Friday, October 19

Q&A: SIRSY duo talk about their dynamics, signing to a label


Celia Kelly

SIRSY’s sound is bigger than they are.

Listening to them play live, one can hear all the components of a typical rock group: vocals, guitar, bass, drums and, on occasion, even some flute playing. What makes this noteworthy, is the fact that SIRSY is a duo.

Formed as a band in Albany, N.Y., in 2000, SIRSY spent its early years cycling through members, mostly guitarists and drummers, all the while maintaining its two founders: Melanie Krahmer (vocals, drums, flute and bass) and Rich Libutti (guitar, bass and backing vocals). Thirteen years and five studio albums later, the band is now firmly and happily a duo, and has developed a dynamic live show featuring the use of synth pads and foot-played keyboards in order to divide the responsibilities of a full band between the two of them. Their latest album, “Coming into Frame,” was released March 5 and marks their debut with label Funzalo Records. Daily Bruin’s Nick LaRosa caught up with the duo after its show at L.A.’s The Viper Room to talk about the perks of signing to a label and the journey from duo, to band and back again.

Daily Bruin: How did you come up with the name SIRSY?

Melanie Krahmer: SIRSY is actually a nickname of mine. When I was a little kid, my sister couldn’t say Sissy so she would call me Sirsy. So that’s what we named the band.

DB: After years of writing and recording independently, what motivated you two to decide to sign with Funzalo Records to record your fifth studio album, “Coming into Frame”?

MK: Well you know, there’s only so far that you can grow when you’re doing everything yourself, and as much as that’s served us well because the two of us are major control freaks, we decided that we had gone as far as we could go being completely DIY, and we needed some help.

Rich Libutti: There’s just not enough time in the day, you know? Between doing the shows, writing the songs and the creative stuff, and then the business aspect of it: the bookings, the promotion, it’s a lot. So having a label really helps with that side of stuff and they don’t get in our way creatively, which is really cool.

DB: Is the album’s title then, in some sense, a declaration of its intended effect? Like fellow New Yorker Babe Ruth, are you calling your shot, hoping that this album puts the band into the “frame” of the public eye?

MK: I never really thought of it that way before! But that’s a great metaphor, I like that. It comes from a song on the album called “Picture” – it’s a line from that song. I guess we really felt that this is a point in our life where things are really coming into focus. For artists, an album is oftentimes a snapshot of a moment in time, where they are in life, so it seemed appropriate.

DB: The album has a lot of varying sounds to it. One moment the listener may want to compare you guys to the White Stripes or the Black Keys, and then songs like “Picture” have an almost Blink-182 sound to them. If you were to assemble a description of yourselves, Frankenstein style, through bands that you draw influence from, how would you describe yourselves?

MK: Oooh, that’s a good question.

RL: All those bands you mentioned are bands that we love and listen to.

MK: Yeah, the Black Keys and the White Stripes are two of our favorite bands. We also like other bands that are not duos (laughs). We love the Beatles. Whenever we get stuck writing a song we’re always like, “What would the Beatles do here?” and we kind of try to learn from them. We’re also big fans of Mutemath, the Crash Kings …

RL: Muse … I mean we don’t necessarily sound like any of those bands.

MK: Right, they’re all doing those sounds, their sounds as best as they can be done, so why imitate? You gotta do your own thing. You know?

DB: SIRSY hasn’t always been a duo. Over the years you guys have cycled through about seven other members. Does it change the writing dynamic to only have two in the band now? And would you say that’s for the better or …?

MK: Well we started, actually, as a two-person band, but we were acoustic, like more traditional, what you would expect when you hear duo. Rich played acoustic guitar and I sang and played hand percussion. But we were writing songs that needed to be played by a full band; they were indie rock songs. So we hired some people and in a short matter of a couple years we went through numerous guitar players and numerous drummers. I mean me and Rich were always the one who wrote the songs, so it didn’t really change the songwriting process. We’d write and they’d learn the parts.

RL: Going down to two made it much easier. When you’re in a band with people, you want to foster that band atmosphere, you know? But a lot of times it was like Melanie and I would write the songs to completion before showing them to the guys, so we were really open to change, but we kind of had to be, so there was always a lot of tension.

DB: You guys definitely have a different band setup when it comes to live performing (Melanie plays the drums while standing up, and the two switch off using either a sampler at Rich’s feet or a pad-sampler on Melanie’s drum kit to play bass parts live). Was this something you did intentionally in order to be different, or was it a necessary adjustment as the band’s lineup changed over the years?

MK: Definitely necessity. When you’re a singer it’s much easier to sing standing up, and when you’re a front-person for a band, the energy is much better when you’re standing up. So it just came from the two of us wanting to go back to being a duo, but still wanting to play all the parts and have a full band sound: That’s what led to Rich coming up with the idea of using the samplers for bass.

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