Indie Twosome Sleepy Kitty Pick Their 10 Favorite Duos
Some people just work well together. That’s certainly true of Evan Sult and Paige Brubeck, who met in Chicago in 2008 and formed Sleepy Kitty as a kind of testing ground for ideas not suited to either of their main bands. Sult, then of Bound Stems, had recently landed in the Windy City after eight years with Harvey Danger, the ’90s alt-rockers behind the smash ‘Flagpole Sitta,’ and she was splitting her time between art college and the all-girl outfit Stiletto Attack. But the melding of their sensibilities made Sleepy Kitty too good a proposition to keep as a side project, and the pair have since relocated to St. Louis, built a studio space dubbed the “art castle” and catapulted into the rock ‘n’ roll marketplace two EPs and a full-length.
Their second album, ‘Projection Room,’ lands Jan. 14, and in advance of the disc — a winning blend of cheery pop and crunchy Clinton-era guitar rock informed by Tin Pan Alley standards and Busby Berkley musicals — Sult and Brubeck made us a list of their favorite artistic pairings. Scroll down to see their picks, and click here for more info.
The Black Keys
PB: Way before Sleepy Kitty was a band, I fell in love with the Black Keys’ ‘The Big Come Up,’ and when I first saw them live when they were performing as a two-piece, I was blown away. Dan Auerbach’s guitar playing has been a huge influence on me. They have so much energy live and dynamically nothing is missing.
PB: This Atlanta duo is quite a spectacle. Besides the fact that Billy Mitchell, the drummer, is one of the most creative musicians I’ve ever met (example: they have a song where one of the percussion elements is breaking glass plates by throwing them into a duck-shaped laundry basket), the songs are melodic, danceable, and hook-y. Lead vocalist Emily Kempf is dynamic and captivating, and it’s impossible to look away from the stage, which includes video projections and the band in strangely gorgeous handmade costumes — like haute couture out of trash bags and duct tape.
PB & ES: I came to this band kind of late, and though they might seem too obvious for a list like this, I can’t imagine not including them. Like the Black Keys, the White Stripes are have amazing presence and dynamics. Meg’s drumming has its share of critics, but we’re not among them: she’s a crucial star in the drumming constellation, though even she might laugh at that. And the last thing this band needs in bass.
George and Ira Gershwin
PB: I grew up on musicals from the ’40s and have loved the music of the Gershwins for as long as I can remember loving music. The melodies have had a huge influence on us — we sometimes reference them — and we even do a version of ‘Summertime’ in an all vocal-loop arrangement. I used to think that the music was the main thing I was enamored by, and the lyrics were secondary — until the last time I watched ‘An American in Paris.’ When Gene Kelly sings, “The radio, and the telephone, and the movies that we know may just be passing fancies and in time may go, but … our love is here to stay,” I finally realized how timeless and well crafted the lyrics are. You could just as easily put MySpace and Facebook and Blockbuster, the album as a format, and maybe even bitcoin in a contemporary version. I sometimes resist change, and those lyrics help me relax. PB
PB: We discovered this drums-and-guitar band via Evan’s job as editor of Eleven, a music magazine in St. Louis. They’d just released an EP called ‘Dope Hugz,’ and it’s this perfect summertime collection of smart songs. It rocks, but it’s got an introspective element as well that makes the songs universal. We feel like ‘Dope Hugz’ could and should be played coast to coast, and we’re looking forward to the album they’re working on now. Don’t miss em.
ES: Our musical DNA includes a really strong thread of ’90s indie-label rock — which turns out not to be tied to a decade or a format, but is a recognizable approach to guitar chords and song structures. Schwervon! hits that button so perfectly that it feels timeless, and we love every song we’ve heard by them. We got lucky, cos they moved from N.Y. to Kansas City last year, so we get to see them in our region now. Plus, both Nan Turner and Matt Mason are some of the kindest people we’ve ever met.
Britt Daniel & Jim Eno of Spoon
ES: Most of this list is about duos who perform as duos, but I feel like I have to note the longstanding, particular dynamic between the two principals of Spoon. Their rhythmic relationship, especially on their first three or four releases, is bone-deep and unique. Eno’s drumming is some of my favorite ever, but that’s because it works so well with Daniel’s guitar (and sometimes bass) parts. And as much as I like hearing Daniel’s voice in Divine Fits and elsewhere, it’s only when he’s playing with Eno that I feel like he really completes the potential of his songs.
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire
PB: Like I said, I was raised on old musicals. Fred and Ginger have such a great chemistry onscreen and complement each other so well. While I love Ginger in other Busby Berkeley films without Fred, and Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire do a kind of dancing in ‘The Band Wagon’ that you don’t see in the RKO pictures with Rogers, there’s something perfect about the way that Astaire and Rogers dance together. They’re at their best when they’re dancing with each other, and they make it look effortless. It’s hard to think of one without thinking of the other.
The Fiery Furnaces
PB: We listened The Fiery Furnaces’ album ‘Widow City’ a lot in the very early days of Sleepy Kitty. While I’ve listened to other records by the band, that one is definitely the one I know best and I never get sick of it. The lyrics are peculiar and captivating, and the sonic palette of the whole album blows me away. I’m not sure if this is true, but it always sounded to me like Eleanor Friedberger’s voice is layered and pitch shifted down all throughout that record to create an additional masculine(ish) voice that gives the album another dimension of weirdness. For all its weirdness though, it’s strangely catchy too. ‘The Philadelphia Grand Jury’ and ‘My Egyptian Grammar’ are my favorite tracks.
PB: Starting school at School of the Art Institute in Chicago in the ’00s made this duo and their story irresistible. The idea of art students Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner deciding that a great art project would be to start a pop career was funny and exciting to me, and the fact that it worked and is really good makes it even better. I don’t typically listen to glossy pop records, but the Fischerspooner experience is so much fun, and so pretty, and sexy, and artsy, and sparkly. Really sparkly. Their music videos look like a celebration of skills one learns in art school, including rad fashion and performance art, and their live shows feel like an extension of the fantasy of those videos – you will dance, you will sweat, you will leave with confetti in your hair. Plus Casey Spooner is a charismatic frontman with a sense of humor about the whole pop music thing. At the end of a show I saw, he asked the crowd if they really wanted an encore. When the already enthusiastic crowd was cheering loud enough, he finally told Fischer, “All right! Hit spacebar!”