Fables of the Reconstruction

Local Indie/Blues/Punk/Roots trio The Sundresses redefines itself on new double album

A lady exits her SUV holding an umbrella that had opened (and then broke) inside her vehicle. Holding the broken umbrella, she waddles over to the nearest garbage can to throw it away. This is garbage (redefined).

From humble improvisational beginnings with more of those good ol’ shining naturals than you could shake a bloody dollar bill at, it was sometime in 2002 when The Sundresses became the big name on the flyer and began capturing eyes, ears and minds almost immediately. Bearing unconventional songwriting styles of Blues and old-fashioned Garage Country/Punk grit, the band quickly became local favorites of bohemians citywide but retained potential to draw average Joes and Janes from Mount Adams Pavilion to the dirty alleys of Northside.

It’s Us vs. Them around these parts, and all you have to do is open your ears. It’s listening (redefined).

Originally wanting to be referred to as The Coats, they soon discovered the name was occupied. Makenzie Place, sitting to the side during our interview and flip ping a bronze butterfly knife back and forth with the ease of a Barrio Princess, is the heart and soul of the band. She secured her spot when she picked up a bass and belted out an impromptu rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Place had another idea for a band name, suggesting The Sundresses as an identity. After a few giggles from bandmates Brad Schnittger and Remy Springer, they came around and took the name for their own. Grabbing the bull by the horns, they had their first show booked before their first practice.

“When we first started, we were the worst band on paper ever!” Springer says. Known for his love of expensive vodka and addiction to the Sims video game, Springer considers flimsy lawn chairs draped in flashing Christmas bulbs his first choice of seating and will talk in length of this passion.

“I was in this Metal band (Beel Jak), Brad was in a College Rock band and (Makenzie) had never been in a band,” he says of the Sundresses’ unlikely genesis. “We wanted to do something we’d never seen another band do.” This is action (redefined). Schnittger, thumbing through a copy of Sports Illustrated and writing inspirational leftist slogans over top the nicely laid-out full-color shots of Olympic medalists, quickly looks up and interjects: “Something stupid and great!” The room quickly erupts into laughter, and Schnittger returns to his magazine and writes “Zheropian” above an Angolan handball player’s picture.

Shortly after those early raucous shows where the band forged its sound and themes — love of felines, distrust of corporate entities, an appreciation for murder and multiple references to political hot topics — their debut album, The Only Tourist in Town (2002) erupted onto a Cincinnati scene wanting, needing and expecting something new. Something fresh. Something different.

The Sundresses became delivered (redefined). It could be argued if/when/how The Sundresses coined the term “My Friend” for the city’s underground population and gave the fair citizens a new way to refer to each other and themselves. Still, it’s all redundant and remains arguable over many cans of drink and many kinds of smoke.

Following Tourist, the band hit the road, as bands do. They used their debut CD to bolster appearances at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Tex., and explored the hole-in-the-wall circuit to garner a following. It was around this time that they departed for their self-described “Success Tour” and learned a new definition of success.

This is success (redefined). To touch on a hurtful subject for all those new eyes and minds out there, The Sundresses were ripped off. While in Louisville, they were robbed of everything except their instruments and the clothes on their backs.

Setting a new standard for the term “struggle,” the band treaded onward and upward, channeling their angst into a new offering that they hastily began working on. Barkinghaus, as it would become known, would quickly become a declaration of war, taking the listener several levels beyond Tourist. Into the middle of a deep, deep, oh-so-deep puddle.

The Sundresses would pull back several times throughout the effort that would become Barkinghaus, each time regrouping and pulling themselves together to redefine what they wanted to do. Work on Barkinghaus officially began in 2006. Springer explains the band’s thoughts on the big three factors that concerned them: time, money and quality. Of these, the band quickly considered time the one they couldn’t beat, so they decided to refrain from schedules.

Instead, they focused on making the best record possible. That’s why it’s the tail end of 2008 and we, the collected masses, are just now on the eve of its release.

While recording, the band put a call out to local friends and allies for guest spots on the recording — an idea Springer admits was his. He also admits it could have turned out horribly wrong.

“I thought, man, we’re trying to capture lightning in a bottle here,” he says, “and it’s a good thing cause we got a room full of wizards.”

Brian Niesz, the engineer of Barkinghaus who’s commonly referred to as the fourth Sundress, steps in with a witty metaphor for the new CD, calling it a four-legged beast, with the third leg being the overdubbing and the guest spots. The aforementioned wizards include Doctor Rocker Johnny Walker, Ricky Nye, Jake Speed and his band The Freddies (of which Schnittger was once a member), Andy Jody and Carter Braton.

Other possibilities would be addressed, but the band ended up reorganizing what The Sundresses are and joining it with Schnittger’s All Night Party concept (a political “party” he’d developed for a faux campaign to become Cincinnati’s mayor) into a new entity that’s responsible for the release and well-being of the band and Barkinghaus. It should also be noted that Schnittger taught himself how to play piano during this time, so in more ways than one the process was time well spent.

This is natural (redefined). Initial samplings of Barkinghaus reveal a new Sundresses, ripe with hostility and playing each song like it’s their last will and testament.

Barkinghaus is protest and revelry. It’s shame, hope, humor and glory. It’s spiteful. It’s revealing. It’s lyrical prophesizing to guitar, bass, drums and trombone. It’s Blues, Bluegrass, Punk, Garage Rock and/or Roll. It’s brutally honest, and each song has such a familiar sound that you swear it’s a cover, but it’s not. The Sundresses are that good. Schnittger shares a personal note about Barkinghaus, but it’s allowed because, as it turns out, the title comes from one of his titled nightmares, of which he doesn’t want to share details.

“Barkinghaus is a personal diary, an artistic expression of all the things that terrify me,” he says, “specifically within the past Bush administration and the things that have happened culturally and economically, to name just a couple of things.”

This is scary (redefined). There are 14 official tracks on the two disc set. Springer delivers a tasty morsel about one track in particular, “King Killer of Murder Town.” He explains that during the second verse of the song you can hear a siren go pass as he sings, “You build them up and you burn them down.” It’s just one of the magical occurrences that came as a result of foregoing a rigor ous schedule. His timing in the song, as it would turn out, was off. This is magic (redefined).

THE SUNDRESSES (thesundresses.com) release Barkinghaus Saturday at the Southgate House with special guests The Turnbull ACs, The Lions Rampant, mallory and Roundhead.

They play the MidPoint Music Festival Sept. 27 at The Subway.

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