The one-sheet that accompanies State Song’s sophomore album, Sleepcrawling, notes that it’s the Cincinnati band’s second album in four years. Although technically correct, frontman and primary songwriter Scot Torres laughs at that characterization of the trio’s recording timeline.
“In year one we put out a record and in year four we put out a record,” the vocalist/multi-instrumentalist says over beers at the Listing Loon in Northside. “But that is two albums in four years.”
State Song’s debut, 2010’s Dear Hearts & Gentle People, was greatly acclaimed upon release for its expansive vision of angst-ridden ’90s Prog/Pop, but in retrospect Torres admits that it was a limited view of the band’s potential. The trio began recording almost as soon as State Song coalesced as an actual band.
“We made that first record right out of the gate,” Torres says. “I think we were maybe six months in. You always have that new energy with a new project, and in my case it was people I’d never played with before, so it was everybody’s influences and a snapshot of what we were all into versus what we like doing. It was a hodge-podge mash-up of everyone’s styles. Not to sound selfish, but I think this is more my artistic license and it’s a very cohesive idea of what I want to do in music.”
Part of State Song’s more distilled and focused sound on Sleepcrawling could be attributed to Torres’ maturation as a songwriter and performer, but personnel shifts have also had a profound impact on the band. Original drummer Justin Sheldon departed almost immediately after the release of Dear Hearts & Gentle People, and was replaced by George Jesse; when Jesse left in 2010, bassist Matt Hemingway shifted to drums. Audio whiz Steve Wethington, who engineered and mixed the first album, stepped into the bass role with Hemingway’s move to drums, and Hemingway’s 2012 departure opened the door for gifted tubthumper Chris Pennington last year; he arrived in time to do three shows in three months and then dive head first into recording the album last August.
“With every lineup, good or bad, it’s always sort of reinvented itself based on that,” Torres says. “Depending on who’s back there, everything has a little different swing or kick to it.”
Another big difference between State Song’s first and second albums is the band’s relationship with the songs themselves. On Dear Hearts, the songs were still in a fairly fluid condition when the band took them into the studio, while the Sleepcrawling material had not only been played out for some time, it had even been recorded.
“On the first record, those songs weren’t set in stone when they started recording,” Wethington says. “On this record, we played those songs a million times. We were sick of playing them before we went to the studio.”
“We actually recorded them one day — probably better sound quality than a lot of people’s albums — in our practice space, like a year and a half ago,” Torres says. “Just to make sure everything was how it needed to be represented in the real studio.”
Personnel shifts and time spent honing the material clearly lengthened the gap between albums, but after completing work on Sleepcrawling, State Song suffered one last setback.
“The record release was supposed to be in March but we weren’t making enough (copies), so the vinyl company bumped our record to make all the Record Store Day releases,” Torres says with a weary laugh. “We’re done, everything’s paid for, we’re supposed to be shipping and they’re like, ‘It’s gonna be a little later.’ So we scramble, cancel the listening party, cancel the date at the venue, try to get another date. I’m glad to say we do have records for the release show — I think that’s a key ingredient for a good release show.”
Dear Hearts inspired comparisons to early Radiohead and Sunny Day Real Estate, and those elements have deepened and broadened on Sleepcrawling, touched with hints of Glam-era David Bowie and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd years. Torres’ stint with The Invitational, Wethington’s band experiences (with Short Millie and Humans Bow Down, among others) and audio expertise and Pennington’s intuitive rhythmic feel have helped to create exciting new possibilities for State Song.
“Since we started working together, I’ve never had (Wethington) present an idea that didn’t make the song better,” Torres says. “Sometimes I know exactly what he’s thinking, sometimes it’s completely unexpected and I never would have thought to construct it that way. Chris is the same way. And that is exciting to have.”
“As the bass player, Chris is a real interesting guy to play with,” Wethington says. “He never plays what I would expect. I have to hear it two or three times, and I go, ‘OK, weird.’ And then I can play to it.”
While Torres admits that his life experiences inform his songs, he’s quick to point out that they’re not necessarily autobiographical.
“I’m really proud of this record, but the things that spawned the songs, that made me write those words, are personal but they’re not personally about me,” he says. “They’re like triggers. I like that cathartic, dark, uplifting thing, and it works.”
Not surprisingly, in addition to crafting the material on Sleepcrawling, State Song has written a batch of recent songs that will likely find inclusion on its upcoming third album. Whenever that might be.
“We’re happy to put this record out, but the momentum of the new stuff we’re doing for No. 3 has us excited about that,” Torres says. “I think for us, the deliberate, slow pace is good. We do soundscapes very well; we did a lot of effectology on this new one. The last track (‘Repeated’), all of that tone that sounds like a synthesized envelope guitar pedal — it’s not really meant to be used how I used it and that’s how I got that sound. Making records and making everything roll together, even if the songs are different, that’s a strong point for us.”