Cement Surfboards and Occult Displays
Sic Alps' Mike Donovan Talks About Every Song on the Crazy-Good Napa Asylum
Hey, longhair in the busted army jacket! NOT YOU. Yeah, you. The one who's wearing it not so much as a Vietnam vet costume but as a way of saying "I don't wear jean jackets my mom bought me from H&M and I don't have health insurance because I live in a van and I like Syd Barrett and I'm sleepin' on the beach and I don't care who knows it." Well, WE know it, and this is for you.
Maybe you've already slummed it in the "city" (San Francisco) long enough to figure out the only other good band is Sic Alps. Good for you. If not, crack a tallboy in a paper bag at the bus stop and take a load off. Then listen to the ocean and the bugs for a while. They are whispering the truth about guitars and the government. They've been whispering it to guitarist/vocalist Mike Donovan for years. They whispered, "Hey, Mike, tell us about whatever you want on every killer song on your killer new record... we're listening." Here's what he said.
Long album—you wanna ease 'em in. I guess if we had a "Back in the U.S.S.R," we would have put it fourth or third. Lyrically, it's a good start, 'cause if the question is "Where have you guys been?" then the answer is right off the bat: "I've been sitting here, relaxing with my gear up... growing out my hand, waiting for my band... I'm singing, 'Jolly.'" Dispatch from the absolute nadir of the Sic Alps circa late 2008, yo.
Cryptic lyrics to the fore! "OXE XE... NIE LE... SIC ID." If you knew my sister's name, you would have a clue. Next!
I wrote this 15 years ago! No shit, I had to change the lyrics around since it was a love song to a woman who has been married for a decade. Only the Jackson 5 lyric survived and the shout-out to Yabby You (RIP): "I got good advice from a girl—don't put your lot in with the world." Still following that advice, thanks, lady.
The second half of "Inventing a Common Rule" (literally) from [Sic Alps'] U.S. EZ. Our main man Eric Bauer recorded this, and you can hear him fixing something in the background at the end. Had to fight hard to keep this acoustic, and the result is a drastically trebled mix, a strange compromise.
"Do You Want to Give $$?"
There's a book called In Search of Respect by Philippe Bourgois about Puerto Rican crack salesmen in East Harlem in the 1980s. At one point, he's drawing the line between the Puerto Ricans and their predecessors in the neighborhood, the Italians. He has this quote from a NYC social worker circa 1900 who is trying to illustrate why the Italians are laughably doomed to fail in the US economy. Asked what they miss most about the old country, one Italian immigrant replied, "Living with our animals."
"Saint Peter Writes His Book"
Bauer urged us to rerecord this one, but I refused.
Verse one: August 1973, Zeppo Eppley is seen leaving his hometown of Bourbonnais, Illinois, never to be heard from again. Verse two: Charlotte Muldeen grew up on an Indiana farm and studied agriculture at Ball State down in Muncie. In this scene, she breaks up with her girlfriend and joins the navy.
My friend Christopher came up with the title. I initially tried to make the lyrics about alien invasion, but they ended up being about something slightly less psychedelic. We started our shows off with this number for the first few years.
"Ball of Fame"
Fame is its own reward.
Noel [Von Harmonson] busts the killer solo throughout.
"My My Lai"
Matt [Hartman] wrote, played, sang, and recorded this one by his lonesome.
"Wake Up, It's Over"
Straight improv into the no-mic. We've been starting gigs with this lately, though it's much longer now and features a long guitar solo by yours truly (a first).
First verse is about esteemed SF band of misfits Thee Oh Sees, in heavy code. The rest is mostly about the thick customs of habitual drug intake, man. Also the word "doo-wop" is used here as a verb, thank you very much.
My favorite song on the LP. Not only 'cause it predicts my current girlfriend, but also 'cause it returns to the number-one theme, in my opinion, of this band: coming out of the darkness (doing a two-step). Q: "What do we love to do?" A: "Run through the park and trip in the dark."
"Wasted at Church"
I asked my dad what he thought of this one, and he gave it a big thumbs-down. At which point he told me he rated "Cement Surfboard" 4 of 5 in his iTunes. You just gotta respect that kind of honesty.
To me this sounds like 1980s Dylan meets Skynyrd. Matt says, "Well, no one else is doing it." He's right, of course.
"The First White Man to Touch California Soil"
The extent to which I hate this current American government system is balanced by the love that I have for the place, but still—I refuse to get involved on any level in an official capacity. However, I can still take a shot, and this is it.
Verse one: The year is 1540 and a crew of Spanish sailors, thirsty for freedom and adventure, sail down the Colorado River led by a dude named Hernando de Alarcón. Without knowing it, they "discover" California and exclaim, "This is all the land we'll ever need!"
Verse two: Sensing that a large financial success (independent of the throne) is just around the next corner and also dreading the long trip back home, Alarcón and his men decide to stay on and not even write to the Spanish queen, who waits patiently back at the palace, getting a pedicure from a Sicilian slave (okay, most of this verse isn't historically accurate).
Verse three: Modern-day California and the assholes win again! No big surprise here, and as an added insult, the river that the dudes sailed down in verse one is actually dry now due to the overirrigation of not-so-nearby suburban lawns. At this point, the narrator realizes that though he is not a Mexican guy with a cool name like Joaquin (a name once slang for Mexican banditos), he still can see clearly the lineage of greed that extends from the Spanish throne of the 1500s right down to the scumbags who orchestrated the recent mortgage crisis with dollar signs flashing in their eyes. Can I get a giant "Fuck you"?
"Super Max Lament on the Way"
The only tune on the record that actually takes place in the Napa Asylum. Matt adds some nice aphasic backups.
I graduated fourth from the bottom of my giant public high-school class. So close. If I had known about places like Reggio Emilia back then, I probably would have moved to Italy as a 12-year-old.
Wherein our hero reminds his beautiful girlfriend of the long walk they took in the rain one night, ultimately coming upon a young homeless tweaker crying into an empty water bottle at the corner of 18th and Castro. Cue the strings.
"March of the Skies"
Costantino della Gherardesca says this sounds like Acid Mothers Temple. Listen close for the loop.
"Nathan Livingston Maddox"
"How can I meet you sideways in time?"