“Don’t hold a Mai Tai with ice in it close to the mic while tracking vocals.”
That’s Dirty Sidewalks singer/guitarist Erik Foster on the most important lesson he learned laying down the band’s debut full-length, Bring Down the House Lights, which was released this past Friday on the band’s own No-Count Records.
The Sidewalks—which are throwing a record-release party on January 19 at the High Dive—cut the album in their best refined-dandy manner. “Erik became quite a mixologist over the course of tracking,” says his older brother and Dirty Sidewalks guitarist/singer Evan Foster—Mai Tais included, naturally.
Erik does concede, though, that “where the compressor ratio/input is cranked, ice clinking around in the glass is impossible to edit out.”
Evan’s proud about how much he learned as an engineer, admitting that the band was “probably pissing off the neighbors, being that we used my kitchen as the main tracking room. So we were cutting guitars and live percussion at various hours.”
Still, admit the Fosters, they've seen and experienced far worse (and weirder) stuff out on the road.
Evan, current lead guitarist in the Sonics and a mainstay with the Boss Martians (sometimes with his brother in tow) since 1992, recounts barely surviving “band arguments in below-freezing weather on the streets of Copenhagen, having to play with a 102-degree fever and the worst flu ever in Ft. Collins because we needed the guarantee to get to the next show, several trips to ERs for infections, ailments, injuries sustained while on tour, having checked gear get lost in the EU and not surface for weeks, or ever.”
Oh, and spotting a UFO during a long, all-night drive on a rural highway in northern Michigan. And finding himself sitting “next to Matt Dillon” at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom.
Erik, for his part, ran across an “unexplainable ghost piece” while on tour with the Boss Martians in Kansas. “Essentially it was a spiritual entity,” he elaborates.
The Foster brothers moved here in 1985. “Our dad, Larry,” says Evan, “bought me my first guitar, an ’85 Squier E-Series Japanese Strat. Part of learning to play was to get my pinky finger moving as fast as I wanted it to—still working on that!”
Bring Down The House Lights marks their first album as Dirty Sidewalks, recorded with longtime bassist Evan O’Neil (plus new drummer Aaron Nicholes in place of the LP’s Alesis brand drum machines). They cut the 12 tracks “entirely in my home studio here in Seattle, on very minimal gear, over the course of a few years,” Evan explains. “We weren't in a rush during the process because at first the tracks were initially going to be demos, but the further along we got in the process the more it actually felt like a ‘record.’ So we went with it.”
The Sidewalks’ signature sound resembles that of the Jesus & Mary Chain: Fuzz-and-thump instrumentals—Erik strums surf chords, while Evan screeches solos like a cornered banshee—under clean vocal harmonies, forming a sinister patina. Lyrics generally tackle the world with reserved, detached, and trenchant observations laced with dry wit.
This owes much to the brothers’ early music hero, Chuck Berry—to always sound and look as righteously cool as possible. Then go Chuck one better and pour on the feedback.
“I loved the early [JMAC] records when I was in high school and college,” allows Evan, but he emphasizes the importance of old-school harmony groups.
“When I was a kid our parents would listen to stuff like the Everly Brothers and The Beach Boys, so I think it was kind of just ingrained in my mind,” Erik clarifies. “I was really drawn to the vocal harmonies, which is one of the things I love about The Dandy Warhols.”
As far as the less-than-obvious influences, “Probably Glen Campbell,” says Erik. “His music is a huge influence on our whole band.”
“And also for me,” chimes in Evan, “writers like Warren Zevon. Such a unique voice and lyrical sense—always found the right way to get the idea across.”
Where do the Dirty Sidewalks plan to go to promote the new album? “Anywhere and everywhere that will have us,” Erik says.
Matt Dillon, UFOs and the return of the ghost piece not guaranteed. But then again, there’s no earthly way of knowing what might transpire…not even in northern Michigan.