SO FAR, the year 2020 has been marred by a global pandemic and racial injustice. "Caffeine Drip," the debut album from So Sure, is an album entirely of its time, warts and all.
So Sure is a new outfit featuring Connect’s own Arts and Entertainment editor Sean Kelly and his brother Brendan of A Fragile Tomorrow, as well as friend Kyle Polk.
The idea for So Sure began last year, when A Fragile Tomorrow covered three influential albums in their entirety in both Charleston and Savannah.
One of those albums was My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless.” The sound of the 1991 album—big guitar, soft vocals and a swirling, ethereal feeling—would come to define the shoegaze genre.
Brendan and Sean, who both grew up on shoegaze music, had wondered how to incorporate that sound into the music they played. After that run of shows, on which Kyle joined them, their passion for “Loveless” was rekindled.
“That record in particular is just one that I had the reaction, ‘I didn’t know you could do this,’ and then spent years trying to figure out how they did it,” says Brendan. “When we got that record and learned how to play it and recreate those sounds, it was such an eye-opening experience and gave us an even deeper appreciation for records that we all really loved anyway.”
“In Charleston, when we played it for the first time, I think we were all kids on roller blades for the first time, trying not to eat it,” remembers Kyle. “Then in Savannah, it was like, ‘Okay, we’ve done this before; let’s really tap into the more spiritual side of it.’ I’m glad people were there, but if people weren’t there, I was still able to tap into the relevancy and the nostalgia of being part of something that’s so important to me.”
Shoegaze can often evoke that nostalgic feeling, so the band had to work not to create a record that was stuck in the past. However, “Caffeine Drip” feels modern still, an album entirely of its time. Remarkably, it was all recorded separately.
The three musicians all live separately—Sean is based in Savannah, Kyle in Charleston, and Brendan in New York state—which certainly complicates recording plans, as does the current coronavirus pandemic and the limiting of nonessential travel.
But, this is 2020 after all, and they found a workaround to allow them to record an album while being states apart.
“[Sean and I are] both using Pro Tools, and they have a collaboration function that’s cloud-based,” explains Brendan. “You can essentially work on a session and the other person can see the changes in real time. We were working on that together, and then Kyle had a separate recording set up and just sent us files. We’d send him different versions of the demos and the songs as they were progressing.”
Kyle mentions that he hasn’t seen Brendan or Sean since that string of shows, which took place in September of last year. That distance hasn’t hindered their creative process in the slightest.
“I’ve recorded albums with people where we all live in the same town and it takes us two years to do it—we just lose the excitement,” he explains. “I think a testament to this type of music has fueled us to be excited.”
Sean, the primary lyricist, wrote songs that capture the feeling of being in this volatile, anxious moment. The sound of shoegaze is perfectly suited for lyrics that offer a little more personal reflection.
“I think a lot of shoegaze and dreampop tends to be a bit more personal and introspective, which I think this is to a degree,” muses Brendan. “There’s a general theme of a lot of the songs about the anxieties of living in a country where the government is failing its people, and watching that in real time. With the pandemic, there’s a lack of social safety nets, people are just scared and the government’s not doing anything about it. And then when these protests started, it’s tapping into the same thing.”
In keeping with the political nature of the songs, all proceeds from “Caffeine Drip” will benefit the ACLU. Originally, the beneficiary was set to be coronavirus relief, but with the ongoing struggle for racial equity in our country, the need to pivot became clear.
“As it was getting closer to the release, it felt like it might be a better use of our energy to fight for civil rights,” explains Brendan, “and obviously the ACLU has been at the forefront of that for a hundred years.”
“Caffeine Drip” will be released first on June 12 exclusively at NoiseTrade, and hit streaming sites shortly after. It’s more than worth it to make the purchase, not just for the charity angle: this album is masterfully done and certainly doesn’t feel like it was recorded separately.
While traveling is currently on hold, So Sure wouldn’t rule out playing with each other in person in the future.
“Once the world returns to normal at some point, and people can gather in a place again, then I think we would definitely like to try and play live,” says Brendan. “I guess we’ll have to play that by ear.”
Whether playing live or apart, the effect of shoegaze music still holds true.
“The emotional involvement of being part of this type of music is so different than other things I’ve done in the past,” says Kyle. “Your brain starts to fill in the pieces of the puzzle, and listening to shoegaze, especially if it’s bending in and out, feels like a wild ride. The more you get an ear for it, you star tto hear in between those gaps. It also opens itself up to complicated feelings. There’s more being felt there than just vulnerability. There’s an aggression behind it, of wanting to be something more than vulnerable. It’s been a really cool ride.”