The spider senses have been taking us across the Atlantic to Chicago for some time now. A destination at the top of the tree with all things new music, to the point where readers of these pages may question whether Sun 13 is actually based in Liverpool or indeed the Windy City.
Rest assured, we haven’t decamped from Merseyside, but by the same token to ignore quality from elsewhere would be erroneous of us.
And with that we arrive at Lifeguard – yet another slab of quality spooling from pressing plants from across the pond.
The Chicago three-piece consists of guitarist/vocalist, Kai Slater, bassist, Asher Case (son of Brian Case, currently of FACS and formerly the brains behind underground staples, Disappears), and drummer, Isaac Lowenstein (who along with Asher was involved in an earlier incarnation of the much talked about Horsegirl – of which Lowenstein‘s sister, Penelope, is a part of).
While there’s a definite six degrees of separation thing going on here (at the time of this interview I failed to connect the dots that Asher was in fact Brian Case‘s son), make no mistake: Lifeguard are very much their own beast.
For music this proficient and considering the age of each band member, the first thing that springs to mind is Slint. While there are echoes of Tough & Go/SST homage, Lifeguard‘s music boasts a serious level of precociousness, starting with the release of their debut EP, In Silence and single, Tin Man, which followed shortly after.
Barely six months on and their debut LP, Dive followed in October last year.
While the edgy incursions of Fishnet, Drop:kick and the spoken-word sprawl of No Cloud sees Lifeguard emerge as something fresh and vital, it’s the back end of Dive where the band truly wins out.
With what the band describe as the “Pinkwater Suite”, Dive‘s final three tracks intertwine, creating a blustery atmosphere that rivals the exhilarating end to Unwound‘s Repetition.
Having only been together for under two years, the output Lifeguard have produced so far is an exhibition of their determination. A group that is ravenous, the bit very much between their teeth.
Today marks the release of more new music from the band – this time in the way of single, Receiver, which includes the B-side, Sun Ra Jane. Suffice to say, the pair of tracks continue the hot run of form on the back of Dive.
Last week, we caught up with the band for a chat.
Sun 13: Tell us about the history of Lifeguard. You all played in bands before. How did forming the band come about?
Lifeguard: “We all met at different times, and there were a lot of different bands happening around the middle of 2019 – Asher was previously in another Chicago band called Neptune’s Core, Isaac was playing intermittent percussion for his sister’s band Horsegirl, and Kai was (and still is) in his other band, Dwaal Troupe. These groups all had their own, very distinct sounds, and Lifeguard isn’t very similar to any of them.
“Before we met Kai, Isaac and Asher were rehearsing together in a really loose way; not taking things super seriously but hoping to work towards some sort of thing in the future. The way we all met was pretty funny; we were playing a show at Old Town School of Music (a music school that hosts events geared toward teenagers). Isaac and Asher were backing up an early Horsegirl line-up on drums and bass, and Kai’s Dwaal Troupe was playing right before.
“After the show, we all kind of found each other and exchanged information, and after talking virtually, we arranged a rehearsal with Kai adding guitar to Isaac and Asher’s drums and bass. It kind of worked immediately, and Lifeguard rehearsals started becoming regular soon after.
“The great thing is that it wasn’t just that we played music well together, it was clear that we got along and liked hanging out. That’s what makes a band work.”
S13: With your two new songs, Receiver and Sun Ra Jane, were they recorded at the same time as Dive or were they written and recorded in different sessions?
L: “They weren’t recorded in the same session as Dive. Dive was recorded in a single day in June of last year, and in January this year we recorded Receiver/Sun Ra Jane at Asher’s house.
“Receiver was written over the course of the last few months, starting around mid November and fully evolving into what is on the record really as we were recording it. Sun Ra [Jane] came together pretty quickly, and not very long before the recording session either. It was something that kind of came together easily, and we liked it a lot, so it’s what we ended up putting as the B-side.”
S13: What has it been like releasing all of Lifeguard’s music during lockdown? While you released the In Silence EP earlier in 2020, was there ever a thought of waiting out the pandemic and releasing Dive when you were able to tour?
L: “With Dive, it is something that is very reflective of how we were in the first year of our being a band – it was really important that we put those songs out when we did so that people can kind of see how we were progressing. In terms of touring, we aren’t really big enough to get any national traction, and this record is one that kind of came from the past year we had spent playing together; when we were playing shows, the songs on Dive were all we played.
“This meant that when we went into the studio to record the record, we really just wanted to get these songs that we had been playing out there. This unintentionally let us start fresh after Dive was released. We had more options for places to take the band, ’cause we weren’t confined to making songs that fit with our writing from a year ago.”
S13: Recording at Electrical Audio is a dream for most bands around the world. How did the opportunity to record Dive there come about?
L: “Recording at Electrical [Audio] was amazing! It was definitely something that was suggested by all of our families. The thing about Electrical is that it really is realistically geared towards musicians; it’s inexpensive, practical, and it’s in one of the most music rich cities in the states.
“There’s a lot a band can do when they come to Chicago, and recording at Electrical Audio is something that’s affordable and makes a lot of sense.”
S13: Despite the short space in time, there feels like a pretty big shift from the In Silence EP to Dive, sonically. Was that the intention or did it just play out that way?
L: “There are pretty big differences between Dive and In Silence -some of these came in the recording process, but I think that the biggest change was in how we mixed and produced it. In Silence was mixed by Jeremy Lemos, who recorded us, and it was an incredible process and we are really proud of those songs.
“However, we wanted our album to be something that we worked on for a while and to make it a big project of ours. We spent about two months mixing the record after recording it, so it ended up feeling like a more meaningful process and release.”
S13: Fishnet feels like it covers a wide range of the Lifeguard remit. How did that song come about?
L: “That song happened in a way that most of the songs on Dive did: it just started to sculpt itself. We don’t know how to describe this without sounding vague, but the process involved little communication besides just playing on the spot. We actually wrote Fishnet pretty close to the start of quarantine, and when revisiting it three months later, we changed a lot and really made it into what it is on the record.
“Fishnet is a song that we really just played with a lot until we got it sounding how we liked. It’s a great connector between the sound of our older and newer songs.”
S13: Drop:Kick has a real psychedelic feel to it, more so than the rest of the songs from Dive. What was the inspiration behind this song?
L: “Drop:Kick was written as a jam, and it never really matured past that. The actual performance of the song changed a lot between shows, but the general premise of the switch from 6/8 to 4/4 stayed throughout.
“This song is one that really relies on energy and the way we play it makes it different every time, especially because it has essentially no form. That’s what’s so interesting is that no matter how many times we play it, it never stays the same – it’s completely up to our energy at that point. So, each take we recorded had a slightly different form and feel (often depending on how late in the day we were recording). This leads to a more ambient feel, and we definitely wrote it with some psych influences in mind.”
S13: I would say that Dive becomes more experimental in the back end of the album. Was that an intentional ploy?
L: “Dive was recorded in one day, over the course of about 14 hours. It played out in that specific way, and we liked how it transformed more into the sort of sounds that we really initially built upon when first forming (less form-based and more communicative). We had the order of the album in mind when recording it, so the energy of the record gets looser and more improvisational.
“As the recording day went on, our moods shifted, and it definitely translated into the recordings. The ‘Pinkwater Suite’ is something that ends the album in a very broken sounding way, with the songs all connecting in at points but still feeling separate enough to generate differing emotion.”
S13: There are definite influences of Unwound in your music, most notably with the songs, No Cloud and Unfold. It’s odd because from an outsider’s perspective, a lot of East Coast and Midwest bands over the years don’t really mention Unwound in the conversation. There feels like an East/West Coast thing between them and Fugazi for some reason. What’s your take on that?
L: “We are definitely very influenced by both Fugazi and Unwound, and in our minds, it makes a lot of sense to list them next to each other. It is a bit funny that Unfold is perceived as being influenced by Unwound as we oddly drew a lot of inspiration from that CAN song, One More Night.
“The thing with Fugazi and Unwound is that the two bands represent a similar ethos and movement while remaining true to their origin. Fugazi is a very East Coast band, and that is reflected in their music, but Unwound reflects a similar sound while definitely remaining very true to the hardcore scene in Olympia.
“I think that as we draw influence from these two bands, we blend these sounds and create our own thing out of it.”
S13: Over the past couple of years, Chicago seems to be really thriving with great new music. Living in the city, do you sense that is the case, too?
L: “For sure. We know quite a few up-and-coming bands here, and it’s super exciting to see a ‘scene’ forming. It’s been especially cool to see Horsegirl, our close friends, gain popularity outside of the city.
“There are a lot of bands and labels coming out of the city who are doing great things, and we are really excited to be growing up with all of these things surrounding us. Born Yesterday and Trouble in Mind are two of the labels that are really cool and good to their bands, and knowing bands on these labels (Dummy and FACS, respectively), it is really interesting and instructive to see how everyone is growing together.”
S13: Chicago feels like the city in America where perhaps a lot of creative people who grew up in smaller Midwest towns have found themselves eventually gravitating towards. I think that’s one of the reasons why it has such a broad and rich music history. Would that be accurate in saying?
L: “That’s true, in a positive and negative way – the scene here is obviously very dense because of the sheer population, but it can sometimes overshadow other Illinois music scenes (as tends to happen with music in and around big cities). We can only hope that people don’t overlook other scenes.”
S13: What are the plans for Lifeguard in 2021?
L: “We hope to release another bunch of songs this year, and honestly our biggest goal is to just play a show. At this point, we aren’t focused on touring, but if opportunities begin to arise, we are definitely going to embrace them. This year is obviously still very up in the air, but we’re hopeful that everything is going to be getting calmer by the summer and autumn. Fingers crossed.”