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HUH? What's that? What's BLASTING outta my Ear-Buds? Man that's the NOW SOUND of the yesterday from the future. Turn it up? I CAN'T! IT WON'T GO ANY LOUDER! Oh, turn it down! I CAN'T DO THAT EITHER! I need it to hurt me to feel it. And anyway, I work in a windowless room in a shitty city (true story) and it's the only way I can sufficently pretend I'm riding a nitrous balloon to San Francisco with Noel Redding (on the same size handful of horse tranqs as K.Moon) givin' a hand buzzer to the Dead C. This is music for grownups who shouldn't be this nuts. Crawl down into the sewer and plant and nurture some fresh basil. I don't wanna write an intro any more than you wanna read one so let's do this.

So, my favorite interview thing is when the band just goes through a record song by song and talks about whatever they want, which Mike Donovan kindly obliged:

Lars: Side A - "Description of the Harbor"
Mike: Strapping Fieldhands cover...

Lars: Side B - "Love is Strange"
Mike: "Magic Bus" wood blocks are a curtain rod halved by Matt that day and played by me. It was the first tune we recorded and all of side two is actually in the order we recorded.

Lars: "A Story Over There"
Mike: "First take" drum overdub by Matt. "...by Mennon" ending is a tribute to an old bandmate.

Lars: "Be a Song"
Mike: Pretty straightforward lyrics about crossing over into songland. Flute by Kim West.

Lars: "Message From the Law"
Mike: First verse: our hero receives a letter from the government inquiring into his delinquency or lack of interest. Second verse: our hero receives answering machine message from his mother concerning endurance training. Third verse: receives eviction letter and finds himself free of all responsibility. The word "squarely" is used here in the hipster sense as in "your Dad is square".

Lars: "Who Has Time to Protest?"
Mike: Meant to sound like a Berkeley protest singalong. More flute by Kim West.

Lars: "Bells (w/Tremolo and Distortion)"
Mike: General fuck you tune.

Lars: "The News Today"
Mike: War on the turf of the United States from the perspective of the young and rich. As the Chinese are landing he sets down his beads and expensive cake and...

Lars: "Hey! Sofia"
Mike: Based on true events in the Bulgarian capital.

Lars: "Dr. Bag and the Pomade Nature Giants"
Mike: Four track improv plus Matt's giant bass and drums. Includes scrambled lyrics.

Lars: Can you tell me a little about living in San Francisco?
Mike: It's getting to be more and more rich guy turf with the chorus of new luxury high rises and tons of Bio-tech capital. I keep getting cut off by Prius drivers when I'm working, they drive like post 9-11 firemen, strange entitlement with their moves. But still, it's a beautiful place and if you know where to look you can find cheap eats and living.

Lars: Where are you from and when did you move to SF?
Mike: I'm from Hinsdale, IL which is sheltered western suburban Chicago. I moved to SF on Halloween 1996 from D.C.

Lars: What's your perfect day off there consist of?
Mike: Coffee at Cafe Abir (to go!), breakfast at home with my girlfriend Amanda, thru the Panhandle to Amoeba for a low priced score as it opens at 10:30, "Hi" to Shayde there, bike downhill to pick up Eric Bauer in Chinatown, walk thru the Financial District for lunch at Tulan, back home for some quiet time with the cat, over to Hartman's for some recording in the basement, slow ride back home with the bike in Paul Allan's truck to the lady and the cat, cool and misty in our neighborhood now, order in take-out, eat it in bed, fall asleep watching Entourage or Withnail and I.

Lars: Can you talk about the metamorphosis of the band?
Mike: It all really started with a band called Mesh that was myself and Luke from Child Abuse. Our Woodsist 7" has a couple of tunes that were originally from that band. It was a keyboard/guitar/singing band and we would throw in recordings of noise over it live and it was always a disaster, except once or twice when we got Bobby Adams (Loach Fillet) to play drums for a show and it clicked for a second. When that band dissolved, a year or so passed before I became friends with Stonehouse and came up with the name Sic Alps. That was 2003-4 I guess. I gave Adam a tape I put together for Folding Cassettes called "Pre-Museum" which had primitive versions of "Reconnectionland" and maybe "Surgeon and the Slave" on it. He kinda liked it and quickly taped something over it. Soon after we recorded "Semi-Streets", which was the first thing we did together. We never practiced or played SF shows but pulled a very shitty U.S. tour with California Lightening (Jenny and Bianca from Erase Errata) and did a split 7" with them. Then I managed to get Stonehouse, Bianca (his then girlfriend), the eight track and a bevvy of gear borrowed off Eric Bauer into a rented minivan and drove up to a Mendocino vacation rental property and recorded the bulk of "Pleasures and Treasures" over 4 days. It was the beginning of the beginning and the end. When we got home we tried for a while to mix and put a record together, but Stonehouse and I split at that point for some pretty good reasons. Enter my personal savior Matt Hartman, who basically wrote to me when he heard the news of the split and said "I'm in your band." He then proceeded to mix, sequence, make the cover art and generally realize "Pleasures and Treasures." I was 34 and I had just finished my first album.

Lars: Can you talk about the songwriting process? Do you and Hartman write together?
Mike: I write the tunes and the lyrics and I bring 'em in, more or less, in a completed state. Then we usually record an acoustic guitar and the vocals to start and then flesh it out from there one track at a time. Sometimes Matt will play nearly all the instruments except the singing, that's been happening a lot lately and Matt always engineers the whole thing. We always use the same set-up, which is an 8-track, one mic, one cheap pre-amp, an old reverb tank and a memory man pedal. The big variable becomes mic placement.

Lars: How much does he contribute to guitars/songs/lyrics? Can you talk about his input into the recordings?
Mike: Even though I could play you the tune I wrote before we record it, we really write em 50/50 'cause Matt's in charge of how the song is gonna come across in a lot of ways. It's a successful division of labor.




Lars: On "Message From the Law" was the Kinks quote intentional or an accident? I remember hearing that riff the first time and being excited you were covering it and then more excited you had the balls to sing your own lyrics over the top of that riff! Genius!
Mike: Yeah, that song was written without the riff and I guess maybe the wayI was playing it sort of suggested that riff from "Come On Now" by the Kinks, but not too much really. When I played it for Matt he realized the chords matched and played that over it. At first I was like "Nah, you don't wanna do that", but yeah once we recorded the riff it clicked for me too.

Lars: Can you tell me about the "amp tower"?
Mike: The amp tower is a Coachwhips inspired sound system put together by Matt that's a stack of our amps and PA. We call it the Monolith and it's basically loud enough for a small room and in a club we mic it.

Lars: Who did the "Semi-Streets" video? Did you say that the idea came from a dream when you were traveling or something?
Mike: I did that video with Kim West, but yeah, the idea came when I was traveling on a bus in a foreign land, thats the reason for the maps.

Lars: Who did "A Story Over There"?
Mike: I made that myself on my new computer. Also just finished one for "Bells".

Lars: Please tell me about "Semi-Streets", inspiration, etc...
Mike: I was trying to copy the Dead C very blatantly. Lyrics were inspired by SF grafitti writers, title from a misread "Semi Steel" manhole cover.

Lars: Are you still gardening? What are you growing in there?
Mike: Spring is coming and you can tell...I got a bunch of herbs, collard greens, brussel sprouts, leeks, escarole, artichoke, a new avocado tree, some catnip for the cat.

Lars: Do you exercise?
Mike: Outside of riding my bike around, not at the moment. But marathoning definitely saved my life a few years ago and I still got that positive mindset going if you get my drift.

Lars: What is your take on cigarettes?
Mike: They blow.

Lars: Weed vs. speed?
Mike: Weed wins again!

Lars: What is Folding Cassettes? What do you think the BEST thing on there is?
Mike: It's this cassette label I've been doing since 2001. It slowed down a lot in 2007 but two new ones are finishing up right now- a live Sic Alps tape from a WFMU session and a spoken word thing from Mikey Wild from Philadelphia. I can't really pick a best, but if you go to foldingcassettes.net there's around six hours of free music up there.

Lars: What new bands do you like?
Mike: I like the Black Lips, Blues Control, Times New Viking, Psychedelic Horseshit, the new Ohsees record on Tomlab is great and who else? The Intelligence!

Lars: What have you been listening too latley?
Mike: 50s-early 60s vocal group, doo wop, R&B stuff...check out KPOO (SF listener supported radio) Sunday and Monday nites especially...go to KPOO.com and search out the Autumn King and Grinders Groove Yard shows.

Lars: What is next for you guys?
Mike: We got a US tour April 25 - May 25 and Europe in the fall. "A Long Way Around to a Shortcut" CD on Animal Disguise which compiles all the outta print stuff is out in May as well as a new 7" on Important. New album on Siltbreeze, "U.S. EZ", coming out in August!

Bonus question from The Editor, because I had to ask: What inspired the song "Arthur Machen"? Was it sort of random or were you reading him at the time? What are the lyrics?
Mike: Yeah, I was reading 'The Hill of Dreams' when we named the tune...it was kind of random, like the song called for a setting of fog and weird lighting you can find in that book...

ARTHUR MACHEN
gone, by sail
3 months, it's bigger here
trees, precious few
something to do
i heard them squeal
"i'll never peel"

black was the night
that i know
Church Steps and bells
fortunes and tongues
a litte pair
but I'm not there

coldly they led
down endless stairs
"you're car is waiting, Sir
abandon your cares"
i was a block of air
just standing there

END INTERVIEW






DISCOGRAPHY
'Semi-Streets' cassette single (Folding)
split 7" w/California Lightening (CITY)
'Soft Tour in Rough Form' 12" (Mt.St.Mtn)
'Teenage Alps' cassette (Animal Disguise)
'Pleasures & Treasures' LP/CD (Animal Disguise)
'Semi-Streets' 7" (Skulltones)
'Description of the Harbor' 12" (Awesome Vistas)
'Strawberry Guillotine' 7" (Woodsist)
'A Long Way Around to a Shortcut' CD (Animal Disguise)(upcoming)
'United' 7" (Important)(upcoming)
'Fool's Mag' cassette (Folding)(upcoming)

Sic Alps on the web.

Pics borrowed from the Sic Alps webpage, if anyone would like a credit please contact the editor.


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