Looking Back: Lisa Savidge’s Lisa Savidge

(Editor’s Note: This will be an ongoing series this week as I bring articles about some of my favorite local music of last yearto my blog in extended formats, this first article originally appeared in an edited form in the January 2011 issue of JAVA Magazine.)

No Time To Burn Out
Lisa Savidge Drive On To Another Day

“All great art comes from a sense of outrage.” Reportedly actress Glenn Close once said that and she’s not wrong. This quote sprang to mind after spending nearly a week listening to the new Lisa Savidge album, first and foremost because it is great art, secondly because it was clearly inspired, if not nearly entirely devised by a sense of outrage.  It is great art. The brilliant package design by Patrick Leahy seems to convey that on looks alone, but you needn’t judge the record by its cover, it is the contents of this sprawling journey in music that will assure you of this fact. For those sitting tight, listening keenly, the outrage will become apparent, it’s not ambiguous and yet it is certainly not moralistically platitudinal. The outrage is almost anthemic in the vocalization of the individual’s alienation in modern society, for good or for ill, for better or worse, for going to hell and if nothing else, just moving on with life, despite itself. Lisa Savidge’s eponymous sophomore album has a depth to it that is very nearly unmatched.  It is musically and lyrically a hell of a ride and it is worth every minute you spend with it.

One must admit from the outset that the name Lisa Savidge is fairly unlikely for a band consisting of five men.  “Ellery and I decided to come up with a name that was the opposite of what the band would sound like.” Dan Somers, lead vocalist and guitarist explained.  “We thought ‘female folk singer’ like Lisa Loeb, which is where the ‘Lisa’ came from and I had just seen the movie The Savages. Ellery suggested we spell it like ‘fridge.’ So we decided on Lisa Savidge and then looked it up on Google and clicked ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’, it was a woman from Pennsylvania who was just arrested for multiple crack charges.” So, Lisa Savidge, it seemed was deemed and destined to be the name of the band. After  many lineup changes through the years, the five piece that presents itself on Lisa Savidge consists of Somers, Ellery Keller (guitar/violin/vocals), James Krehbiel (drums/percussion), Nick Gortari (keyboard/vocals/guitar) and Patrick Lamaide (bass/noise).

Right from the opener, in the near five minutes that encompasses “Building Your Own HAM Radio (Pts. 1 & 2)” the band announces quite nearly everything the rest of the album has to offer and it’s an exciting announcement. It begins with a single guitar intro that recalls Joy Division, soon followed by the bass which does not deviate, but when the keyboard and vocals hit, you know you’re on new territory. Somers’ ethereal vocals hypnotize, the pounding of the drums stuns and the next guitar to come in washes your ears in feedback glory.  And that’s just part one. Part two is, perhaps one of the most amazing two and a half minutes to close an album opener ever committed to record. The lyrics and guitars build until the drums are pounding like an exploding heartbeat, Somers shreds his vocals to a scream with “The smoke that fills our lungs” and finally Gortari’s keyboard goes absolutely brilliantly insane. It is a moment that literally sucks you into the rest of the record, you are hooked and you won’t be able to tear yourself away, more importantly, you won’t want to.

“Holding Me” follows quick on its heels and loses no footing, it is pure power pop splendor that should be in consideration as a very likely single that could garner airplay well beyond the scope of our corner of the Southwest.  From the drum stick count off  to the syncopated 4/4 bass groove that begins it, to the infectious guitar hooks throughout, to Somers quirky new wave vocal delivery this song has it all—it also happens to be the most accessible tune on the entire affair. Which is not to say that it has any less depth than the other material here—it does in fact have some of the most reflective lyrics and interesting wisdom to be found on the album, which concludes with the haunting, thought provoking words, “We all die young.” “It’s like a Pixies song with the loud/quiet/loud sound,” Gortari said. “I thought, let’s do a pop song!” Somers said smiling. “The thought is no matter how powerless I am, my ultimate destiny is in my hands.”

The haunting continues into “Country Fear” which is a song that marks the albums descent into madness.  It is a goth drenched shoegazing masterpiece that Ride or Chapterhouse could only wish they had written. “Everything is in a droning D” Somers said. “There are no standard chords in the song.” The lyrics move in and out of phase, Gortari who “sensed the insanity in the song” creates a droning sound on the Farfisa with a delay effect that in the end tears everything apart. “It’s hypnotic in a Clockwork Orange sort of way,” Gortari added. “Emphasizing the brainwashing effect.”  All that and the lyrics are inspired in part by incoherent ramblings of Sarah Palin as she stepped down. “She mentioned ‘country pride’ but the whole platform she ran on was really ‘country fear’,” Somers said.  The song falls into keyboard madness and the swirling psychedelia of Lamaide’s “noise” to move seamlessly into the next song.

“Over” is the height of the nightmare, a song that rages and explodes, quite literally at times as it documents Somers own experiences of returning from Iraq and trying to adjust to the terms of normal life.  The song is devastating and it is the only thing that could follow the slipping insanity of “Country Fear.” “From a society perspective, if you had ‘country fear’, this is what would follow—Armageddon,” Gortari commented. The sound is exactly that, apocalyptic in every way, the stark lyrics deliver it, “Waiting for the flood that will put it all to an end,” followed by one of the fiercest machine gun drum assaults ever heard into a screaming chorus with the real punch delivered in the softest vocals of the song. “I had attended a meeting of a community organization and I left so angry and at the same time I was reading The Fountainhead,” Somers said.  “All this fucking shit had happened and I felt like I tried to do well intentioned stuff, then to get back into regular reality where if you have the wrong hairstyle people will treat you like shit.”

In striking contrast, “New Song (Pts 1 & 2)” starts off as a continuation of the menacing vibe from the previous pair. Gloomily gothic, with the creepy revealing lyrics “Blood can look like oil when you’re in the dark”, the darkness is almost too consuming. Without a moment to spare, this is soon washed away as a return to the jangling guitar and power pop sound not heard since “Holding Me” return in Part 2, with violent imagery replaced by introspection. “It’s sort of the rays of hope after the two previous songs,” Gortari said. It is the moment of “Acceptance” as Somers pointed out, and indeed all the songs after the opener do seem to reflect the Kübler –Ross model on the five stages of grief. It is a life affirming moment if only the affirmation is that “we drive into another day” only to “know that it don’t matter anyway.”


Closing the first half of the album “Headspace” (Live Mix) follows, like an awakening after a nervous breakdown and if any song on the album could be considered, the ballad or an acoustic number (comparatively speaking) this is it. It is the breath of relief after the rollercoaster ride the listener has just been on and it stands in stark contrast to nearly everything, almost certainly due to the fact that this was “the first purely Ellery composition for Lisa Savidge,” Somers said. “I specify  ‘Live Mix’ because we wanted this recording to be definitive, if you listen to it on the first record, it’s a completely different song.” “It’s very in the moment, very present,” Gortari added. It is lyrically spare and stark for the space, very nearly pretty . The final couplet perfectly expresses the end of the albums first side: “Awaken-your escape is complete.” Brilliant.

“90 Pills (Live Mix)” is another power pop smash and starts off the second half as a stand out track that is a straight out rocker. Short, sweet and to the point “90 Pills” is two and a half minutes of pure cathartic joy that should be destined for a single.  The song was written by Keller and former band member Mike McQuillian, “Neither one can remember which parts they wrote,” Somers laughed. “I felt when I joined the band there was a strong grunge aesthetic,” Gortari said. “I think ’90 Pills’ is the pillar of that aesthetic.” “Internally in the band it became known as ’90 Takes’,” Somers said. “I think I even said ‘one more take after this and it’s not going on the album’ and that was the take.”  Apparently by that point Lamaide had blisters on his fingers and Krehbiel  had blood all over his drum kit. “People love that song and they’ve always responded to it,” Somers said of re-recording it from their debut album, “So, give the people what they want.” Future single indeed. “It’s a great side opener,” Somers added. “It’s about putting your life back together.”

“XMAS (Pts 1 & 2)” may well be the strangest, most aggressive song about Christmas ever—and it returns to the deep reflective/borderline insanity found earlier in the album. Keller provides an amazing Echo & The Bunnymen guitar line, while Somers sings of delusional drunken Christmas’ and the sadness inherent in the season for some. “I had a serious problem with drinking and it came to a head around Christmas time the year before,” Somers illuminated. “I have a lot to relate to that and I grew up in an alcoholic family,” Gortari added. “My dad would end up quitting his job around that time every year and just sit around drinking.” The songs two parts are divided by a backmasked vocal, which is in fact Somers ranting about Ian Curtis. “Part one is setup within the delusion,” Somers remarked, “Part two is the recognition that everything up to that point is bullshit.”

What follows is “Moment Of Silence”, the sole instrumental on the album. Now, I’m not normally one for instrumentals, but this is an amazing work by Ellery Keller that simply could not be improved by any words, any lyric or anything  beyond the brilliant composition that it is:  a perfect coda for “XMAS” and a piece of music that literally inspires the soul.  This should be licensed for movies or soundtracks as soon as possible. “Ellery brought it to me for a vocal melody,” Somers explained. “I listened to it and said, ‘No, I think it’s done.’ It just builds up into this great post rock song as everyone adds their parts. We decided to record it live, then we asked Ellery to record more violin tracks to form an artificial string quartet, and they were all completely improvised.”

The song that follows is perhaps the strangest number on the record, and possibly the most enigmatic and fascinating—this is the moment where Nick Gortari and the rhythm section of Lamaide and Krehbiel take their moment in the spotlight and blow it out of the water.  “You Killed Me (Pts 1,2,3)” is the tale told musically of an obsessional  memory spiraling out of control. The song begins with vocals by Gortari in French singing in a sleazy style that suggests Leonard Cohen crossed with Serge Gainsbourg, then moves into the curious mix of shoegaze guitar meeting disco keyboard while Somers adds vocals to tell the story and it spins in the listeners ear like a carousel out of control. Next Caribbean flourishes enter the picture amid swirling sounds and exotic percussion as the tempo continues to accelerate, when the next wave of vocals swing by and guitars, combined with strings and keys start to sound like horns, until the pace goes off the rails and the song ends in a dizzying swirl of brilliant musical vertigo.  “I was studying abroad in France and I decided to take a trip by myself,” Gortari said. “It was late spring in France and I met this sixteen year old girl and we spent six hours just talking in the park, I always wished I had made out with her because I didn’t. It was a perfect fleeting moment.” The lyrical moment of gold here: “You taught me how to French inhale you.” Perfection.

Beginning with a disorienting guitar line that steps right out of 17 Seconds era Cure, “Fire Exiting” features some of the finest pop vocals over densely layered three dimensional guitars—it comes across as if Paul Weller did a one off song with the Cure.  Yet another single worthy track, the song  is yet another example of how well Lisa Savidge pulls off three minute perfection.  It recalls a time for Somers when he was called back to the service after a previous mental health discharge. “I was back in the uniform , back in this place that was awful and I completely lost my mind,” Somers recalls. “There was a sign over a door that said ‘Fire Exiting’, it was on the second floor, but the stairs had long ago given away so it was like this 30 foot drop. They sent me home with a letter that said I was a danger to myself and others.”  The lyrics were actually drawn from Keller writing down the ranting and ramblings of Somers immediately upon his return, with Keller noting that he was “Capitalizing on your misery.”

The album wraps with the sprawling epic “Appalachacha (Pts. 1 & 2), a perfect bookend to a very nearly perfect album—as much of a summary of the entire work as “HAM Radio” was an introduction.  It is lyrically intense and musically inspired—the album ends positively, somehow, with  two sides of a coin shown. On one side the Hollywood dreamer ideal of being an artist and on the other, the reality of actually being one.  Part One talks about the ideal of artistic high minded thought—stealing a copy of Silent Spring, reciting Keats, storming the Capitol Records building, Part Two speaks of the truth, pulling levers every day, recognizing the mechanical necessities, but ultimately the realization is a transcendental one and the album washes away in glorious feedback waves, followed by silence. The album is done, the art is complete and all outrages have been addressed.

Lisa Savidge is a downright fascinating ride, one of the most intriguing albums I’ve listened to in ages—over the course of nearly an hour they lure you in, take you to the very brink of insanity, tell you it will be alright, help you recover, then take you to a few more dark places, before again they inspire you, seduce you, surprise you and eventually set you free—and you are all the better for it. The first half of the album plays as a perfect song cycle of madness and redemption, while the second half seems to tell the rollercoaster tale of recovery from the experience of the first side.  Lisa Savidge is an amazing record that takes a bit of a hold on your soul and it’s not long after it finishes that you want to spin it again and again, until the album becomes as dizzying as the amazing soundscapes found within.