THE BOSTON PHOENIX - 02.12.98
From "Cellars by Starlight"
The pop gene pool has a way of regenerating itself when necessary. Just when it seems that every possible catchy tune has been written, somebody comes along, writes a few more and convinces you that you've needed to hear them all along. Often it will be a young band who are just discovering the charms of chiming guitars and chorus hooks and who make you feel you're doing the same.
The local (by way of western Massachusetts and New York) quartet Star Ghost Dog are the latest example -- and, with the release this week of their debut CD, Happylove (Catapult), they're one of the brighter ones in town. Granted, the band aren't all that newly hatched: leaders Ginny Weaver and Brendan Lynch met each other at college in 1992 (he went to Hampshire, she to UMass), became a romantic couple soon after, and lived through each other's fledgling stabs at guitar. By the time they moved to Boston two years ago, after a post-college stay in New York, they were ready to make a serious stab at band-launching. "We spent two years playing to nobody before Catapult came along," Lynch offers. "Now we're still playing to nobody, but at least we've got a record out."
Two parts pop giddiness and one part wry cynicism, Happylove stays on the right side of the thin line between charming and just cute. At times it suggests a more modern Fuzzy or a harder-edged Papas Fritas; at others it harks back to Mitch Easter's work with Let's Active (especially in Pete Weiss's sharp and spare production). The band revel in hummable choruses and perky, mostly female vocals, but there's always a little grit to undercut the sweetness. And it's usually the words that counteract the innocence of the music. "Heroin Face," the track getting college airplay, professes wide-eyed love for a junkie. Drug or alcohol references recur in half the 12 songs, notably in "Plus de Vaches," which tells this touching story: "I think I met you when I was drunk, I had a hairdo, I was so coked up . . . I've got a hot tub and I don't want to be alone." They say they meant the song as a disco takeoff, but it came out sounding more like Fleetwood Mac, so the joke still works. "
A lot of it's just assuming a narrative voice," Weaver explains when I meet up with the band at Cambridge's Thirsty Scholar pub. "Most of it's not personal, though some of the alcohol references are definitely rooted in experience." The band's two founders are the proverbial study in contrasts: Weaver is shy and soft-spoken, in short hair and horn-rims; Lynch is long-haired and outgoing. "A lot of people wonder how we can write so many anti-love songs if we're in a relationship, and I never know how to answer that," he offers. "But whenever we get into a songwriting lull, I try to do something to piss Ginny off."
The pair try not to think too much about the songwriting process, figuring they're lucky enough at this stage to come up with a set's worth of material that they like. "Believe me, we wrote five million bad songs before we had 10 decent ones," Lynch notes. But they'll admit that if something sounds ironic, it probably is. "Plus de Vaches" was intended as a stab at their parents' record collections; the non sequitur title translates as "More Cows." And "Heroin Face" was intended as a stab at junkie chic, though it's been taken more seriously (notably in local 'zine the Noise, which called it an egregious lapse in taste). "We've had people thinking we were junkies because of it," Weaver says. "It's about an attitude that seemed prevalent in the wake of Nirvana," Lynch adds. "When we put it on our first demo, we hedged and called it 'Heroine Face,' but then we realized that was lame."
The band line-up has already changed since the album, where Weaver did most of the guitar and Lynch the bass; they now split guitar duties since full-time bassist Pete Descharmes has come aboard. And drummer Tom Green has been replaced by Chris Foley, the former Bulkhead/SSD member who's been a mainstay of Jen Trynin's band for the past three years. One of the better drummers in Boston, Foley must also be the unluckiest one: he's been sidelined by injury at the start of Trynin's last two tours. Most recently, he broke his shoulder in a fluke bicycle accident on Comm Ave, just weeks before the release party for Gun Shy Trigger Happy (Warner Bros.). Trynin then brought drummer Steve Scully in as a temporary replacement but wound up making it permanent. "I'm not going to say it was a painless split, but there were certain realities," Foley says. "Everybody has to bounce back. Steve turned out to be a good fit, and I had to concentrate on healing."
Fortunately, Foley also makes a good fit with Star Ghost Dog, to whom he was recommended by Letters to Cleo manager Michael Creamer. "Quite frankly, I saw a buzz and figured I could ride in on their coattails," Foley says. He still has a pin in his shoulder, but he's had enough physical therapy to resume drumming. "Wish I could say it was something macho like a motorcycle accident, but it was a three-speed with a banana seat and a sissy bar. I was over by the BU bridge, and my front wheel just locked into a rut and threw me off." Before doing any touring with his current band, he resolves to be very, very careful.
"We got him in the band so we could be more like Def Leppard," Lynch deadpans. The notion of being a local buzz band still sounds farfetched to the members of SGD, though they've gotten to open for some of their favorite local bands (their first Middle East show was with Fuzzy, Brilliantine, and Trona), and they're currently helping to put the upstart Catapult label on the map.
"This is going to come off negatively," Weaver notes, "but a lot of our motivation came from listening to the radio and thinking, `This is ridiculous, we can do this.' " But as Lynch points out, "We can't be a buzz band yet, because we haven't gotten paid for our last three shows."
- Brett Milano