Smile Politely

Look closer: Withershins’ Silver Cities

Withershins will release their second full-length, Silver Cities, this Friday at Mike ‘N Molly’s. I sat down with singer/guitarist Isaac Arms last week over lunch at the Esquire.

Smile Politely: Where did you guys record this at?

Withershins’ Isaac Arms: Earth Analog. Well, when we started it was called Great Western … Matt Talbott’s studio out in Tolono, we did everything out there. We did about half of it live to tape, the rest to digital for sort of time-money reasons … it costs as much to press an EP as a full length, and you have to sell it for less. We all live in four different cities now — I live in Champaign, Bryce lives in Urbana, Neil lives in Royal, and Colin lives in Indianapolis. We had these other songs we were sitting on and what were we gonna do? Record another EP, and sit on two EPs? We thought we may as well get these songs done and see how it shapes up.

SP: One of the other things I noticed on this album as opposed to Aeriel is that it’s much more live, like you four playing in a room.

Arms: It is literally that.

SP: So mostly live tracks?

Arms:  Mostly, some of it was pieced together, but the effort of this one functionally/musically — it is our most collaborative effort. Pretty much everyone did their own thing, Bryce is all over the place. He doesn’t sing on this record so he focuses more on his leads. I think the idea of our guitarists is that we’re both playing lead guitar almost all the time, switching back and forth. So when we play a chord, hopefully it’s really noticeable and thick. The subject matter, I’m trying to push it away from me and be more of what I observe and what is there, and maybe how I feel about it.

SP: From a recording standpoint, whose baby is this?

Arms: It’s absolutely Aaron [McCallister]’s baby. He was very patient with us in the studio; we had help from Mark Wyman [Take Care] a couple of times, Elzie Sexton and Caleb Means [both of New Ruins], Aron Stromberg [Evil Tents]. They all had undeniable influences, but Aaron was with us the whole time, dealing with my ridiculousness. He and Colin have a synergy too; they worked together for years at F & G Sound in Urbana.


The time put in is clear from the get-go, as Silver Cities opens with the nine-minute “Fire Flies.” This monster of a track wraps up the moods present on the rest of the album into a singly impressive package, as Isaac’s vocals float over shimmering guitar and booming bass/drums. Things continue in excellent fashion on the second track “Glittered Out,” which is informed to no small degree by the post-hardcore touchpoints of the last decade. I could continue to write about song X or Y, but this isn’t that kind of record — it’s best digested all together in a single sitting. It’s so tight and effortless that I almost can’t believe two years went into recording it.


SP: Have you guys thought about touring at all? I would imagine it’s difficult with everyone living in different places.

Arms: It’s really difficult! I’m working on it. We’re trying to get a tour going with Take Care this summer, a lot of variables there … I haven’t talked about it enough in these interviews, but we’re so lucky/happy/grateful/excited that Gospel Gossip is gonna be playing with us [at the release show]. I’ve loved them ever since I saw them play at the Cowboy Monkey, like, two years ago.

SP: Is this a big stereo album or a headphone album?

Arms: It’s kinda both. It’s a headphone album if you want to appreciate the intricacies. It’s a big stereo album if you wanna hear how hard it rocks the balls in the low end, bass and drums to tape, it just growls.

SP: You’ve spoken about Aeriel being a concept album to an extent, would you say Silver Cities is as well?

Arms: Yes, but not in the same way. There’s a way you could look at the record … specifically the song “City Lights,” but basically throughout the record … I created the character of this little girl Aeriel who drowned in the first one, and it was basically about me losing a person in my life and going through the grieving process and the guilt process, and it was very personal. This one’s almost the opposite in the sense that it’s a lot of “love” songs — not sweet love songs — like horrible dysfunctional, bitter nasty, sarcastic type love songs. But there’s no boy or girl I’m singing about; it’s all about embodying the Champaign music scene.

SP: I was going to say, it feels like a romantic record about Champaign-Urbana.

Arms: It’s a love letter to Champaign, but I’m not afraid in this letter to talk about the nasty shit we said to each other or how horny I get when they wear that pair of underwear sort of thing. It’s all out there. It’s not supposed to be personal to any person in the scene, or any band, or any promoter, or anything, just the general feeling, the landscape and the mood, the dynamic of it.


That last paragraph covers it better than I can. It’s obvious from first listen that this is an album made by people who care deeply about our local scene — if you do too, there’s little chance this album won’t suck you in.

Silver Cities is available at Withershins’ Bandcamp for preorder, and you can stream a few tracks below. The band performs this Friday at Mike ‘N Molly’s with support from Minneapolis’ Gospel Gossip and Take Care.

Album artwork (top) by Elzie Sexton, band photo by Troy Stanger.

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