Tuesday, October 15, 2013


The Darkyr Sooner EP from 2001 is now available to be listened to in its entirety on Internet Archive

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Soft People: Debauched in the Aughts

The Aughts in Philadelphia, around Neo-Romanticism, the Philadelphia Renaissance, and the rest of it, were in many ways a revolutionary time. Individuals were caught up in exploring different kinds of freedom: creative, political, sexual. The Zach Sulat who wrote and recorded Debauched In The Aughts in mid-Aughts Philadelphia was clearly caught in this maelstrom— trying to decide what freedom meant to him as an individual, who was both creative and an active bisexual. That this is one of the facets of Aughts Philadelphia which will make it distinctive for all time— how debauched it was, not just about sex and drugs but about art and politics— was something Zach knew just as well as we did in the Philly Free School. Debauched In The Aughts starts from a first person plural perspective to announce a generation of artists and political kids arriving and finding themselves. The explicit bisexual angle to this and other tracks on The Vapors makes it a precise, incisive, musically superior substitution for the insipidity of NYC’s Magnetic Fields from roughly the same time. Indeed, as Zach and I discussed, all the hype in the Aughts about rock music in the mainstream press seemed to be false: thus, the mediocrity of The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, The Magnetic Fields, Bright Eyes and The White Stripes. Aughts Philly was largely emancipated from this particular ball and chain because there were strong individuals around who were happy to think for ourselves. Revolution depends on individuals thinking for themselves; if they can get debauched in the process, as we did, so much the better.

The Soft People: The Vapors

The Vapors, the title track from The Soft People’s 2007 album, finds Zach Sulat in a deep blue mood. There are many ostensible reasons for Sulat’s blue mood here— one of the consistent blue moods we all went through in Aughts Philadelphia had to do with not being able to join in the festivities sometimes. For the decade the party lasted, all of us had to deal with times that, for whatever reason, the party was passing us by. Individuals tossed and turned on their own waves, and had different Damocles swords hanging over their heads. The important thing about this track, other than the sturdy, solid melody and general 60s FM radio ambiance, is the revelation that revolution is a personal thing, and that being in a crowd that’s going somewhere has to be balanced with solitude for an individual, and an individual’s creativity, to ripen; even as the Aughts Philadelphia party stopped for no one.

Deflating Raft

One of my proudest moments at CHS was writing Deflating Raft. The first thing I got was the melody for the bridge/chorus. As of ’92, I had an electric keyboard in my room on Old Farm Road in Wyncote. I pounded the thing out right before I left for Carnegie Mellon in June (I did Carnegie Mellon pre-college for drama summer ’92). When I got back in August, I got the verse melody, and it buzzed the hell out of me. The words at that point were just dummy words. I left the thing incomplete until the spring of ’94, my senior year. The words came out of a composite of situations I’d been involved in. Along with Worn Yesterday, Deflating Raft was one of the staple songs I played for everyone once I got to State College that summer. It’s the first thing I ever played for Steve Kurutz, for example, and for Kelly McCabe. North Halls all heard it; I used to practice, sometimes loudly, out of my window, 322 Holmes. When I recorded the song at Buttons Sound in NYC in ‘99, I was non compos mentis enough that the session is a blur in my head. I do seem to recall that recording the harmony vocal was a thrill. It elevates the song to a vibe with some edge to it. I was hoping the lead guitar would also add some bite to the mix.

Gair Marking helped me put together the Darkyr Sooner EP in 2000, and Deflating Raft slotted right in. I spent some time with Gair and Ellen in New Jersey, and on the Rowan campus, and Gair uploaded Darkyr Sooner to mp3.com, where it remained for several years. I did self distribution for Darkyr Sooner, while playing Philadelphia clubs like The Khyber, Pontiac Grille (J.C. Dobbs assumed moniker for a few years), The Grape Street Pub in Manayunk, and the Killtime Warehouse in West Philadelphia. The semi-conglomerate I put together then, This Charming Lab, wound up being a prototype for The Philly Free School several years later. Yet the period of most high intensity around performance of the tune remained the first few years I spent in State College. As a zig-zag back to Philly, the lyrics of Deflating Raft were published as poetry in the late-Nineties 'zine Siren's Silence. And to zig-zag back to the Aughts, Mary and Abby liked Deflating Raft, and Darkyr Sooner, enough to make me feel the thing was a success even then. 

Riding the Waves

Despite being there less then a year, I did have some fun in Manhattan. In the spring of ’99, I found myself with a new group of running buddies— NYU film majors, all set to graduate— and I was initiated into their way of life. It was luxuriant, and partly pot-based— they had their weed delivered to their respective doors, like a pizza. My main hinge to this crowd was Todd Smolar, who I had met in Washington Square Park. It was through Todd that I met Paul Levin and began recording at Buttons Sound at 45th and 5th. Todd lived on Leonard Street in Tribeca then, right next to the Knitting Factory. Todd, while an NYU undergrad, had been the singer for a series of bands. That spring, we wrote a bunch of material together. Weirdly, and from out of our stoned haze, what we churned out had the slick, commercialized feel of Sugar Ray and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Another song I wrote at Todd’s Leonard Street flat was Riding the Waves, from a small fragment Todd had. The first version of the song, recorded at Buttons Sound right then (and with my State College chum Jason Liebman also laying down guitar tracks), featured an extended intro resembling David Bowie’s Quicksand, from Hunky Dory. That original version is now lost, though it may still be in the Buttons Sound files. When I commuted from Philly to Manhattan to re-record the song in late ’99, which is what we have here, I made it more terse and more visceral, less abstracted. That session was just Paul Levin and I. I included this version on the first, 2000 version of Darkyr Sooner, and on the later versions as well.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Center City 1

Center City 1 was written and recorded by me at my apartment at 23rd and Arch in Center City Philadelphia in 2010. Center City 1, also, was written in late 2010 out of the pronounced sense that the euphoria of Aughts Philadelphia and Neo-Romanticism, the dream-like trance it engendered, had dissipated into the mist of the Great Recession. Thus, the playpen that Center City had been for me and my cronies was not there any more, and had become a place of privations and deficits. The characters in the song have something in common with Springsteen characters— youth, desperation, willingness to stand up against authority— but they are more involved in the arts and in “hipster-ism” in general, including deals and dealing. As of 2015, are there any real hipsters left in America, like Sara? When the dream ended in Philadelphia as of around 2009— and it did end, very specifically, for many of us, in the summer of 2009— we all had to crawl our way towards whatever new life we could establish for ourselves. It is no surprise that the sound of this “crawl” in the Recession’s crawlspace is a plaintive one— here, just me and a guitar.

"Jane and Trish"

"Jane and Trish" by Adam Fieled was written and recorded at his apartment at 23rd and Arch in Center City Philadelphia in 2010. Painting by Abby Heller-Burnham.