Album Premiere/Artist Interview: Scarlet Street – ‘Scarlet Street’
Posted: by The Editor
Scarlet Street’s self-titled record begins in a consciously tentative way, with only a melodic bassline accompanying Ben Seitz delivering the opening lines of “when I get back home I’m gonna write it all down / every single word that you’re gonna drown out / and I’ll tell myself what I worked on for years / is gonna sound so good when it falls on deaf ears,” which work as a prelude for what’s about to follow. The rest of the band begins to creep in and things turn on a drum fill, with everything in full force by the time Seitz gets to “If I repeat myself just for your benefit / would you even hear a single word of it? Or would I waste my breath on borrowed time again? I think I’ll waste my life to do it all again.”
Over in about two minutes, opener “I Just Came By To Thank You For Wrecking My Life” reflects the record as a whole—it has a title that pushes just to the boundary of overly-long without crossing it, hints at the lyrical self-flagellation that is about to occur, and packs a range of dynamics and musical ideas into a tight space. Scarlet Street clocks in at around 25 minutes, but it’s a sprawling 25 minutes, with the group throwing a slew of ideas in but never overindulging or staying too long in one place. Vocalist and guitarist Seitz described the influences for the record, saying it “was a hodgepodge of a lot of different time periods in our writing, some of them are over 4 years old now (‘Dealey Plaza,’ ‘Patron Saint’) and some we wrote in studio from scratch (‘Talent Borrows…’) and everywhere in between. There’s a lot of moments I think we wear our influences on our sleeves with songs like ‘Steven, This Is Clem Fandango…’ which was influenced as much by bands like Lifetime and The Movielife as it was by Blink 182, and ‘Jimmy Hoffa’ which lyrically was heavily inspired by Motion City Soundtrack/Justin Pierre. I like songs a lot, more than bands and albums if that makes any sense. Bands can be inconsistent in their mood and albums can have songs that feel like they don’t belong, but a good song is perfect at capturing a mood or catharsis of whatever, so when we kind of start on the blueprint of a new song we sort of agree on a ‘I want to evoke the same feeling x song gives us.’ For example; ‘Dealey Plaza’ was using ‘1940s Fighter Jet’ by Sidekicks as a sort of jumping off point.”
The last two tracks he mentioned, “Digging Up Jimmy Hoffa’s Body” and “Dealey Plaza” help to blast the record off, appearing early on the first half. “Digging Up Jimmy Hoffa’s Body” begins with a classically chunky palm mute before heading into one of the record’s more earwormy choruses of “stress until my mouth starts bleeding / the bad ideas I keep repeating / that always seem to add up right in my head / and I’ll laugh at every stupid joke that life will always try to throw / and pray for better circumstances next time.” Seitz describes the tune as one of his favorites on the record, saying “this is definitely where that Motion City Soundtrack influence becomes obvious, at least lyrically. It’s about wanting to change, acknowledging your behavior that can and should be fixed, and ultimately doing nothing about it and feeling self pity. Musically this was a pretty different song when we came into the studio vs. when we left, it was more of a darker, faster, ‘indie’ song that was very groovy actually, but the vocal melody just didn’t work with it and we (really Gary) wrote a more punk progression to it.”
“Dealey Plaza,” Seitz says, “is Scarlet Street’s oldest song. I had just gone through a really dumb breakup and I was feeling bad about how the whole relationship went and it was kind of like therapy to just let myself indulge in being overdramatic about the whole thing. It was originally written as an acoustic song, but the more we demo’d it the more it needed a full band.” In the lyrics, Seitz laments a love that won’t “leave laugh lines, only bruises,” likens himself to “a battered Victor Frankenstein…crawling through the snow” and ultimately imagines sending a postcard when he drives to Dealey Plaza to blow his “fucking brains out.” It would be in danger of being overindulgent if the instrumentals didn’t work so well mirroring the sentimentality and catharsis of the lyrics. One of the longer songs here, “Dealey Plaza” finds Scarlet Street taking their time to allow the lines time to land and running through a string of guitar sounds that bathe in early 2000s nostalgia. By the time things get truly explosive at “some days I like to think about Jack Kennedy in office / how and how I’ll never be completely sure if his killers walk among us / and how October is my November / and how this city is my own Dallas,” the drum fills and incessant guitars are pushing everything forward with such a momentum that it’s hard not to get caught up in the swell.
On the guitar tones that evoke so many classic tracks from the early 2000s, Seitz said “oh, the Marshall JCM 900 4100 is the best amp ever and I love it because every guitar forum and redditor and metalhead says it’s horrible, but it has an incredible tone. Well before we hit the studio I was obsessed with the guitar tones Blink 182 would get in the late 90s/early 2000s. It’s so heavy but the music isn’t at all, and I think our music is somewhat like that with this album. Growing up, I listened to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins and I always read about how Billy Corgan would layer 80+ guitar tracks for a single song and I thought that was just incredible, some of our demos had 20+ guitar tracks because I just wanted as much texture as possible and tons of harmonies in the guitars. When we got to the studio Gary Cioni wanted to do a lot of layers on the guitars and I was more than happy to oblige, and many songs have 4 different guitar melodies happening at once even if they’re not obvious, but that was part of the aim for this record was to have several different ‘voices’ both from vocals and guitar.”
Those pure alternative radio guitar sounds are noticeable right away with the opening riff of “Mazda Miata & Clinical Depression,” a track that is almost criminally catchy with its refrain of “lack of ambition / coming to fruition / lack of ambition / it’s all done for attention.” It’s followed by “Patron Saint of Bad Ideas,” another track that works with a range of dynamics under lyrics like “and I’m tired, I want to live in black and white / wanna stop this pointless fight / I don’t care what’s wrong or right / I’ve seen you make a compromise / for what you are on the inside / deep enough for you to hide .”
Both tracks have huge, anthemic choruses which seem likely to be fan favorites live. On their upcoming shows, Setiz said “all 3 of us are particularly excited about ‘Talent Borrows, Genius Steals’ live. It’s so different from the rest of the songs on the album, it’s slow but chaotic at moments and there’s so much weird nonsense we can throw in it on a whim. ‘Steven, This Is Clem Fandango…’ is a little more busy live, we’ve had some time to sort of refine that song since we recorded it and give it a lot more energy. Jake is by far the most talented musician in this band and he really gets a lot of time to show off what he can do when we perform this one. For our record release show we’re going to play the whole album front to back and I think the whole thing in that order live is the best. So excited to play it.”
“Steven, This Is Clem Fandango, Can You Hear Me?” is certainly a standout on the second half of the record with its bouncy chorus of “and it’s just not worth it / when you’re always this suspect ” punctuated by some sick drum fills. Setiz described the tune as “an attempt to write a New Jersey/Long Island punk song and it’s so much fun to play. The lyrics were written about someone who can’t seem to take a hint, I’ve always wanted to write scalding lyrics a la Evan Weiss/Into It Over It – Proper-era and that was kind of the aim with this one.”
Starting with a haunting bass and a stark lack of guitars, “Talent Borrows, Genius Steals” sticks out for its slower pace which doesn’t get in the way of the band creating a satisfying arc within two minutes. The slowdown works well at the end of the record, leading into the traditional acoustic closer. A lonely cover of a punk ripper, Setiz says “‘Useless’ is my rendition of a song by a local favorite of mine The Dopamines. The song really speaks to how I’m feeling about everything lately, better than I feel like I can myself, so I was just dying to do a version of it.”
The acoustic reimagining works as a perfect capper to a record like Scarlet Street, with the final lines of “I’m so broke and irritated with all these fucked up situations” feeling like as succint a summary as you can get for the type of music Scarlet Street makes—the type of music that takes that feeling and does something more with it than moping. On the message of the record, Seitz said “I don’t know if there’s a conscious message in the album overall, I’m sure there is a subconscious one, but I think most of these songs are about tales of despair. I’m kind of a constant doomer, I don’t see a lot of positive in the world, I feel personally like I’m stuck in a constant class-trap, I feel like old advice on how to better your life has diminishing returns, I fear for the future of civilization, and I know I’m not the only one. I think we wanted to make this album as a shout into the void that it’s ok to not feel positive about…well…anything. There’s a place for escapism or positivity, I feel like many people prefer it and that’s probably 100 times more healthy than wallowing in self-pity and angst, but I think we’re trying to show that there’s also a place for being extremely real and honest about being unhappy and even angry at the human condition and your own behavior, even if you are working on it.”
Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal
Scarlet Street is streaming on Bandcamp today and everywhere else tomorrow. Vinyl, cassette, and CD are available through We’re Trying Records.
Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject
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