The trials and tribulations of creating music - and really, any kind of art - can be daunting. But change is inevitable, and even when it's expected it can cause some interesting things to happen.
For Cincinnati progressive garage rock band Tooth Lures a Fang, change is more or less a part of who they are. Guitarist and vocalist Zach Starkie had taken songs from previous projects like Somebody's Something and reimagined them with bass player Nic Pater, making changes and letting their own dynamic change those songs. As a duo, the introduction of a drummer brought even more change.
Now, after a few small tours and plenty of time playing local venues, Tooth Lures a Fang is ready for their next evolution. Taking elements of mid to late 90’s alt and garage rock and mixing them with off kilter progressive tendencies and inside jokes too numerous to count, they're looking ahead as they craft a new album and look for the third piece to their sonic puzzle.
I was able to catch up with them to find out what they've been up to and catch up on a few things they’re working on right now.
There have been some changes in the Tooth Lures a Fang camp recently. Can you catch us up and tell us what’s going on with the band right now?
It’s been a relatively shaky Spring, but things have leveled out and now we’re neck deep in tracking the new record. We’ve finished tracking drums and guitars, and we just have to finish up bass and then vocals. Alongside that, we’re currently looking for a new drummer because Jordan and his wife just had their first kid. Lots of change, but lots to which to look forward.
Even with those changes, the band is forging ahead with recording a new album - your second full-length. What can you tell us about the album and the recording process so far? You’re self-recording and producing? Do you have a name for the album itself yet?
We’re self-recording and producing, but we might send the final mix out to be mastered. It’s still about as DIY as you can get; this is the first recording we’ve done with an actual pop filter instead of a swath of old underwear stretched in an embroidery hoop. Nic has engineered the album, and we’ve spent several months at kitchen tables and bent over desks in tiny bedrooms to save money.
As far as the process itself, the biggest change was the decision to track all the elements separately instead of live. On Teefin’ we recorded all the instruments live and then tracked vocals after, which lends its own source of energy and immediate emotional connection, but wasn’t what we wanted to go with for the second album. This time around, we tracked everything separately, which has given us the opportunity to expand our sound in some really great ways. Since we’re not paying for studio time, we can experiment while recording, and find little bits that the songs need. All of these choices have allowed us to get a pristine, clear reproduction of these songs that we think deserve to be heard. We do have a name, and it’s right in line with who we are at this point. It’s called Sharon is Karen, and we hope to have some more announcements about release date and such in the very near future.
With new material being recorded, the writing process is more or less complete. When do you know you’re ready to put tracks to tape?
We had been planning this record for a long time. Some of the songs were written right after Teefin’, which was released in October 2015, so they’ve been ready to go for a while. We knew that we had some potentially large changes in the band’s lineup coming down the pipe, so we focused on getting the best songs we could write finished and mostly complete. Fast forward about a year, and the songs were written but lacking some semantic compositional elements. This became most evident when we started tracking guitars. Playing as a trio for 3.5 years has a way of making you used to only having one guitar, and we saw pretty quickly that this new batch of songs largely needed second guitar parts. That was initially frustrating, trying to compose and immediately execute a guitar line at a level of quality, but we hit our stride with it.
As far as knowing when they’re ready to release? Man, that’s a tough one. It’s really easy to become quite biased when you’ve written, recorded, and mixed a full album by yourself. You can lose sight of the actual end game, and spend countless hours “perfecting” the songs in minute ways that won’t ever really matter. Get the songs done and put it out. Do your best and release it. We’re hoping for a Winter 2017 release for Sharon is Karen.
You’ve been playing some of your newer songs live already. Do you see more of them taking up slots on your set lists now or after the album release?
On our tour last March, we played everything we’ve written. We figured it was a good time to test some of the new songs to see how they landed with an audience composed primarily of people who don’t already know our music. In Cincinnati, we try to mix it up about 50/50 with old and new material. Our sets after the release will very likely lean heavily on the new material because we think they’re better songs. Our goal in general is to write the best songs we can, and so far Sharon is Karen is a group of songs that feel right. They fit together well and showcase each of our points of view. For the time being, the sets are about 60/40 old and new, respectively.
As a duo now, how does that change your live show, if at all?
Since June, Tyler Mechlem (Sungaze, Sofia Stone, Upper Peninsula) has been filling in on drums. He’s a pro, but we didn’t feel like it was efficient to revisit the whole catalog for a handful of shows. The biggest change to the live show is just getting used to playing with someone new. As a trio with equal input from all three members, a drastic stylistic change to a full third of the band requires acclimation. Once we gelled it was great. Tyler’s got a different flair, so the different fills and accents have given the older songs some new twists. In some ways, we’ve had to relearn and rework the songs, making them fresh again. It’s cool to play a song we’ve been playing for 3 years and have it feel relevant and musically fresh.
You’re still looking for a new drummer, correct? Can you talk about what kind of musician you’re looking for?
Jordan was a machine of a drummer, with a penchant for jazz. He is very nuanced and dynamic, and he understands music theory at a high level. All of that helped us write music that was interesting and unusual but (hopefully) not pretentious. We know that whoever becomes the drummer will bring a different perspective to the music, but we’re really focusing on someone who can write to the song. More specifically, a dynamic player with nuance. For instance, it’s got to be someone who is comfortable with multimeter but also realizes that not every song is going to have that. Sometimes it’s really simple because that’s what the music needs in that moment. Also, preferably someone with an affinity for Thai and Indian cuisine and also loves ice cream and makes/tolerates stupid jokes.
You have a show with Rock ‘N Rollers Rozwell Kid coming up at Southgate House Revival! Can you talk a little about how that came to be?
We’re so excited for this show. We love Rozwell Kid and we should fit right in with them. Southgate House Revival announced that they were coming through so we just asked to be local support. It’s not a super exciting story, but it’s going to be a great night of music. It’s on Tuesday, September 5. Doors at 7.
What’s next for the band? More new music, track and video premiere, album release, etc?
There are a lot of songs from Sharon is Karen that we haven’t played much in Cincinnati, so those will be new for the live shows. We’re hoping to fill our drummer slot pretty quickly so we can get that person up to speed and start tailoring our sets for specific shows. I could see a lot of new ideas coming out of those rehearsals. In the next couple of months, we’ll be adding new songs and old rarities back into our sets.
We’ve got the first single from Sharon is Karen coming in the next couple months with a video premiere. It’d be great to get a couple of videos out from this record.
Speaking of which, we really want a deluxe version of the album pressed to vinyl, and our goal is to find a label to help us out with that. We love the songs on this record, and we want to get them out to old and new listeners in interesting ways. The actual album release will kind of depend on who wants to work with us on that and what their timeline looks like.
Anything else you’d like to add or mention?
Not really. Thanks for doing this, man. Like us on Facebook for information about the album and shows. We can’t wait to share the album with you all.
Thanks to Zach and Nic for taking the time to answer some questions. Be sure to catch them tonight night at Southgate House Revival with true rock revivalists Rozwell Kid. It's going to be an epic, smile filled shred fest that you're not going to want to miss.