By MIKE CHAIKEN
The kudos have been coming in for the latest album from Plantsville’s own, The Sawtelles.
At Cygnus Radio, Frank Critelli wrote that the new album, dubbed “brown (8×3)” is “more minimalist, and it’s minimalist w/ more. The sax just slugged me. I’m knocked out loaded. Peter (Riccio)’s lyrics are as good as Dylan’s. Or Lou Reed’s. Julie (Riccio)’s drums are an ever-evolving and deepening dance. Richard (Brown from Happy Ending/Miracle Legion) belongs in The Sawtelles. This band remains familiar but continues to improve and widen and stretch.”
Over at WPKN, Dave Hogan listed “Brown” as the third best album of the year… behind nationally known act John Prine and ahead of other well-known acts such as Ian Hunter (formerly of Mott the Hoople), The Fleshtones, and Alejandro Escovedo.
We caught up with The Sawtelles—Peter and Julie— via Facebook to talk about the band, the new album, and an upcoming performance in Southington.
OBSERVER: It’s been a year since your last effort, which for bands, any band, is pretty quick. Why is it important for you guys to keep putting out new music?
SAWTELLES: I feel that when we finish a record I find myself thinking about the next one and how I want it to be different from the one we just finished.
O: Your sound always has been stripped down with just guitar, drums, vocals, and harmonies. Why does this kind of sound feel “right” to you two?
S: At first, we were a trio with a bass (Pete Brunelli) but he wasn’t able to do all the shows we had lined up and then he joined a Capt. Beefheart tribute band and was doing huge Zappanale festivals in Germany. The duo just started working once Julie began singing background vocals. Coupled with the alternate-tuned guitar songs, we kept on hearing “it sounds like more than two people.” So the duo went on up until this last release.
O: What is your songwriting process? Is it a result of just noodling around, or is it planned out where you sit down deliberately to write a song?
S: Peter writes almost all of the material for the Sawtelles. Julie writes for one of their other groups, also a duo, the SchoolSafetyPatrol.
O: What serves as the spark for a song… is it a musical riff, a turn of phrase, something you see in your daily life?
S: Peter writes via planned and noodling, or some idea pops into his head about a random thing that might have happened eons ago but springs to life in a line or concept. Earlier on, he’d bring in a complete arrangement of a song mostly the songs are now arranged in rehearsals. Julie on the other hand writes specifically about events that happened during her school life.
O: Talk to me a little bit about the genesis of the songs on “Brown,” why did you pick this particular group of songs?
S: One day Peter was “noodling” around and came up with some wacky riff. I heard it and told him he needed to write a melody around it and that turned out to be the leadoff track from “8×3 (brown)” “Sand and sea.”. The rest of the album consists of three earlier-recorded banjo songs that were translated to guitar. One ballad was never formally recorded and was revived and there were four new songs recorded.
Richard Brown from the Happy Ending/Miracle Legion came on board to play lead guitar and saxophone. Richard’s parts were recorded after the basic guitar/drums and most vocals were set. The next release he will play at the same time, we record the basic tracks instead of adding them later.
O: As a couple, why does the musical chemistry work for you?
S: it is a form of non-verbal communication that at times seems pretty telepathic when we’re in the midst of performing a song live and it just goes someplace we didn’t expect it to go. There are a number of our songs that have the basic outline and we feel free to extend and change them but always come back to the form. When Richard plays live with us the journey the song takes is as much a surprise to us as to the audience who have seen us over 17 years as a duo.
O: You’ll also be performing in Southington in a few weeks. (The show is Friday, Feb. 17 at Southington Community Cultural Arts on Main Street). How will that feel to perform in your hometown?
S: we’re looking forward to having a gig one mile away from where we live. The new arts center is beautiful and just the right kind of space for us to occupy. There aren’t a lot of venues in town that feature original music. We might run into someone who has seen us at the grocery store. “That’s that guy who always wears a hat.”
O: what can folks expect from show by The Sawtelles?
S: We’ll prob have some kind of spat —pretty much music is the only thing we fight about. P will want to do a song and I won’t want to because it has the same drumming, or something stupid like that. We’re pretty down to earth and we like to engage the audience and make them part of the show. We like to ask questions and encourage people to ask us questions, too.
For more information, go to TheSawtelles.com