off into perfect harmony.
It's New Years eve 2000/2001. At the time, John Ceparano (later to be Soundpool's mastermind, chief song-writer, producer, guitarist) is in the band Jet Set Six, one of the leaders of the neo swing/lounge revivalist scene in the '90's. JS6 toured the world extensively and released two albums, Livin' it Up and Life in the Jet Age, the first on Mutiny/Sire, while the 2nd was self-released. On this night, they performed at Windows On the World, at the top of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. "I was never nervous before about being up there. I was for some reason this time," John explains. This show also ended up being the last Jet Set Six gig. It also turned out to be the last for Windows on the World as well (as the swing/lounge scene, which swung to an end).
August, 2001. Windows On the World's management decides to pull the plug on John's weekly night, "Spy-fi Friday," a '60's style go-go party. John & Kim, devastated, go down to Florida to visit John's Mom, and recuperate from said loss. Less than a month later, September 11th happened.
Kim, who had never performed music before, but had been romantic partners with John for four years prior (and in all that time didn't miss one Jet Set Six local show), began recording with John in their Long Island City living room, both attempting to deal with the mess of feelings left in the wake of the September 11th horror. This was October, 2001. "In all the time we had been together, Kim had never mentioned to me that she could sing," John points out. Well, these recordings became the birth of the Hipsychords. Initally a recording project with some friendly collaborations, less than a year later Mark Robinson joined on synths and never left. In '03/'04, the Hipsychords (i.e. 3 out of the 5 current Soundpool-ers) put out two albums, Electro Magnetic Space Aesthetic and Music for Modern Space. These were brilliant, lounge-a-go-go '50's futuristic breathes of fresh air; a testament to life going on, and embracing hope instead of despair. But alas, this was not enough for Sir John. He wanted more. He wanted to rock.
So in August '05 (after a series of band name changes and varying line-up rotations), drummer James Renard enters the picture and becomes a permanent piece of the puzzle. Although John had been writing most of the beats electronically (though thinking in terms of a rock drummer, the elements of electronica seeped into the recordings), James came in and added a whole new dimension to the live shows: heaviness. That is to say Soundpool turned into a kick-ass rock band. And after a rotating bass cast resembling the Spinal Tap drummer scenario, Soundpool finally found a loyal master of the (big) bottom end, one of the best in the business: Dean McCormick, not only a scuba instructor, but a master in the art of groove.
Just to round out their work and interests, "Aloft" is not only the name of Soundpool's label, but also the fast-becoming-legendary fashion studio in midtown Manhatten which John and Kim rent out to fashion shoots by day, and hold spectacular space rock parties [live shows] by night, gazing off 19th floor balconies and playing to stars dripping down like butter.
John: "It's universal... the millions and billions and trillions that certain influential aspect of our society are into, and how that effects millions and billions and trillions of people, and millions and billions and trillions of other things..."
How does this stuff get so complicated? Everything affects everything else, from the literal examples above to chaos theory's butterfly in China spreading its wings, to the rain drops falling into the ocean and subsequent nimbus rippling out into eternity. This desire to reach out and show the expansiveness, breath and span of the universe lies at the heart of almost every Soundpool song, from "Span the Universe" to "Be on High" to "Millions & Billions & Trillions" to "Be." There's the desire to express infinity and point the way to eternity resounds in every note of "On High" and the dancing stars of "Eurostar" throw off their top hats & kick out their canes to open a curtain that reveals eternity (and it should be noted that this song is a true modern classic, well worth searching out to all lovers of perfect pop gems).
John puts it quaintly: "Music's not tied down at all. Those waves never end."
In the same way modern architecture blurred the distance between interior space and exterior space (so that it extended out into the infinite), Soundpool blurs the distinctions between myriad musical styles, in the process extending the parameters of classic pop song writing out past the borders of infinity via one note sambas, repetitive running grooves, drugged out drones, lush lounge, space age swing & tripped out psychedelia (all the while gazing at their shoes)- as such, something utterly gorgous & unique is birthed in the process.
With modern architecture, it's just a house- it's not extending out into eternity at all. It's staying right there but it gives the illusion that it's extending out into eternity (the sky) by blurring the lines between exterior and interior, traditionally open outdoor space and closed inner space merging ground and sky, becoming one.
In this same way, Soundpool's songs are just pop songs. You already know where they're going and they're not going anywhere unexpected but... like modern architecture, the complex structures contained within the seemingly simple pop song are utterly complex at heart, and likewise have the ability to communicate on different levels something lovely, harmonious, complex, and quite simple. Like Michael Stipe's wallpaper lyrics theory, it's all surface, unless you want to look deeper...
John: "You know I think that (what) I got out of that whole like swing lounge jazz experience is how sophisticated a song can actually be and how simple it can actually sound and that's different from as simple pop song."
Taking the same old elements and presenting them in a new way in order to modernize and make us see again with new eyes the structures we love, these space age structures are not unlike Antonio Carlos Jobim (Field points out "We all love bossa nova"). So cool yet so breezy. So seemingly effortless.
John: "I just noticed the link between the pop song structure and modern architecture, the parallel lines between simplicity, yet that thing I was talking about where it's sophisticated. Like to build a really great artchitecturally sound flat roof modern house that just looks like a flat roof and windows is actually very complex in a way. To pull that off and to make it look that simple, it's like a pop song."
John: "It all comes down to one (thing)... like one note samba. It's all back to that one note, and... through Stereolab, I found that band Neu... and some of their songs just drone on a single note the whole song, but there's something that's so cool about that one element... My favorite Beatles song of all time does that, 'Tomorrow Never Knows.'"
It doesn't really change but it changes. How long can you ride the one note drone? How does it get deeper with each passing minute while remaining the same? (Field points out wisely "if you can come to terms with that, you can come to terms with this world that we live in") It changes but remains the same, like a river drifting off towards eternity, or a flame that burns through the night, and is the same flame, yet is not the same flame.
Perhaps Mark illuminates this desire for the infinite best: "...[in the] middle class, you just get so bored because you have what you need but you just want more and more. I think you're bored and greedy, yeah, but you're also lazy at the same time... because you don't need but you want." Following this logic, if we are truly here, now, this moment is infinite, contains everything we need (if we can open up to it). But we want more than we need. And that's why we like art that points to the infinite. Because it shows us the way to keep moving forward. And that's exciting. That's what keeps life kinetic. Fuck static.
Sophisticated chord structures, beautiful tension via pedal points, comping and what on the surface seems simple is really quite complex (a pebble skipping across the surface of the water), though also a tripped out alien dance floor with people bobbing up and grooving down on it. Thus John waxes poetic on MBV:
John: "I don't think that My Bloody Valentine is innovative for pushing it into the future... because sonically, they're not more experimental than anything that came before them. I think what set them apart was that they were so pop, and they did pop songs in a really experimental kind of way. Now that's weird to me."
In other words, it's so fresh & sophisticated you can't even tell how infectious it is until you're already infected. It's true for MBV. It's also true for Soundpool. Ditto modern architecture and infinity.
Also visit the Soundpage homepage
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