Fans of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin hold the band near and dear to their hearts, which came in handy when the Springfield, Mo. four-piece found themselves in need of a new touring van earlier this year: After they posted a campaign on Kickstarter.com, fans and friends stepped up with enough donations to generously top their goal. Now, with a new van and a new album, Let It Sway, out Aug. 17, SSLYBY plans to hit the road this fall. The new record, produced by Chris Walla, is a departure from the pleasant, polished surf-pop harmonies the group explored on their first two records, and ventures into melodies both more pop-oriented and experimental. The band’s lead singer/songwriter and guitarist Philip Dickey recently took some time to speak with Paste about their ideal recording experience, their Kickstarter success and his fear of the third-album slump.
Paste: I’d like to talk about your Kickstarter project. How did that come about?
Philip Dickey: That’s a good question. ... Times are tough right now with the band money, so we asked the label for suggestions, and [Polyvinyl founder] Matt Lunsford knows the people who started Kickstarter. First of all we feel terrible asking for people’s money, but the way Kickstarter is set up you can actually give back, and you’re in touch with everyone who’s donating to you. ... It’s so much better than just, “Please make your checks payable to Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin,” or something.
Paste: And it was pretty successful, right? You guys raised more than your goal.
Dickey: Yes, which we weren’t expecting. It happened so fast that we were all shocked—I’m not just saying that, it was incredible how fast it happened. It was cool because people were leaving comments and its a lot of people we’ve met on tour over the years, and the reason we met them is because we had a van that could get us there. So I think it’s kind of cool that it’s a friendship thing, just helping your friends out, and it will pay off that we get to see them the next time we’re in their town again. We feel like they’ll always be our friends from now on.
Paste: Was this upcoming tour contingent on you raising enough money to buy the van?
Dickey: What happened is, our 15 passenger van that fits everything inside died last October. And we tried to fix it like three different times—we took it to different mechanics and finally just gave up. We had been doing some out of town shows but we’d rent a family minivan, because it was a short tour. But for a longer tour we couldn’t get everything in the minivan … and if you go into Canada with a rental van, it would have been thousands of dollars more, it would have cost the same to rent a van as it would have to buy it. ... And the timing of us realizing that—we’ve been so busy with mixing and all this album stuff that we kind of discovered that late, and it was like, “We’ve gotta plan this right away, lets do Kickstarter, let’s make this happen.” It was just enough time that we could raise the money and then go on tour right away.
Paste: So since you guys raised more than you need, are you getting that bass amp you said you needed also?
Dickey: God, I hope so. We’re playing with this amp—it’s like the head of the amp and the amp don’t match, and we’ve honestly been planning to replace it for four years. It’s a toss up between—the more money that we raise we can get a better [van], which makes me feel better because then we wouldn’t be buying a piece of junk that’s gonna break down and we’d have to do it over again. At some point we’ll find a van for the right money, with whatever money we raise on Kickstarter, and then whatever is left over will help out with so much stuff. It could be a bass amp or it could be stuff on tour—there’s so many expenses to the tour, really.
Paste: It’s interesting and kind of funny that you guys are sort of struggling to get a tour van while your album is getting so much press and attention. Do you feel like you’ve gotten a good response to Let it Sway so far?
Dickey: Yeah, I was really scared for us to even look on the Internet, to see mean things. The thing that makes me feel so good is that a lot of people who have been emailing us over the years, they were the first people to hear [the album] and to write back. I was worried. I have been let down by a band changing, and a lot of times it happens on the third album. (Laughs) I’m thinking of a specific band. But I didn’t want to do that to people. It was the best feeling in the world to hear from those people who said they liked it from the first listen and others who said it grew on them. That was the biggest relief.
Paste: It seems like you guys are really close to your fans.
Dickey: Yeah, I mean, we have our phone number on our website, if that says anything. At first we used to get a lot of calls and I used to get weird messages on my answering machine but now I just get weird texts and stuff.
Paste: That’s nice though. So, why is this album so different than your older work? Because I think it does sound pretty different.
Dickey: I think some of it is that with our last one, Pershing—we had so much control over that. We were micro-managing the sound on every little thing. ... That was driving us crazy and kind of burned us out. One way not to get burned out, and not to have a terrible experience recording an album, is to really only focus on the songs, and making sure you wrote these songs that don’t totally suck and that sound naturally good. I think if it’s a good song it’s almost like, as long as you really dont screw it up on recording it [it’s fine]. But the awesome thing about working with [producer] Chris Walla [on Let It Sway] is that he was a fan from the beginning, and he had Broom so we knew he liked the lo-fi stuff. And he’s done some pretty hi-fi recordings too. Just to know that he likes everything, every type of song he can get, and that he’s totally cool with using equipment that barely works and that sounds horrible—he’ll try anything. So all of that combined, we just trusted him. It was so nice to not worry about what it sounds like. It was just like, “Let’s write this good song and then lets record this good song.” And if we just do those two things, we don’t have to have nervous breakdowns.
Paste: Right, that makes sense.
Dickey: It also feels really good to not make the exact same CD twice. Every once in a while I have this sick thought in my head, that if our most popular song is “Oregon Girl” or “House Fire” from the first album, why don’t we use the same beat, slightly different chord progression, and then people won’t be disappointed? But in my head, when I start thinking like that, sometimes it’s like getting close to the hospital, like I barely should be doing this at all in my mental state.
Paste: Are you excited about the record release?
Dickey: Yeah, big time. The thing I’m looking forward to most is playing the new songs live, that people know the words and you can make eye contact with them, I think that’s really fun because it reminds me of when I like a band. When I make eye contact with someone while we’re playing a song on stage, I try to think its like a movie, you zoom into their brain and you imagine them listening to it in their bedroom and driving around with their friends. That’s one of my favorite things about playing shows—that’s what I’m most excited about.