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The Complete Splitsville Extravaganza

THE COMPLETE REVIEW

SPLITSVILLE The Complete Pet Soul [AIR MAIL RECORDINGS] www.airmailrecordings.com www.splitsville.com www.notlame.com

Artists that have no input in the songwriting, arrangement or production of their repertoire. Artists that are popular solely because of their looks, vocal skills and dancing ability.

Artists whose every move is dictated by their managers and producers.

Am I talking about the music scene circa 2001? No, more like 1961!

It's easy to forget that artists who fall into the above categories have been around for forty years - it's nothing new. Thus, to level accusations at a band in 2001 for being "dated," "anachronistic," "derivative" or even "retro" is plain ignorant.

Especially if that band happens to be Splitsville.

The Baltimore-based trio (viz. Brandt and Matt Huseman with Paul Krysiak) have, since Los Bros Huseman split from The Greenberry Woods, been thrilling pop fans with their energetic, jocular and intelligent approach to timeless pop music.

Yet, Splitsville have often been greeted with derision by narrow-minded critics, ironically enough, for the very qualities that makes Splitsville one of the U.S. pop underground's finest talents. The ability to combine an encyclopaedic grasp of the classic pop-rock tradition with a healthy irreverent attitude that prizes the spirit over the letter of the form. Moreover, topping it all off with oodles of FUN!

Yes, boys and girls - FUN. Remember that? No cynical ploy to transform ordinary teenagers into pre-pubescent sex objects or calculated agenda to format angst into a disposable adolescent commodity. Just good old fashioned FUN!

Most critics totally missed the point with 1998's seminal Repeater, with its borrowed riffs and clandestine pleasures. One can only surmise that The Complete Pet Soul will not fare any better with these scribes.

Screw 'em, I say!

What started out as a low profile tribute EP to the Beatles and the Beach Boys has turned into a full-blown thesis skilfully delineating the undying legacy these bands have left to the modern pop scene.

No kidding!

The original EP featured four tracks – the instrumental Overture, the wistful Caroline Knows, the jubilant Sunshiny Daydream and the poignant The Love Songs of B. Douglas Wilson – each imbued with the spirit of Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds, both in arrangement and songcraft. Simply put, the songs are gorgeous. The Love Songs of B. Douglas Wilson being perhaps the finest pop tribute to Brian/Beach Boys since the Dukes of Stratospear’s pinnacle, Pale and Precious.

So whatever possessed Splitsville to “complete” Pet Soul and present it as the follow-up to the sublime Repeater? Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter because the seven new songs that make the remainder of this album are no mere filler.

Au contraire, on tracks like Aliceanna, The Popular and Tuesday Through Sunday, the trio take the chamber pop elements of the Beach Boys sound to produce lovely, breath-taking timeless masterpieces that recall the majestic baroque pop of the Zombies and Left Banke. Which roughly means atmospheric tones, angelic vocals and an overall emotive feel.

Elsewhere, the folk-rock/Merseybeat aspects of Rubber Soul is explored in Forever, Pretty People and You Ought To Know with Byrds-like jangly guitarwork and frenetic rhythms.

But it is with the “hidden in plain sight” bonus track that Splitsville really pull the bunny rabbit out of the proverbial top hat! A monumental cover of the Bacharach-David classic I’ll Never Fall In Love Again that manipulates its familiar melody into less obvious power pop terrain, including an inspired outro that subtly inserts the choral hook of Video Killed the Radio Star into the fadeout. Already one of the high points of 2001 pop!

The exciting news that this song will be featured in the soundtrack of Get Over It, a comedy starring Kirsten Dunst, due for theatrical release in March, is icing on the cake. Just imagine the prospect and potential impact of a Splitsville hit and the dream of the music scene returning to the heady days of the sixties may inch closer to fulfillment.

Until then, we have the brilliance of shimmering melodies that will sizzle indelibly on our minds for years to come, leading inevitably to following the example of the anonymous whistler at the end of Sunshiny Daydream. Absolutely essential. 9

 

THE COMPLETE INTERVIEW 

What provided the motivation to 'complete' Pet Soul?

MATT: We thought Pet Soul was a strong EP with room to grow (read - we’re lazy). Plus, we were pretty burnt out from everything that went down with Repeater – before, during and after the recording – and we wanted to do something where the three of us concentrated on working on songs together instead of concentrating on our own songs. Finally - and this isn’t bullshit – we wanted to do something for all of the hardcore pop fans. PAUL: After we gave out the original EP at Poptopia in LA, people simply refused to stop asking if we would record more material in that vein.  I guess they eventually wore us down.  But in truth, the Pet Soul EP was so much fun to record that we couldn't resist taking another crack at it.   When you're sort of impersonating your heroes, and not trying to produce that elusive "hit," it's really quite liberating.

Were the additional songs written at the time the original songs were recorded or were they composed after your last album, Repeater?

MATT: The three of us are constantly writing, so when we decided to do this it was just a matter of bringing up parts of songs and making them cohesive. PAUL: Some of the songs had been around for quite some time as fragments and incomplete compositions.  We toyed with some of what eventually became "The Popular" back when we were preparing to record the original EP.  And "Aliceanna" had been floating about in my head (sans lyrics) ever since the Ultrasound sessions.

Did you approach these songs any differently from your 'normal' Splitsville songs e.g. the songs on Repeater?

MATT: In the sense that we tried to make them conform to a particular style - mid-60’s pop - sure. We were a little less protective of what we brought to the table, so this made the writing process enjoyable for us. PAUL: Absolutely...well, sort of ... well ....  Actually, yes.  I think the biggest difference is that with Pet Soul the derivative quality for which we're so often criticized is purely intentional.  And when we work on our "real Splitsville" recordings, there may be times when we go out of our way to avoid certain instruments or arrangements, fearing the result will be "too obvious."  But with Pet Soul, "obvious" is great.  "You say the song wants a harpsichord solo ripped from 'In My Life?'  Great!  Let's give it one!"

Aren't you concerned that people might reduce Pet Soul to mere pastiche like The Rutles? Or is it mere pastiche?

MATT: It’s completely derivative. If people dismiss it for that reason, I’m OK with that. Jerks. PAUL: It's no great secret that the principal motivation for recording something like this is that it's tremendous fun.  So if people choose to view it as a joke, that's just fine by me.   But, that said, I happen to think there's some clever and (dare I say) original work on this record.  Not everything is stolen directly from this influence or that one.  Sure, you can point out "Yellow Submarine" here and the Left Banke there.  But given an honest listen, plenty of the songs can't be pegged down so easily.  We just wrote what we thought were good melodies and only then arranged them with an ear toward the archetypes of good '60's pop records. BRANDT: I think that would be a shame.  The production choices are pure 60's pop music, but the songs stand on their own.

How much authority do you think the Beatles and the Beach Boys have over your recordings?

MATT: About as much as any other melodic band. Listen, I never got into the Beach Boys until Andy Paley turned us on to Pet Sounds in 1993. We were always Beatles fans, but they were the foundation of our listening experience when we were very young and we branched off from there. This isn’t a knock on either band or their influence over all musicians, but you can pick a dozen bands with a greater influence over Splitsville’s catalogue. Spinal Tap comes immediately to mind...PAUL: I think the Beatles and Beach Boys have authority over the vast majority of popular music recorded since the early '60's.  Give me an hour and I'll demonstrate how even Limp Bizkit and Marilyn Manson are wholly indebted to Lennon/McCartney and Wilson. BRANDT: Again, production and mixing were inspired by this era of music, but the songs are entirely original.  I've already read reviews where the critic plays "name the influence" and it's all bullshit. But we've been through this on every album so I guess we're getting used to it.  Besides, we did call the album Pet Soul.  If that isn't a set up for criticism, I don't know what is. 

The cover of I'll Never Fall In Love Again is inspired, what prompted the inclusion of Video Killed the Radio Star in the fade out?

MATT: Brandt and Paul. PAUL: The initial idea was more or less a joke, stemming from the similarity in melody between Bacharach's instrumental intro and the Buggles' chorus.  But there's really something oddly poignant about it.  When you think about, aren't complex yet stirring melodies and arrangements like Bacharach's EXACTLY what got killed by MTV? BRANDT: C'mon, the lead line in the original song sounds like Video Killed the Radio Star.  It's obvious.

Andy (Myracle Brah) Bopp produced the newer tracks, how did he get on board and why?

MATT: He’s a good egg. He’s got a great ear for production, and works the way we like to – fast. He also has a studio where he lets us record on the cheap.... what’s not to like? PAUL: Andy's been a friend since the Greenberry Woods days.  Love Nut and Splitsville were label-mates playing many a drunken tour stop together. Currently, I'm a member of the recording and touring incarnations of Myracle Brah.  Andy's got a small studio of his own and an interest in projects like this one, so it all just sort of fell into place.  Did I mention he comes really cheap?

Pet Soul is getting an initial release in Japan via Airmail, any plans for a release Stateside or in Europe?

MATT: Probably Europe, probably not the States. PAUL: Japan seemed an obvious choice for the initial release.  Certainly there is greater enthusiasm there for "pure-pop" than here in the States.  But, yes, we will eventually release the record in the US and Europe.  Though no decision has yet been made about which label(s) to do it through.

The Complete Pet Soul is your six full-length (if you count the two Greenberry Woods albums), how much has changed since Rapple Dapple? Do you find recordings harder, easier, the same?

MATT: Recording with the GBW’s was not pretty. I think anyone who was around during the making of both albums would agree. On the flip side, the recording cost of the entire Splitsville catalogue (four albums + 2 EP’s) is probably about a third of Rapple Dapple’s recording budget – and that was an inexpensive album by industry standards. (So anyone who knocks Splitsville for not having the production value of our earlier stuff... duh) Repeater was tough to record because we put a lot of undue pressure on ourselves. Ultrasound was more spontaneous, but we had much less time in the studio so that was a drag. I can’t even remember recording USA... I thought Pet Soul was pretty fun to record, and we just did a song for a Who tribute that was the easiest thing we’ve ever recorded. I think we’re definitely in a zone where the studio is a comfortable place for us. PAUL: Probably because Splitsville started as cartoonish romp, we've always taken ourselves a little less seriously than a band like, oh say, the Greenberry Woods.  Recording has almost always been easy-going and enjoyable as a result.  Splitsville is much more collaborative and egalitarian as well.

Many pop bands are distancing themselves from the 'powerpop' tag (e.g. Mayflies USA, Velvet Crush) - do you consider Splitsville to be a 'powerpop' band?

MATT: We intentionally started out as the prototype Power Pop band – fast, rude and silly... and I had a stupid haircut. I have no desire to continue along that vein, especially regarding the bad haircut. Hopefully our next album will be the next logical progression beyond Repeater. Still, you are what you are perceived to be. So fuck it. PAUL: Sure.  Why not?  Emphasis on "power."  I think we're more than just that, but there's no denying it's a big part of what we do.  And you know,there's something gratingly self-conscious about bands who bristle at being labeled. No one likes to be pigeonholed, but come on!  Got Beatlesque song structures and harmonies?  Guitars that jangle?  Then you're power-pop.  Get over it already.