Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: Span of Sunshine’s Steve Koziol celebrates his new babies

Wednesday, October 08, 2014
“I was ambitious,” said Steve Koziol, vocalist/guitarist of the western Masssacusetts-based quartet Span of Sunshine. “‘Let’s get this done before the baby’s born!’”

He’s referring to the group’s new five-song EP, “Ray of June,” and the baby is daughter June, who arrived on Dec. 1, the first child for Koziol and his wife/bandmate, Hilary Weiner.

The completed mini-album is available now at local record stores and Koziol is celebrating with a solo-ish performance at the Montague Bookmill Friday at 8 p.m., performing folk-style, in-the-round, trading songs with fellow singer/songwriters Katie Sachs and Chris Scanlon.

Weiner is hoping to be able to join Koziol for a handful of tunes. “It’s based on baby care, seriously,” he said. She wrote the EP’s title track, “Ray of June,” sings lead and “played guitar on it when she was nine months pregnant,” Koziol said. “Her fingers were swelled up, it was hurting her to play the chords.”

The dreamy song, which Koziol said “really allows you stretch out for a while,” is a slight departure from much of the rest of the Span of Sunshine catalog, which he described as having more of an “ADD feel” — musically and lyrically inventive pop music, full of quirky vocal harmonies and playful word combinations.

“Caterpillar Look” starts off the EP with a fun house of shifting chords, a circus waltz anchored by a rock rhythm. It sounds like early Of Montreal crossed with XTC, with Koziol and Weiner singing in unison, weaving through melodic mazes full of alliteration and internal rhymes, with lines like “In the sky is a butterfly / I’ve been wondering why we don’t call this flying bug a flutterby.”

One of the pieces of percussion used on the song is June’s baby rattle. Koziol and daughter were playing with it together and he loved the sound.

A calmer but no less playful song is “Already Leonard Cohen,” which confused Koziol’s mother when he gave her a copy of the CD. “What’s this?” she asked, looking at the song title. “That’s my friend Eileen’s husband!” (Leonard Cohen, besides being the name of a legendary Canadian singer-songwriter, is also apparently the name of a lawyer in her town of Pittsfield.)

Koziol originally found the lyrics for the song in a 20-year-old school notebook he was thinking of throwing out. He used 90 percent of the old words and rewrote the remainder, creating a tongue- and mind-twister. (“It must be easier to get to where you’re gonna get to / when you don’t care where you’re going.”)

The spark for the lyrics hit Koziol when he was “reading an article about Leonard Cohen meditating and I had a snide little comment to myself, ‘It must be easier to sit for 30 days without talking when you’re already Leonard Cohen.’ ”

Many clever rhymes for the singer’s name and references to his career pop up in the tune (“They’ll ask you to sing ‘Suzanne’ if they don’t sing it first”) but it’s not a joke song, and not exactly about him. It has beautiful harmonies, a relaxed rhythm and melody that mesmerizes, a mandolin/electric guitar solo from guest Joe Boyle, and lyrics that veer into talk of debt, corporations and war.

“Piece Together Peace Together,” one of the earliest songs recorded for the project, has the manic energy Koziol usually brings to his bands (like Dingo Roi in the ’90s) — when he plays live, his upper body often hops, as though he’d be dancing with new-wave exuberance if he wasn’t already so busy playing and singing his own unique parts. But the tune also has dusky and toughly strummed acoustic guitars and the rich three- and even four-part harmonies he’s loved to help construct since he was a theater major at Berkshire Community College, singing the bass parts in “Guys and Dolls.”

“Answer the riddle, answer the rhyme / where can we go for peace in our time?” he and Weiner sing in unison. She responds with a wordless, almost weary sigh of a melody before everyone in the band bursts in with hurry-up harmonies: “Piece together peace together now!”

The whimsical artwork for the EP, loosely linked to some of the song lyrics on the record, was done by Koziol in ballpoint pen, with colored pencils added later. The record was engineered, mixed, mastered and co-produced by the great Norm DeMoura (who also worked with Span of Sunshine on its previous record, as well as the last bunch of NRBQ/Terry Adams releases) at his Harmonium Studio in Haydenville.

Now that “Ray of June” is out in the world, Koziol said the band has at least 10 other songs it performs at shows that haven’t been on any album yet, and may record and release another EP next year. He’s also hoping to score a piece for two tubas, hammered dulcimer, saxophone and more horns (played by bandmates from his other group, Vimana).

In the meantime, he’s singing the Beach Boys’ “All Summer Long” and other personal favorites to June, who inspired the name of the EP when Koziol and Weiner were playing with the idea of naming her “Rhea June” instead of the other way around.

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.