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Clubland: The Capitulators and The Sighs

  • The Capitulators Peter Sax

  • The Sighs


Thursday, September 07, 2017

When The Capitulators come crashing in together at the top of their song “You Sleepers,” it feels so good — a shoegaze slam of emotion and volume. The electric guitars have fuzz and shimmer, the rhythm section punches and swerves. Vocalist/guitarist/frontman Peter Sax buries some lyrical melancholy in the band’s roar: “My black hole heart won’t let any light out.”

It’s one of three strong songs that make up the band’s debut EP, “Seance,” and the quartet (Sax on vocals and guitar, Anand Nayak on guitar, Josh Levy on bass and Noam Schatz on drums) will celebrate the record’s release with a show at the 13th Floor Music Lounge in Florence on Saturday at 9 p.m. Also on the bill are Donut Kings (from West Springfield, MA).

Sax and Schatz played together for almost a decade in Mobius Band. When the group broke up in 2009, Sax worked in web development for progressive nonprofits, started a family, and didn’t pick up an instrument for about five years. When he did, he grabbed a guitar instead of his usual bass (“because it’s more fun when you’re alone,” he wrote in The Capitulators’ bio on Bandcamp). He became obsessed with the instrument and new songs started happening.

For a while, he made music the modern way, alone with his computer and headphones, but he left the digital simulators behind and bought a small 1965 Silvertone amplifier. As he said in the bio, “It sounded a lot better than software and headphones. Duh.”

Clubland spoke with Sax last week.

Clubland:  Your early description of The Capitulators was “a sad, loud band.” Why the sad? And why do “sad” and “loud” go so well together? 

Sax:  Why the sad indeed! There’s a question I’d love to answer. I’ve always had a strong melancholy streak. My favorite songs as a kid were always the most intense, melodramatic ones. I remember listening to “Bad” (from U2’s album “The Unforgettable Fire”) when I was probably eight or nine, just obsessively, over and over again. Still true: the songs that really mean the most to me are the darkest. “I Dream a Highway” by Gillian Welch. “Stringman" by Neil Young. “Not Dark Yet” by Dylan. Music has always been about the big questions for me, from the very beginning. 

The loudness, it’s like a big pillow, this comforting delicious enormity that you can just melt away into. There's nothing else but the sound.

Clubland:  Something about The Capitulators’ music maybe has a little Catherine Wheel in it, or at least it could have fit in with that early-’90s era … was this powerful shoegaze “enormity” something you had in mind from the beginning, alone with your headphones and simulators, or how did it develop and grow once you got into real-world noisemakers and fellow human beings?

Sax: I’ve always been into a sort of maximal sound. I didn’t really set out to emulate anything, it was much more about spending time listening to the guitar and gravitating toward the sound I wanted to hear: a clear, bright guitar with the bridge pickup off, picked over the fretboard for a flute-like, mellow sound, overdriven enough to be fuzzy but not so much as to lose the chord, with a warbly, dreamy effect, layered upon itself. I bought and sold five or six guitars, mostly very cheap ones, and played as many as I could. Same with amps and effects. I wasn’t sure what I wanted at the outset, but when I heard it, I was positive I’d found it. The sound I wanted didn’t change when I got a real amp and started to turn up, it just felt better and better.

Clubland: You said you stopped writing and playing for a while — what made you start again? 

Sax: I think I stopped because with Mobius Band, writing had become something I had a responsibility to do. We had invented a style for ourselves but it became very restricting. I had lost the connection to the reasons why I ever wrote music to begin with. In time those feelings of struggle and failure faded, and when I picked up the guitar again, the magic of it had returned, the same feeling I had as a kid sneaking into my brother’s room to play his guitar. I don’t think I set out to start writing again, it just took five years before picking up the guitar felt good again. And when I began playing and recording bits and pieces, it felt so liberating to not be doing it for any purpose other than its own. 

In high school I was very lucky to have a chorus teacher named Brad Wells (who now teaches at Williams College and leads a Grammy-winning avant-garde vocal ensemble called Roomful of Teeth). We sang a mass by the composer Frank Martín that was just gorgeous. The backstory I remember (and I won’t Google it for fear I’m remembering it wrong) was that the manuscript was found in a desk drawer after he died, with a note on it that said it was between him and God. I’m not religious but that has always stuck with me and was very much in mind as these songs started to take shape. I had to believe no one would hear them or they wouldn’t come out.

The Capitulators’ debut EP “Seance” is available now on their Bandcamp page, thecapitulators.bandcamp.com

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Speaking of new albums, tomorrow The Sighs release their first LP in over 20 years, “Wait On Another Day.” The close-knit lineup remains the same (vocalist/guitarist Robert LaRoche, lead guitarist and vocalist Matt Cullen, bassist/vocalist Tommy Pluta and drummer Tom Borawski), and the album’s 11 songs have a unique origin story. Cullen found a box of old tapes containing Sighs demos, and the band was inspired to revisit some of the songs with the help of its longtime producer John DeNicola. They’d only planned to record a handful of tunes, but they were on such a roll, they finished an album. The final product includes a live version of their ’90s hit “Think About Soul,” recorded at a Holyoke reunion show last fall. The Sighs’ “Wait On Another Day” will be available  on iTunes and CD Baby.