Menace to Sobriety
Constant Lovers Find Their Tantra with Ben Verellen
It used to be that people employed the term "wall of sound" to describe the studio production work of now-convicted murderer/hairpiece cautionary tale Phil Spector. But bands of today provide an all-consuming product well beyond anything Spector did with the Ronettes or anyone else. Seattle four-piece Constant Lovers are one of those bands: Everything about their sound is mammoth, imposing, and—incidentally—a total blast.
And all that is a bit ironic considering the demeanor of frontman Joel Cuplin—the quartet's loudest quadrant. You may know him as the mild-mannered, conscientious, and skilled bartender behind some of the more quality bar tops in the city (formerly Liberty and Pettirosso, and currently Pioneer Square's Bar Sajor). That a quarter of his left front tooth is completely chipped off is perhaps the only hint of the Mr. Hyde that appears onstage for a Constant Lovers set: a possessed and formidable yowler not unlike Michael Gira, behind the wheel of something just a bit less grim than Swans.
The other day, I met up with Cuplin at his Capitol Hill apartment to discuss the band's new record and things in general. Sample topics: Crimson Beaver Tears, his and his girlfriend's yet-unstarted monthly mail-order menstrual-care service ("We're better at coming up with ideas than executing them"); blue-eyed soul veteran Scott Walker's comeback and contemporary work ("He got really gothy"); and record collections ("Are you going to tell the world that I alphabetize my records?"). Throughout the visit, Cuplin is characteristically sedate. That is, until we're on our way out through the apartment building's mail room, and he notices that a package has arrived for him. Turns out it contains a six-foot-tall cardboard standup of the Photoshopped figure on the cover of the upcoming record, a composite of all four band members' facial features/body parts. With this, Cuplin's persona ignites, and he dashes back upstairs, unpacks the figure, and assembles it to be standing just behind the front door when his girlfriend arrives home from work.
Experience Feelings, out March 18 on Seattle label Good to Die, is the Lovers' second full-length and their first since former drummer Mike Horgan moved to Chicago. But if losing the hard-swatting Horgan was an ash hit, gaining his replacement, Ben Verellen—proprietor of the revered Verellen Amplifiers and one-third of excellent Seattle metal trio Helms Alee—was a fresh, green bong toke.
Constant Lovers' first album, 2011's True Romance, is a gleefully deranged and drunken promenade through a post-punk landscape of complex shotgun-blast drums, menacing chord progressions, and Cuplin's harried wailing—although sometimes it's the loping bass lines that really make the whole thing brilliant. But after that album, drummer/principal component Horgan moved away. Upon hearing the news, Verellen offered his services. "We didn't even audition anyone else," says Cuplin.
So they scrapped all previous material. "We wanted to give Ben ownership," Cuplin explains. "We didn't want it to be like, 'You have to learn all these Constant Lovers songs.'" Perhaps that decision seems like a small gesture, but it speaks volumes about the kind of relationship the band members have.
The result, Experience Feelings, is more streamlined and up-tempo than its predecessor. Recorded at Red Room with the talented Matt Bayles, Feelings finds the Lovers ratcheting up their technical precision and locking down their sound. It's a brisk and exhilarating affair. Apparently, the game got real.
Maybe it's due in part to the fact that Cuplin's a few years older now. The opening line of "Mush Teeth" goes: "I used to shake my shit/But now I got holes in my shoes/It hurts to move/Yeah it hurts to move/Got much to prove/But got so much to lose." It's a sentiment that anyone past their late 20s can identify with, but the maturation hasn't diminished the band's spike. Rather, it appears to have sharpened it.
What hasn't changed about Constant Lovers is the strident, adrenaline-surge guitar work of Cuplin and co-guitarist Eric Fisher, Gavin Tull-Esterbrook's dashing, addictive bass lines, and Cuplin's emphatic vocals. The latter might sound a little crisper this time around, but that's just the kind of thing a rebirth will do for you.
The Constant Lovers record-release show is Fri April 4 at Chop Suey.