Tangent: ‘Sally’ the band
Chicago’s Sally turns anxiety into art
Raw nerves ignite the most compelling rock music. In the most familiar case, Pink Floyd would never have become what it did without Syd Barrett. It usually takes one person to instigate a mood, a chemistry to gel, and, from there, creativity flows and the music takes shape.
So it is with Sally, a relatively recent addition to Chicago’s rock scene. This week the four-member band is celebrating the release of “Long Live the New Flesh” (Paribus), a debut album they’ll perform Thursday at the Empty Bottle. It is the result of a band that took its sweet time to commit to recording. The music is not as skittish – the songs translate their complex emotions through bold guitar moves, unpredictable time shifts and volume that always aims for the red side of the dial.
Just like the ingredients that went into forming Sally – a history that includes a battle with tranquilizers, a relationship that hit its stride long after it dissolved, a flirtation with Los Angeles, a frustrating rotation of drummers and a shared sense of anxiety – the album never smoothes out its rough edges but instead crests through them.
Lead singer and guitarist Charlie Deets, 28, admits that despite thinking of himself as the band’s primary songwriter in the beginning, the band eventually took over that role combined. Now, song ideas that start “soft and calm” in his demo stage, scale epic heights after the band joins in the process.
“Everyone else in the band is pretty anxious, too. When we get together, everyone gets excited so the songs become excited,” he said. “Our music is from the city. It is changing constantly and spastic. It feels like where we live.”
“Long Live the New Flesh” is a refreshing alternative to the garage rock, roots music and chamber pop that dominates current Chicago music. Harkening back to the shoegazer era of the late 1980s and early 1990s when bands like the Verve, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. demonstrated how volume, distortion and walls of guitars create a hypnotic effect on the listener, Sally’s music is just as visceral, if not unsettling. The songs have a strong emotional drive, explaining the mood-enhancing corners they take, including grinding guitar breakouts, squalls of noise and playful guitar interplay between Deets and fellow guitarist Mark Berlin. Not since the Smashing Pumpkins debut “Gish” has a Chicago band had the imagination to think on such large-scale terms, taking a child’s sense of wonder and building it to psychedelic heights.
Sally originated at Illinois Wesleyan University where Deets, who grew up in LaGrange, met Missy Neis, an aspiring visual artist from Crystal Lake. They dated, but after a year, Deets quit school and moved to Los Angeles where he enrolled in recording engineering classes and earning an internship at a recording studio frequented by a rotating door of wannabe rap moguls, including gangsta Grammy winner Krayzie Bone. After a series of bizarre experiences that included a police raid and the frequency of guns, Deets bee-lined back to Chicago feeling “pretty hopeless.”
He returned having to face an addiction to Xanax, the tranquilizer a L.A. doctor had prescribed him for a childhood history of extreme anxiety. “He kept increasing it, and it wasn’t helping. I was getting more and more out of it. I figured out there was something weird about the whole situation … I was like, ‘Oh my god, this guy is a pusher’,” he said. Deets remembers at the time carrying 20 to 30 pills in his pocket over the course of a day, waiting 30 minutes before his next dose.
“It kind of took over his life where other things weren’t that important,” said Neis, 26. “I was happy he came back, but couldn’t predict anything he did. One day he would be my boyfriend and the next day he hated me and didn’t want to talk with me. I didn’t know what was going on with him.”
They stopped talking. It took almost three years and behavioral therapy for Deets to escape the habit and function normally. He was writing songs in the meantime, imagining having a band to back him up. After agreeing to learn bass, Neis stepped in.
“I’ve never met anybody like Charlie in my life. He can be really intense sometimes, but it’s a beautiful thing and he forces you to be honest with yourself in a way maybe you’re not comfortable with,” she said. “As friends and as bandmates, we definitely communicate without conflict.”
After inviting Berlin to join and undergoing a series of drummers (a position now occupied by Nick Smalkowski), Sally (the name chosen because, as a verb, it means a cunning attack) recorded two EPs before heading into Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio to record the new album. Up to that point, it took a busy touring schedule for the band to realize their focal point was volume. “In general bands are too afraid to make bold music. Our thing has always been we like guitars, we like them really loud in the mix,” said Deets. “It comes from me and Missy liking the Verve’s early stuff a lot.”
Under headphones, “Long Live the New Flesh” surfaces as one long stretch of music, rather than individual songs, a feat most bands have forgotten about in the iPod era. Yet the same album is receiving a non-traditional release: Under Paribus, Deets’ label that includes eight other bands, it can be purchased either digitally or through mail order.
If Sally’s music sounds like anything specific, it’s the ebb and flow between panic attacks, the revolving process of fear, danger and eventually release that accompanies the entire experience. Deets plans to return to his medical history next year when he pursues an MFA in art photography at UIC through projects that interweave text and images.
“It’s something I’m always going to have all my life. Before a show I feel like I’m going to get sick and die,” he said before laughing: “At the same time, I feel that way most of the day.”
Sally with LMNOP
Where: Empty Bottle,1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago
When: 9:30 p.m.Thursday
Tickets: $7. (773) 276-3600
I have an uber talented sister. They’re a great band with a great following (especially late teens– anxiety, makes sense right?). Check out their website: www.sallymusic.com