Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney
Bound Stems chief songwriter Bobby Gallivan was a high school history teacher for two and a half years before taking what amounts to a sabbatical in order to sow his wild rock and roll oats with his dear old friends, most of whom he's known since they ran three-man weaves together playing high school basketball. Most of the songs on "Appreciation Night," the band's debut full-length album give off the sensation that they were reared before then and afterwards. They are preoccupied with the examination of all things anthropocentric, in particular cases. Taken, with a wonderfully insightful, college educated mind, the lives of these songs seem to be coming from a period of days that would now appear to have a brandy-colored tint to them if in fact they were to be viewed on photographic papers.
They're looks into childhood -- having progressed many years past it - but they also have handles on present-day trials. These are memories as actual or hypothetical as they'd like to be. They're stories for the times when the crickets talk and you need something heavy, shadowy and yet airy to answer back with. Gallivan, when he's absolutely forced into doing it - being the practicing history teacher that he formerly was, would compare his band to post-Revolutionary War America, when the country "didn't know what the fuck" it was doing. He says that the time between the adoption of the Articles of Confederation and ratification of the Constitution is exceptionally apt to describe the band's current situation, where everything is in limbo and the leaps of faith are coming by the dozens.
If Gallivan had to marry "Appreciation Night" with a moment in our nation's history - which is something he's never had to do - he should have The Great Depression at the ready, not for it's actual depression, but for the seductiveness that desperation and toughing it out brought to light during those gloomy times. It's a modernized version of the era brought on by the stock market crash, but the album has scores of references to poverty (a mother mixing water in with milk to give the appearance that it wasn't scarce) and making the best of sorry situations.
Gallivan sings, "Don't cry/Sometimes a dark horse dies/You can learn without the system/Go ahead/Even a dark horse wins/You can learn without the system," on "Western Biographic" and it feels like a mantra, the motto of this band that's just leaving it all out on the table. It's as if any forthcoming struggles couldn't possibly derail it because the past travails have already been beaten, decimated by a stronger will and tenacity. The spirit of the album and conveniently that of the band itself is one that couldn't possibly wallow or become stagnant because then where would it be? There's plenty of that coming of age realization, but it feels like it's being presented in a sophisticated way - in a final draft form, not a loose, rough stab at it, just getting the thoughts down on paper. And that's just in Gallivan's lyric writing, which fellow singer Janie Porche - who despises being called "smiley" even if it fits - loves for the literature in them. You can read them and get as much out of them as you could sitting down with "Mother Night" or "Cat's Cradle." That could be over-stretching it, but not by much as there's really not that much blatancy in Gallivan's words or stories that makes them comparable to anything but the finest of the printed page.
Certainly the discerning eye cannot stop just with the words of these tunes. It's the overall composition of the record - from song-to-song - that's like licking the mixer's beaters. Gallivan and Porche are fortunate to have the services of guitarist Dan Fleury (probably a point guard back when they met), multi-instrumentalist Dan "Radz" Radzicki (likely a forward or shooting guard) and drummer Evan Sult (the former drummer for Harvey Danger, a band cruelly ignored save for one MTV-ish hit song "Flagpole Sitta"), which help to make songs of oblong shapes and distinctions. Many of them are like a house of mirrors, where there's no escaping the prison of them. The trajectory of the next move is hazy and when it makes itself known, you're just as stumped as you imagined you would be. This is how you take a blindfolded someone out into the middle of the woods and tell them to find their way home and they actually make it because all of the tangents find the dangling ends to tie up. You're able to find familiarity in just as strange of places as you'd find abnormality. They refract upon themselves and reach some of the most unpredictable summits that you're going to find in any album released this year. They dare their songs to be everything other than orthodox and in this way land upon a footing that chokes out all possibility of being blasÃ©. The personality that Bound Stems brings to the picture is probably of the same unique genesis that Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire started with, where the spoils for turning music on its head and spinning it around until it barfs from dizziness were too enticing to pass up.
h3. The Daytrotter interview:
*Bobby, you teach history? Used to teach history? If you were to compare Bound Stems to an event in American history, what would it be?*
Bobby Gallivan: I taught history for two and a half years. I am currently on hiatus. I would compare Bound Stems to post-Revolutionary War America . It was a time in which the nation adopted the Articles of Confederation, a document that pushed for states rights, yet had several holes. The Articles of Confederation provided no means to ensure states complied with requests for troops or tax collection. At the time the nation didn't know what the fuck they were doing. A new document was then drafted and the thirteen colonies then ratified the Constitution. I say we're (as a band) in that period between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. We just quit our day jobs and aren't quite sure what the fuck we're doing.
Is the side of the hill you speak of in "Risking Life and Limb for the Coupon" an actual hill? What would you risk it all for?
BG: Yes it is an actual hill. I went to Kenyon College, which was built upon a hill. I have nothing clever to say for the second half of the question. Blast!
*It's a cliche question, but it usually is meaningful. I'm not going to ask you what your first concert was, but what was the first influential concert where you came home and couldn't shake the feeling from it, the purity of the experience, the newness?*
Dan Radzicki: All ages shows at the Fireside Bowl, in Chicago, were a pretty eye-opening experience. I don't think Fleury, Bobby and I would be doing this if we hadn't been introduced to that scene. There was that immediate draw to the energy of the music itself but also to the fact that it was so accessible. It was local and it was being put together by kids our own age. The music, and maybe more importantly the environment surrounding it, challenged you to participate in some way or another.
*What are some things that no one else knows about the underappreciated Harvey Danger, as told to you by Evan (the band's former drummer)?*
DR: I was bummed to hear that even though they appeared in a video together, Evan never actually met Martha Plimpton. Though, from what I hear, he did get to meet the girl from that movie where John Cusack holds the boom box over his head in the rain.
*What's everyone reading?*
DR: On this last tour Bobby and Janie were passing "Our Band Could Be Your Life," by Michael Azerrad, back and forth. Besides being a great book, certain points have become more and more relevant in the last few months. So, since the rest of us had read it before, it gave us something to talk about. Plus, reading about Henry Rollins kind of puts you in your place. Vonnegut is always well represented and lately Nancy Drew has been sneaking in under the radar. She solves mysteries.
*How cool as hell is Flameshovel right now?*
DR: Flameshovel is definitely doing Chicago proud. We'd been sending them demos and bits of recordings for awhile and were super excited when they called about putting out the record. It means a lot to be working with a group of guys whose office is right down the street from where you live, one floor above where you play shows. Jesse (Woghin) and James (Kenler) have definitely accomplished a lot in the last five years. They're doing what they're doing for the right reasons, which is why they've been seeing that due level of respect.
*What do you debate in the tour van?*
DR: Our air conditioning has been busted for quite some time so the rush of 80 mph wind from open windows impacts traditional debate structure. One hot topic has always been, "Does spending six to ten hours in a van, for many consecutive days, slowly made you dumber?" The verdict is still out. We talk about Maritime quite often, though that's not
much of a debate 'cause we all agree they are awesome.
*Are you dreading reading what Pitchfork writes about "Appreciation Night?"*
DR: At this point, the only response that would really bother me would be an apathetic response. It's impossible not to recognize the place Pitchfork has grown to hold in the indie music scene. It'd be great to earn their respect, but either way we're going to be spending the next four months of our lives on the road supporting this album.
*What do you consider the best aspect of Chicago?*
Janie Porche: I like that Chicago seems to work hard, and then is justly rewarded. Our winters are brutal, but then the summer explodes with 1,000 shades of leafy green, everyone walks around with smiling dogs, we gather and drink outside, basketballs bounce in the back streets. We suffer through the Cubs and are rewarded with the White Sox. Chicago works hard all week and goes out hard on Saturday night. 200-year-old factories sit right next to 200-year-old houses, which are down the street from brand new restaurants. Also, it's the most bike-friendly city I've seen in a while. Thanks Mayor.
*What's your "Lost" theory?*
DR: I don't think any of us have had a chance to be swept up, yet. But I think it's great that that dude from "Party of Five" no longer has Hodgkin's. Maybe next time you can ask about "Six Feet Under" and we'll talk your electronic ear off.
*Who bought the twisty stage vines?*
DR: Evan's mom.
*Dan Fleury talks the bull about Bobby Gallivan:*
Everyone knows Bobby has a sultry singing voice and is a lyrical genius. But most people are unaware of how well he can hit a fastball. It is 2001 and Radz and I went to watch the Kenyon Lords play at a minor league ballpark in Richmond, Indiana. We arrive just after the first pitch, and in time to see Bobby's first at bat. I believe it was an 0-2 count, when the pitcher made the mistake of leaving a change up waist-high right over the middle of the plate. Bobby pulled the ball over the right field fence about 30 feet back. As if that wasn't enough to impress his friends, in the 7th inning, Bobby drove a 3-1 fastball over the opposite field fence, which I think shows how versatile of a hitter he really was. I figured Bobby was on his way to get drafted, when he told me he couldn't hit a curveball to save his life. Bobby loves gummy worms and hates mayonnaise.
*Bobby Gallivan tells us about Janie Porche:*
An interesting story about Janie - Elijah Wood once sent a signed pic to Janie and asked her to be his girlfriend. That didn't work out for obvious reasons. Janie loves avocados. She hates when people call her smiley.
*Evan tells us about Dan Fleury:*
Fleury once got the side panel of his car kicked in by an enraged assistant principal -- you could see the shape of the boot in the metal. We did our best to get the guy fired. When we're on tour, Fleury spends his stretching breaks practicing his golf swing. He recently discovered a new dislike, which is too damn many flavors in one bite. You shoulda seen his face.
*Janie Porche speaks of Evan Sult:*
Evan loves Paul Auster novels and mushrooms and onions. He doesn't really dislike anything. He'll find part of a cheeseburger in his pocket and eat it without a second thought. Once, to impress a girl's father on a first date, he attempted to sit down and watch football. He promptly remarked that the players looked so beautiful and graceful in their uniforms, and with their long hair too.
*Janie Porche on Dan "Radz" Radzicki:*
Radz is very creeped out by owls, but he loves (LOVES) really (REALLY) hot sauce. On everything. (EVERYTHING.) He also is slightly IN love with his yellow Schwinn Continental, which is entirely fine, since that bike is gorgeous. It's a rare thing when it happens, but ask anyone who's seen it and they will tell you that no one except the King of Pop himself can dance to Michael Jackson jams better than Radz. Play it cool. Don't talk about it, and don't ask for it, and then suddenly you look over and everyone in the club/restaurant/church/roller rink is STARING because he is NAILING IT. Radz is voted Most Likely to Sleep in the Van with a Hammer Tucked Under the Pillow. Also he's a real live scientist. Seriously!