It's almost perfect to say that The Soviettes, like their songs, had a career that was short and sweet. Three albums and a slew of 7"s in four years isn't something most bands can boast about. Nor the sentiment that the band broke up way before its time, as they've been gone for almost five years, and still hold a dear place in many a Minnesotan's heart.
So, as you can imagine, Punknews.org contributor Ollie Mikse was elated when the band's guitarist/vocalist, Annie Sparrows (who's surprisingly easy to track down), agreed to compile their b-sides and rarities for a compilation album and give it out for free nonetheless. Topping it all off, March sees the band reuniting for some one-off shows in honor of this rarities album. Being in the midst of polishing up the product and a veritable winter apocalypse, Mikse had the chance to ask Sparrows (vocals/guitar) and Maren "Sturgeon" Macosko (vocals/guitar) some questions regarding the Soviettes, their history, the new album, and just how Ben Snakepit once saved their band.
The Soviettes disbanded in 2006. What was the cause of this exactly?
Annie Sparrows: I don't remember.
Maren "Sturgeon" Macosko: It was all or nothing.
Sturgeon, what do you mean by "all or nothing"?
Sturgeon: The touring got to be too much in some ways, and the Soviettes just wouldn't have been right without all four of us.
You guys released an album a year and several 7"s during your short life. Do you think this high output of material led to the demise of the band somehow?
Sparrows: No. Not really. We worked hard but I don't think we did more than we were able to handle in terms of writing and recording records. Remember, we had 4 songwriters and no record took longer than 10 days to record and mix. We practiced and played shows all the time anyway so songs came easily.
Sturgeon: If anything, the touring was a lot for some of us. Writing and recording was fun!
What have you guys been doing since the break-up?
Sparrows: Danny and I made a 2 piece band called Awesome Snakes, so we made some songs. I'm in the God Damn Doo Wop Band too with Kat Naden (Strait A's, 24 Reasons Why), Saumer Jackson, Kiera Coonan and an ever rotating band backing us. I guess I'm about to be in like 3 other new bands too, ha ha! Oh yeah, and I bought a house and had a daughter in 2007 after I got myself a day job making and finding music for commercials and doing all their paperwork, but that's not very exciting. I won't go into the last year and a half, but let's just say it will probably get better from here. Susy moved to LA in 2006 and still lives there with Sean Cole (Toys That Kill) - they're both in That's Incredible with Kevin (Killer Dreamer), and Matt Army (Dick Army). Danny works at the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting and is in France Has the Bomb with Srini (White+Outs), Hideo (Birthday Suits, Sweet J.A.P.), and David (Signal to Trust, Double Bird)
Sturgeon: I moved to California for a year - it was good to get a break from a lot of personal stuff happening in Minneapolis. Before I left, my friend Brad (from Rivethead, now in Dear Landlord and The Copyrights) and I recorded a little 7 inch under the name The Gateway District…named for the beautiful part of old downtown Minneapolis that got torn down. We didn't know or care whether anything would happen from there, but since I've been back from LA, we've been active. My great friend Carrie (we played years ago in the Salteens, and she played in the American Monsters) joined the band on bass, and Nate (from Banner Pilot) plays guitar too. We've made a record, been on a few small tours, just got back from Europe, and are about to record our second full length. It's been a lot of fun. I still teach math, which is also a lot of fun.
Annie, you‚??ve also contributed on Japanther's new album. How did that come about?
Sparrows: Ian and Reilly have been long time close friends of mine. We met on the Soviettes' first West Coast tour over Christmas break in 2002 and played a CRAZY house party in San Pedro with them, the Sneeze, Leeches, Killer Dreamer, and I'm sure a couple other bands. We're all still friends to this day. Anyway, Ian, Reilly and I have stayed particularly close and they asked me to play guitar and sing on their new record. We had written one song together in about 2005. Last summer I wrote another one with them, and the rest I learned in the studio in LA this past fall. It was really amazing and the recordings turned out great. I'm so thankful that they asked me to collaborate with them and feel really lucky to have been part of making that record.
The Soviettes are scheduled to release a rarities album on March 16th. Was it difficult compiling or deciding what to include in this package?
Sparrows: Not really. I mean, we went back and forth on whether we should let people hear some of this stuff again, it's pretty rough, but it's honest. So we decided to put all of the recordings that were never released digitally, and some outtakes from LPIII on there. It's definitely interesting to hear how we were learning to sing and play guitar as we made each record.
Sturgeon: It was easy! Anything that never came out or was on pre-Adeline/Fat stuff…done! The hard part actually was listening to it for the first time in so long… haha!
Annie, I also heard that the show on March 19th will be the last show for Awesome Snakes. How come?
Sparrows: That band was a joke that went on too long. It's way fun, but we need to do something different with ourselves. Or at least change our band name - ha!
My favorite track on the Rarities collection is probably "Alright." How does a song that awesome not make the cut for one of the LPs?
Sparrows: Because it was a song for a 7" on Dirtnap! I love Ken so much and I wanted to give him a good single. We did alright.
The digital version of this album will be released for free, but there‚??s been talks about putting out a vinyl version as well. What‚??s the latest on that?
Sparrows: It's coming out on Rottentone Records on Vinyl in late March/earl- April.
Sturgeon: I'm really happy it is also coming out on vinyl. Vinyl is important somehow.
You guys have also decided to play a reunion show to commemorate the release of this new ‚??"album." Was everyone on board for this? Was it difficult convincing everyone to do it?
Sparrows: We had to talk about it a little, yeah. After not being in the same room with each other all at once for 4 years, we had to talk about why we'd do it now (the answer, of course, being that we're releasing a record). But we're all really excited - it's hard not to get carried away with all the energy surrounding the shows.
Sturgeon: It was difficult for me. We had tossed around ideas of a reunion show before, and I really didn't want to. I didn't see a reason. In a lot of areas in my life, I've learned the hard way that you can never go back, and it is really painful to try. With this, I like the idea that we can involve our new bands…like looking forward while looking back. Now I'm excited, and the idea makes sense.
Are there any worries since you haven‚??t played a show in almost four years?
Sparrows: Nah. It's not like we've not picked up guitars/drumsticks since out last show together or anything. We'll get together the week of the show and practice a few times. It's gonna be super fun.
Sturgeon: Ask me after we practice.
It seems like all the post-Soviettes bands that you guys went on to join are opening at this show. What are the chances of having an exhausted line-up by the time The Soviettes take the stage? Think of poor Danny!
Sparrows: Ha ha - well, we're going first so he'll be fine. We'll make sure there's enough time between the 3rd band (I think that'll be Gateway District) and Soviettes for Maren to recover.
Sturgeon: Does exhausted mean drunk?
Speaking of drummers, Ben Snakepit played drums for you guys very briefly (as documented in his Snakepit Chronicles). How did that come about?
Sparrows: Danny had to leave us unexpectedly during the middle of one of our first tours. (Or maybe it was later… I don't remember) and Ben was our roadie. I THINK he was getting a ride to Richmond? Or Minneapolis? Whatever. ANYWAY, we made Ben play drums for us so we wouldn't have to cancel any shows. We taught him like 7 songs in a day (I guess we had to cancel just our show in NY on that day) and we went south. We missed Danny but it was pretty funny and we had a great time. Plus there was more room in the van so we all of a sudden felt like we were traveling in a palace ha ha!
Sturgeon: Ben saved the day. The idea of having to shut down the tour was a real bummer. Ben doesn't even really play drums, so for him to sit down behind them, learn as many songs as he could and help us soldier on was amazing. Here's to you, Snakepit!
As I mentioned previously, the rarities album will be available as a free download. There‚??s a been a strong movement from various musicians claiming that giving music out for free is robbing the bands and killing music in general. Do you feel this is the case for a band like The Soviettes?
Sparrows: We're not an active band anymore, so this might not really pertain to us. But honestly, at our level, we see so little money from record sales. I think if anything it's making it really difficult for record labels to make money more than it's difficult for bands. Album sales are down but concert attendance, despite the economy, is not. Vinyl is still doing well too. Any money the bands I'm friends with make is usually from shows and selling t-shirts and shit, so record sales robbing the bands? I think it only affects the 1% of "artists" who have commercial radio hits. It is interesting, though, to think that in 1991 Nevermind was selling 400,000 copies a week when now bands like Vampire Weekend hit #1 on Billboard charts selling only 124,000 copies. Again though, this kind of stuff affects such a small percentage of bands I just don't think it's an applicable scenario for 99% of us.
Sturgeon: For the Soviettes, no. The way people buy music is changing fast and dramatically, and I feel like it will be a while for everything to shake out. Hopefully we are not going to be robbing anyone and killing music by giving out some old songs!
I was asked by someone at MNdaily.com what legacy I think you guys have in Minneapolis. Seeing as I‚??m not from Minneapolis, I was a little stumped as to how to respond to this question. What do you think your legacy is in the Minneapolis music scene?
Sparrows: That's a horrible thing to ask someone. I have no idea.
Sturgeon: I actually looked up the definition of legacy on this one to make sure I understood the question. "Leaving a gift of property through will"…hmm. I feel a little pretentious even thinking of what we could have left such a great scene such as the one here in Minneapolis, but if anything… I guess I hope we could have left the idea of a band centered on fun and equality.
I‚??m sure everyone is incredibly grateful to be getting a show and some "new" material from you guys this year, but I‚??m sure what we all really want is a proper follow-up to LP III. Are there any chances of this happening anytime soon?
Sparrows: Though some of us would consider it, the chances are very slim to probably none. But, like I said before, we're all still writing and recording records. Gateway District's album is so great, and they're making a new one this month. That's Incredible is writing their record and the 2 songs I've heard are super fun. I just recorded with Japanther on their new record, I'm working on some projects with Kat, and writing some songs to sing with Jesse Thorson if he'll have me (Slow Death / Pretty Boy Thorson & the Falling Angels). Danny's band France Has the Bomb put out some awesome 7inches this year. That's our "new" material.
Sturgeon: Boy, I can't imagine writing songs for the Soviettes.
Now, each of your albums has a similar sound with some subtle differences. What was the song-writing process for the Soviettes for you?
Sparrows: They just come to me. That's about all I can say.
Sturgeon: The beauty of the Soviettes was that song-writing was both an individual and a group activity. It's rare to find four people who are able and willing to do this together.
Which album do you think best represents the Soviettes?
Sparrows: LP (the red record)
Sturgeon: Wow, that is a tough question. Actually, maaaybe this new one? It's got stuff from our whole existence, right?
So, let‚??s do some lighthearted questions. What is the oddest thing about Minneapolis/Minnesota custom-wise?
Sturgeon: Sheesh…the whole place is odd. The accent? The blowup Santas that are still out in the yard in mid-March? Prince?
Hotdish? What‚??s Hotdish?
Sparrows: Like, when you put a bunch of stuff in a pan (usually with cream of mushroom soup) and bake it. For example, tater tot hotdish. You take a bag of tater tots, pour cream of mushroom soup over it, maybe crumble up potato chips and put them over the top, and bake it. You could add canned green beans or whatever to it too, and that's the beauty of hotdish. You can do ANYTHING you WANT!
How much is Minnesota NOT like the movie Fargo?
Sparrows: It pretty much is.
Sturgeon: You do know the movie was filmed here in Minneapolis, right?
Yeah, but the movie does have a fair amount of politeness and Paul Bunyans. Does that apply to the average Minnesota life?
Sturgeon: Hee hee…I'm not sure if the average Minnesotan has bunions, but I, for one, love both Paul Bunyan AND being polite. The infamous Grabass Charlestons used to warm up with a song called "Please and Thank You." Our tour together was halfway over before we realized the song was about us…
Best singer/songwriter in the Soviettes besides yourself.
Sturgeon: When the Soviettes worked on the song all together.
How much effort did it take Susy to sing in Japanese on "Mazacon"?
Sturgeon: Yeah, it was surprisingly easy. But if you listen to that track really closely, maybe with headphones and high volume, you can hear me whisper, "This is getting crazy," right at the end. I guess I can't remember if it was about the Japanese specifically, but I do remember that recording that song was a little nuts.
How much of a "mom" is Sturgeon towards you guys really?
Sparrows: Not at all ha ha! If by "mom" you mean, "boxed wine giver," then that's different.
Sturgeon: Whoa, what a weird question. Sometimes I yell at Susy about not going to the dentist I guess.
Well, I read an article saying that Sturgeon is always the cautious one reminding the band to "buckle up" etc.
Sturgeon: Oh yeah, I love safety. Especially when all my best friends are in the same van and I'm driving. Lights on, doors locked, seat belts, head count. Do you want to know how it feels to leave Sparrows at a gas station?
Sparrows: Just because you enjoy things like safety, doesn't make you the mom, haha!
At the end of last year there was a massive outpouring of "Best-of" albums. What are some of your favorite albums of last year?
Sparrows: Kurt Vile Childish Prodigy is my favorite of last year.
Sturgeon: John Fahey.
Most underrated band in your opinion?
Sturgeon: John Fahey
Alright, that‚??s it! Anything else to add?
Sturgeon: I guess I'm surprised that this record and this show is happening, and I'm surprised that I'm excited for it. When something close to you ends, it's hard to see. I never thought I'd be playing with the Soviettes again, and that anyone would bother with writing or reading an interview. I'd like to say thanks to everyone who came to shows, bought records or shirts, helped us book shows and tours, let us sleep on their floors. I feel lucky to have been part of something that wound up bigger than its parts. If you're reading this, you're part of it too, thanks!
Sparrows: After sifting through pictures and pulling out old records, I can't help but get really nostalgic for what we once had. Things got really intense for me with the band in 2005, but we got to do so much and I made so many life long friends, and really honed in on my ability to just buck up and do, "whatever it takes." That band simultaneously made me want to knock myself out and love my life more than I ever thought I could. Maren's right, you can never go back. But I'm really excited for what's happening now and I can't wait to see our friends in March.