Cleveland-based art rockers ITEM went into recording sophomore album Sad Light with a broader mindset. Entrenched with lushness slowcore and hypnotic shoegaze, the songs accompanying the new album unfold with an openness. Together, principal songwriters of the band Connor Simpson and Dylan Glover thoughtfully craft songs that dive deep into stories of relationships, addiction, and recovery.
We recently caught up with Glover to discuss the creation/history of the band, the new album, and much more.
How did the band come together?
The band initially started as a 4-piece called Mystery Meat (I know), and then I think we settled on Bondage Jovi Powerviolence (Yep) for a few days. Then, of course, the natural evolution to two such names, ITEM, was born. Conner McCready, one of our guitar players and I, worked at a venue called Mahall’s in Lakewood, Ohio outside of Cleveland, where I’m currently still working. The band Bass Drum of Death was coming up to play a gig. Problem was, the venue head at the time was struggling to find openers. She jokingly suggested we start a band just to fill the show. So we did. What essentially began as a musical costume contest, as a way to be that “psych” band, slowly transformed into a sort of collective artistic challenge as we continued to play shows and develop a sense of identity as a group. We actively dissented from the same type of music that semi-jokingly got us our start. Sometime later, in 2015, we independently released our first LP Every Fruit in the World which was actually recorded at the venue. The process took an emotional and mental toll on all of us, and we lost one of our two guitar players to a fate worse than death, CREATIVE DIFFERENCES. After a hiatus that saw us prepared and inspired once more, I reached out to a new friend of mine, another dude named Connor, to fill the void left by the exit of our guitar player. None of us were expecting the dynamic and exciting results to happen almost immediately, but they came. Connor showed up with incredible ideas and technical skill that saw us reaching into a new sonic territory. It is with him that we recorded and released our new LP Sad Light. So yeah…thanks Bass Drum of Death for playing Cleveland!
When did it become clear that you had something special with one another?
I think that because the majority of the band went to high school together, we had already played music recreationally enough to know that our chemistry was unusually strong, particularly for younger people. That said, I would say it really struck me personally that something special was happening as we prepared to release our first album in 2015 and got as tight in the studio as on stage.
How has the music scene in Cleveland influenced the band as a whole?
Cleveland is full of open-minded weirdos and loud rock bands. I think that this combination has created some of the finest, most forward-thinking bands from the US, see Pere Ubu, Electric Eels, even Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Bone Thugs are rock and roll as hell. Even if we weren’t listening to those groups or directly influenced by them, it’s that fearless and experimental approach to making great new things in Cleveland music that undoubtedly had an impact on the art community at large, and therefore us, in our adventure into bandhood. A few acts we played with a whole bunch and respected tremendously were Beach Stav, Ma Holos, and the inimitable Uno Lady.
What’s the meaning behind naming the new album Sad Light?
My mom got me one of those lights for Seasonal Affective Disorder. They call them SAD Lights, I thought that was hilarious. What wasn’t hilarious, unfortunately, was how brutal the Cleveland winter was when I used the light, futilely, as I processed an unbelievably difficult breakup with my girlfriend alone in my one bedroom apartment. This was the thematic basis for many of the songs on the album, a white dude writing about a breakup with his girlfriend. So yeah, we’re basically trailblazers.
But really though, the original lineup of the band wrote a song called “Sad Light” well before Connor had entered the group, and I think the paradoxical nature of the title applied perfectly to the theme of the album both sonically and lyrically. Stuff sucks right now, but it’s ok. It’s sad, but it’s light. It’s winter now, but it’s spring soon. Cold, alone, and night at this moment. Warmer, with loved ones, daylight tomorrow. You might notice the last two tracks, “The Way it’s Going” and “Green Bridge” are the slowest/bleak and hopeful/upbeat, respectively. The album title speaks to that contrast.
The lyrics throughout the album are deeply entrenched with personal experiences and stories. When writing, do you feel that it’s therapeutic to release your feelings into your music?
I do. I didn’t feel like writing was a choice but rather a necessary release that was complimented by my four friends. Connor wrote the lyrics to Somersault which are so deeply personal; I still don’t know exactly what they signify. How’s that for personal?
What did the band want to achieve with the latest album?
I think we just wanted to make something cohesive but exploratory stylistically (there’s that Sad Light thing again) which was emotionally affecting and pushed boundaries musically. We all had such different influences, but we wanted to meet halfway. We wanted to create the strongest, most confident work any of us had ever created.
How long did the recording process take for the new album?
Too long. Singers, don’t be so neurotic! If the rest of the band loved the take, it’s probably good. We were so blessed that our drummer Jacob Kirkwood stepped up and took on the role as engineer for the record. He knocked those drums out in ONE DAY. It was unbelievable. He did a fantastic job never losing faith or getting frustrated, staying on track and getting things done. That said, it still somehow took us about six months in addition to all the time spent mixing and making slight alterations.
Most of the band’s library encompasses an excellent slowcore sound. What is it about the genre sparked you, creatively?
Slowcore strikes me as an honest subgenre of rock music. It is not especially preoccupied with being fun or exciting or entertaining but rather expressing some kind of emotional truth. Life is mostly boring. There is beauty in that. I think “slowcore” finds the beauty in boredom, melancholy, feelings of depression, heartbreak, alienation, and on a strictly musical level, space. We all love bands like Red House Painters and Low and their strikingly emotional content inspired us as we made our album. I’ve always tended to write very slow music, and I think in a way my amazing bandmates met me halfway on that one. For all I know, I’m torturing Cob on the drums. Maybe he loves me enough to put up with it.
What are the bands plans soon? Touring? New tunes?
We never really know. One of the founding members, guitar player Conner McCready, moved to New Orleans before the release of the album. Our bass player, music technologist Zack Zukowski, moved to LA where he is making computer-generated metal as Dadabots with pal CJ Carr and riding app-powered scooters down beach paths and such. There are 3 of us left. We are going to start playing music again soon, and I’m confident there will be new ITEM works in the coming months. We are all extremely excited to get back into the swing of things.
ITEM’s latest Sad Light is out now.