The Something Brothers guitarist Edwin Pierce said it was surprisingly easy for band members to create and record new music together despite a nearly 30-year studio hiatus, and missing a key band member.
A reunion performance last year by the legendary Bloomington-Normal outfit has now morphed into the group's first full album since the early 1990s. The 10-song "Apollo" was released in June.
Pierce and vocalist/lyricist Scott Wilson reviewed the album during a visit to the GLT studios. Pierce likened writing and recording with bandmates after all those years to getting back on a bicycle.
“If we’ve got one gift,” said Pierce before pausing to allow words to form that would explain the mental telepathy band members have always had.
“You just see it, you just hear it and go ‘that’s it.’ I don’t know why, but there’s some sort of intuitive thing that we have,” said Pierce.
“It was pretty spooky actually,” said Wilson. “Like when we first got into the practice rehearsal space and started fleshing out these songs, it was so weird how it felt like it hadn’t been 30 years. It felt like we were just in the studio five months ago.”
As an example, Pierce noted that he brought primarily bass demos to rehearsal, as he’s been focusing on bass guitar recently. But fellow guitarist Tommy O’Donnell, known for his inventive electric playing, brought in acoustic ideas. Pierce said he initially didn’t hear what O’Donnell was getting at.
“But then Scott would put the lyric to it and we’d get the electric guitars and all of a sudden it went from a nice acoustic song to one helluva rock song,” said Pierce.
The punky sounding "Yucca Flat" came out of O’Donnell’s acoustic riffing.
“And then when it was fleshed out, it turned out to be a rip-roarin’ rock your head off song,” said Pierce. “I was shocked, actually. But I was pretty happy!”
SoBros fans were tickled that Wilson, Pierce, O’Donnell, drummer John Ganzer and bassist Greg Pare came together in 2017 for the reunion show, and are now praising the release of “Apollo.” But the group is conspicuously missing a key member from their glory days. During their nearly decade-long heyday beginning in mid-1980s that saw them tour nationally and hold down a regular Saturday night headlining gig at the Metro in Chicago, Dean Carlson and Wilson were up front, trading lead vocals and hijinks, and often harmonizing together. They were also the band’s primary lyricists.
The Something Brothers bandcamp page notes that Wilson “floated the idea” a few years ago to record new songs. “Songs were written, demos were made, rehearsals were underway but somewhere along the line Dean fell out of the metaphorical van.”
Pierce said it was unfortunate Carlson bowed out to both the reunion show and the writing and recording of “Apollo,” but added the adjustment for the band wasn’t difficult.
“When you look each other in the eye and say, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ and everyone is saying, ‘Yeah I kind of want to do this,' it’s a lot easier than having a bunch of people saying, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ or ‘maybe.’ There was no ‘maybe.’ So we had five people saying, ‘Yes, I want to do this,’ so what do you do? You go forward.”
Wilson had the biggest adjustment to make, and admitted it was a little weird that his lifelong friend and writing partner was missing from the band. He compared their on-stage antics with the legendary comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
“Dean (Carlson) was a lot of fun to watch live. Maybe I’m not as energetic on stage as Dean used to be, but you know, it’s a different band, it’s a different sound, and it’s a different thing. We can’t really look back and go, ‘What can we do to make this seem more like the old version of this band?’ when it’s not the old version of this band anymore,” said Wilson.
You can hear hints of the “old” Something Brothers in “Apollo.” With eyes closed it’s easy to imagine Yucca Flat's loose, punky feel and Burn The Evidence’s rockin’ irreverence and vocal harmonies wafting out the second floor of the old Galery in what was then downtown Normal. But “Apollo” minus Carlson is a little less irreverent than it might have been with his contributions. The album lyrically centers around references to space, including the title track, Earthbound” and album opener “Fuzzle.”
“It was weird that way and was pretty accidental,” said Wilson.
Wilson said Pierce brought in the demo with a working title of “Fuzzle” and played off the goofy word.
“I was asking him what 'Fuzzle' meant and he said, ‘I have no idea.’ I was thinking it was just a silly, made-up word. And I was thinking how children make up silly, made-up words,” said Wilson, who said it made him think of old toys.
Hey down there, hey Houston control/There's a frazzle in the capsule/and we just thought you should know/The spyrograph is glittering gold/and there's a bustle in the hedgeamarow/Can you hear me?/
Can you hear me Houston control?
- "Fuzzle" from "Apollo" by The Something Brothers
“My favorite toy of all time was the G.I. Joe Gemini Space Capsule that I got in 1966 and just went crazy over,” said Wilson. “So I thought, ‘I’m going to write a song about his space capsule toy,’ and then it just naturally just turned into referencing other toys in it. It’s kind of like a kid’s version of what it might be like to be in space.”
Wilson said following up with the similar space-themed title track was a natural.
Pierced interjected by praising Wilson’s vocals on the entire album, and thought his work on the song "Apollo" is his best ever.
“Every time I hear that I really listen to his voice and go, ‘Holy crap, this is Scott at the top of his game,'" Pierce gushed.
Wilson laughed and credited giving up smoking a few months before recording as the difference.
“I figured it’s about time to get these old lungs in shape,” he said.
All 10 songs are originals, but "Lovelands" is nearly as old as their recording hiatus. The never before recorded ballad is gorgeous, and lyrically bittersweet. The feel is slightly altered from its early 90s birth, including the use of a mellotron pedal and other keyboard tricks. The lyrics were also slightly adjusted from a positive to a negative love song as the suggestion of Eclipse Studio owner and engineer Erik Nelson.
You once said to me you'd been waiting impatiently/for a sign from the sky, like a falling star/So I fell into your arms but you let me fall to the rocks below/ - "Lovelands" from "Apollo" by The Something Brothers
“It used to be the guy landing in someone’s arms, and in the new version, she lets him fall to the rocks,” Wilson laughed with Pierce.
Why the lyric twist?
“I’m just a bitter old man,” said Wilson to everyone’s laughter.
Band members may be pushing 60 and nearly 30 years removed from their last recording, but The Something Brothers still have that edge, the desire to try new sounds and ideas. And near the end of the conversation, they again reiterated they importance of moving forward and not reveling in nostalgia. That means you’ll hear every song from “Apollo” at their Sept. 7 show at the Castle Theatre.
Sequencing the songs in order on the album?
“We discussed that, but we decided to mix it in a little bit,” said Pierce
“We’ll ping-pong between the past, present, and future,” said Wilson, before hinting that members are already writing songs for another album.
“We’ve got another double album just sitting there, ready to go,” said Pierce.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, yes,” said Pierce, to which Wilson added “We’ll see how this one goes.”
If “Apollo” is any indicator, Something Brothers fans will have an embarrassment of musical riches to devour in the near future.
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