COURTNEY HOLT HAS AN IMPORTANT announcement to make. Sitting in a glow-in-the-dark bowling alley somewhere in
Koreatown, the Sissy Bar guitarist and
songwriter takes a sip from his fluorescent vodka and tonic, then addresses his assembled bandmates. “I had a sour cinnamon bear today,” he says. “I've never had one before. It had the red-hot flavor, but with a sour coating.”
Seated around him, Courtney's bandmates — vocalist Joy Ray, bassist Anne Kadrovich and keyboardist Mary Ellen
Mason — chime in collectively with an
enthusiastic “Wow!” Clearly, this is big news in the Sissy Bar camp. Yet the verdict isn't entirely positive.
“It wasn't great,” he says. “It was just an 'okay' bear.”
Some bands are in it for the glory, some are in it for the greenbacks, while others still are in it for the groupies. The guys and gals of Sissy Bar, however, are in it strictly for the candy. “Sour,” the lead-
off track on the band's new Songs for Peeps (Moo-Tron), is a tribute to the impressive variety of sour worms available at interstate truck stops, while the instrumental
interlude “Pocky & Sake” was partially
inspired by the chocolate-covered bread sticks sold in supermarkets near the Monastery, the Koreatown studio where the album was recorded. And then there's the gently grooving “Peeps,” which refers not only to the hip-hop slang for pals, but also to the marshmallow Easter birds of the same name.
But sweetness is really only one part of the Sissy Bar equation; since forming in 1994, the band has usually managed to offset its mellifluous indie-pop sound with lyrical themes that are either unsavory or just plain strange. This duality has manifested itself not only in a winsome cover
of Snoop Dogg's “Gin and Juice” (included on Satutory Grape, the band's full-length 1996 debut), but also in new songs like “Cop & Friend” (about “an alcoholic power-tripping badass cop and his mute partner,” according to Courtney) and “Yardboat,” in which an abandoned sailboat is hauled off to the desert and burned. As with much of Sissy Bar's material, “Yardboat” is based on a true story.
“Brad [Kluck, Sissy Bar's banjo player] had a friend who bought a 22-foot sailboat,” says Courtney. “He goes, 'Brad, I've got this boat and it's got some dry rot. Can I park it at your house and work on it?' The plan was that the guy would come by every weekend, but over four or five months he slowly lost interest in it. Finally, he says, 'I can't make this boat work. If you want to take it to the desert and light it on fire for one of your videos, go ahead.' So we wrote a song about taking a boat to the desert and lighting it on fire, but the guy decided at the last minute to donate it to charity. I was like, 'That sucks — we could have totally burned that boat!' We had the film and everything.”
“We like our songs to be cute,” says Joy, “but there's a difference between cute and precious. A lot of times people just see the presentation, and they think we're singing about lunch boxes. This time we decided to really enunciate our words and print a lyric sheet, so people would get it.”
There have been other changes as well. Produced by Tom Grimley (Beck, Rentals, Geraldine Fibbers), Songs for Peeps is far more self-assured than its 3-year-old predecessor; the band (which also includes drummer Patrick Simpson) has jelled considerably in the interplay department, and Grimley's experienced ear has helped put Sissy Bar in touch with its latent conciseness. With the notable exception of “Daisy Putter,” a five-minute epic with a boys'-chorus coda, the album's songs are as cool and crisp as a York Peppermint Patty.
“We're kinda lazy,” Joy admits. “When we went into a verse, we'd allow ourselves a few bars for everyone to catch up. Tom got rid of all those places. He just smushed everything together.”
DESPITE SUCH ADMISSIONS OF SLACKness, all six members are working hard on preparations for their forthcoming record-release party. Not only are they actually rehearsing for it (“Normally we just try to practice once before a show,” says Joy), but the band has also been combing the city for out-of-season marshmallow Peeps. Anne is even sculpting a giant Peep, though she still hasn't figured out how to transport it to the gig. According to Joy, such commitment comes naturally.
“We can't stop doing Sissy Bar,” she says. “Sometimes we think that we should, but we can't walk away from it, because it has a life of its own. None of us are in charge of it, and none of us control it. We just all have to be there for it.”
Sissy Bar appears at Spaceland on Monday, June 7. Free.
SISSY BAR | Songs for Peeps | (Moo-Tron)