Happy Endings

SSLYBY returns to Tucson, where the pride of Springfield, Mo., signed their first record deal

If you want to see Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin guitarist Will Knauer's hand getting broken, you can watch it in the video for "Think I Wanna Die" on YouTube. The song is the most upbeat in a set full of day-brighteners on SSLYBY's new release, Pershing. But the band intended the video to be, in part, a tribute to Kurt Cobain.

"We trashed our set," band member and songwriter Philip Dickey explains. "John (Cardwell, lead singer and songwriter) accidentally smashed Will's hand with a rock. He couldn't play guitar for about a month and a half. It was horrible. We almost cancelled SXSW."

They didn't, and in a typically happy ending for SSLYBY, Knauer recovered in time for Pershing's release party and tour.

As for "Think I Wanna Die" being a tribute to Kurt Cobain, Dickey explains, "There are times we all feel like, 'I just wanna die; I can't wait for it to be over.' But I don't think we could actually bring ourselves to ever write a serious song about that, because it's so fleeting. So we kind of used it like one of the happiest songs on the CD.

"I think that's kind of my personality. My goal is always to make people feel better. Even when we write about feeling bad, the lyrics are kind of, 'Cheer up. It's not so bad.'"

That upbeat outlook pervades the band's music as well as its lyrics. Asked how they hit upon such a chocolaty, rich pop sound, Dickey muses, "In high school, we were all in bands that were pretty loud with not too much thought given to dynamics. When we first started, we were really focused on having a more mature sound. We really got back into the Beatles and stuff like that. We decided we could never really out-rock anyone."

"There are so many bands trying to come up with a new sound. I just feel like we're incapable of that. We'll never figure out the next thing. Nirvana figured it out, the Beatles, Radiohead. We're not like musical geniuses. We just kind of want to stick to what we know."

What they know seems to be a lot about complicated girls--artsy, spiritual, ambivalent. Pershing is a series of endearingly articulate, metaphor-laden conversations with them. "I think what we're trying to do is match the music to whatever is mysterious and interesting about a girl, the enigma," Dickey says.

"You Could Write a Book," for instance, is "definitely about a smart, beautiful girl, a girl who doesn't know how beautiful her ideas are and the way she lives her life," Dickey says. "I think there's a beauty to living, and it's not always like art. I think it's a love song about being in love with someone's brain, so fascinated by what they can come up with. I'm thinking specifically about the girl that this is about. It's exciting to be so inspired by someone, because it really changes the way you think about everything, and that's what's so great about life, just being inspired and stuff."

It turns out that SSLYBY's girls are often a metaphor for life itself and, more specifically, occasionally about life in the band's home town of Springfield, Mo. The band loves their city and its people, and when talking about its downtown scene, Dickey can sound like a Tucson/Rio Nuevo visionary. The Pershing song "HEERS" takes its name from a decrepit downtown structure and showcases the charms of the band's evocative lyric imagery.

"Downtown Springfield used to be really cool," Dickey says. "This song is kind of about aging. There's something about a building that used to be so full of life and energy, and it's kind of falling apart and vacant. There's sadness, but the song picks up, because it's going to be open in another year or two, and people are going to be living in lofts. Another happy ending for SSLYBY.

Beyond dreams of downtown renewal, SSLYBY shares with Tucsonans a special affection for Hotel Congress and its role in music history; the band had its own historic moment there. "That's where we signed our record contract!" Dickey enthuses. "We played at Club Congress (opening for Sound Team). Polyvinyl faxed us the contract, and we signed it in the hotel that night."

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