Smile Politely

Changing from moment to moment

Bands have their ups and downs. There’s no way around that. Some have their moment in the spotlight and have great success, and others fall off the face of the Earth, never to be heard from ever again. We all have heard the stories about musicians falling apart and giving it all up. They exist within the world of touring, constant recording, hardly ever sleeping, and being in a car or van more times than not. It’s not always glamorous.

There are the ups: being signed to Polyvinyl Records, making a bunch of great records in a row that are recognized as great, touring and playing venues you probably never imagined you’d be able to play. Those are some positives. Although there are those highs, a low could’ve been taking time away from a band that had its time in the spotlight, and that could’ve been the end of it. Fred Thomas could’ve left those good things in the rearview mirror, but even he claims it was a matter of time before Saturday Looks Good To Me were back at it once again after he decided to start moving around and focusing on his own projects for a while.

There are life events that can alter the course of a group, and getting back on track is sometimes the most difficult part. In Thomas’ case, that doesn’t seem to be true. Lively as ever, he’s had time to work on other projects and he talks with us about being signed to Polyvinyl during the mid-00s, what he’s heard about C-U’s budding local house scene (yeah, people know about that shit — recognize), and how they are getting back on the horse they left behind not too long ago with their new record on Polyvinyl later this year. The world kind of works in cycles, doesn’t it? 

Smile Politely: What are your feelings coming back through C-U? How long has it been since your last visit?

Fred Thomas: Oh man, it’s been forever. I can’t even remember the last show SLGTM has played there, though I remember a lot of shows in 2004, 2005, and maybe even some later than that. My other band City Center did a sick house show in C-U in 2009, and that was a lot of fun. I love C-U and have a bunch of friends there, so it’s always a good time and a receptive audience. I’ve heard that the punk scene and house show/basement show scene is pretty amazing there right now, too, so I’m stoked to try to find some demo recordings while we’re in town.

SP: You all have been pretty quiet since your last release. What’s been going on in SLGTM camp these days?

Thomas: Yeah, the last release was in 2007, and the last show before a long break was in June of 2008 in London. Presently, there’s a whole new crew and we’re finishing work on a new album that should come out in the fall.

SP: There was a point where you actually “retired” from the band, but I have a feeling that was more of a break. What was going on in 20072008?

Thomas: I was always very careful to not say the band was broken up, because I knew it would be a matter of time before we played again. There have always been a lot of people in and out of the band, too, since the start, so it wasn’t a matter of someone leaving the group and it having to disband. It seemed unnecessarily final or serious to break it up publicly. That said, in 2006 I started moving around, ending up in Portland and then New York, before going back to Michigan eventually.

A lot of the other key players in SLGTM at that time were also having some life changes that made it harder for us to get together. For a band as relatively unknown as we have always been, we toured A LOT in our most active years, and it was really difficult to keep that going and try to maintain our lives as well. In 2008, I started focusing on City Center, which was just me at first and then just me and Ryan (Howard, who had played drums in SLGTM beforehand), so it was a lot easier to manage. Plus, touring so much, our music kind of lost the plot and ended up between worlds after a point. I wanted to try some new things and not completely alienate everyone who liked the band.

SP: What were the days like when you were signed to Polyvinyl?

Thomas: The early era of the band, like 2003–2006 was just nonstop touring, recording, and scrambling to get shit together, always. New songs, teaching songs to new band members, organizing tours or interviews, etc. I was super hung up on every little detail and honestly really, really concerned with what I thought public reception of the band was — to the point where it began to take away from the fun of making music. I see it in a lot of people who are doing music that gets a little bit of attention; there’s this weird grasp for some next rung of an imaginary ladder. It definitely became a consumptive thing for me, and while not entirely negative, that hyper-focus made for an imbalanced perspective.

SP: Where did the idea to re-release All Your Summer Songs for Record Store Day this year come from?

Thomas: It had been out of print on vinyl for a while, and Polyvinyl always does lots of cool releases for RSD, so they pressed some up and I think a lot of folks got a chance to grip that record for the first time.

SP: What are some of the things you remember most about C-U and the time the band spent here.

Thomas: The most standout show memory was when we came down without a drummer because I couldn’t get ahold of Steve, our drummer at the time. He just didn’t ever get back to me about the gig, so we said “Fuck It!” and went without him. We ended up throwing down this really spacey and pretty set of our slower songs and a bunch of Big Star and Velvet Underground covers. We were also extremely drunk at that show, so it seems incredibly beautiful in my memory, but if I saw video of it, it might sound different than I have it in my mind.

SP: What’s the plan for the new release? Tell us how the process typically works for SLGTM records.

Thomas: The new album is coming out in the fall on Polyvinyl. It’s tentatively called Forever Inside, but that might change. The recording process ends up with way different results than the live shows, ’cause I play a lot of the instruments and kind of orchestrate the entire thing on record, whereas it’s a little less controlled at a gig. I was actually working on it last night ’til really late, but it’s going to be a really colorful record where the sounds change a lot from moment to moment. Last night, we did a bunch of weird barbershop-style harmonies, as well as micing my dog Kuma and recording him eating treats close up. It sounds fucking awesome to hear a dog chew when you put some reverb on it!

SP: How has it been touring with Wild Moccasins?

Thomas: They are the best. We met them when me and Betty Barnes were touring Germany last year with our Mighty Clouds project, and we played a relatively empty Tuesday night gig together in Offenbach. They were super fun, excitable, and into just hanging and enjoying their time, which is the type of people you want to be around on tour. Plus their music is great!

SP: Are you guys planning on touring after May? What are the plans for the immediate future?

Thomas: Well, it’s a different bunch of people playing this tour than have gone out before. Scott DeRoche has been playing bass with the group off and on since 2000, but Carol Catherine, Shelley Salant, Amber Fellows, and Richie Wohlfeil are all brand new to playing these songs. Ryan was gonna drum, but he had school commitments, and Carol and he both still live in a different state than everyone else, so it’s still difficult to get everyone gathered together. It’s my guess that there will be more shows when the record comes out, but who’ll be on board then is a question mark. More than anything, though, it’s exciting to play some of the older songs again and really exciting to be writing and recording new ones. The time we’re in right now is one that requires some more happy songs.

Come out and join us for the debut of our Smile Politely Show Series featuring Saturday Looks Good To Me, Wild Moccasins, and Anna Karenina/Anna Karina at Mike ‘N Molly’s tomorrow night. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $5 (+19 to enter).


Executive Editor

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