The Vinyl Say: Andrew Sutphen, frontman/songwriter for Street Clothes

Beginning this week, we'd like to introduce a series we're calling 'The Vinyl Say.' Each edition will feature a different local musician, with the interviews taking place at Graveface Records & Curiosities. All we have is a store full of albums to draw from; no gig or album to promote, and no pre-planned talking points. The idea is simple - walk around a record store and talk about albums, influences, and all things music.

Andew Sutphen and Street Clothes have been Savannah’s purveyors of synth pop and new wave for several years, emphasising infectious melodies and timeless production. Talking with Andrew about his influences, you immediately understand the very specific lineage of Street Clothes—equal parts synth pop, disco, punk, and glam.

Today, Andrew Sutphen has the vinyl say.

WALKING into Graveface, Andrew immediately stops at the used bin in the front of the store.

When you walk into a place like Graveface, where do you start?

Right here! I don’t come here as much as I used to, but when I catch it online and see something, I’m like, “Oh, shit!” I used to just hit Ryan up when he’d post about something and said, “That’s mine.” I always start here, because this is all the stuff that’s super cool.

(Pulls out a Public Image Ltd record.)

See? This is great!

Do you tend to gravitate towards a certain genre when you come to go to record stores?

Oh, yeah. New wave. Usually just new wave. I’ll do it all, but new wave stuff—first of all, the artwork is always fucking dope. The sounds for me are what I always vibrate to right away. All the synth stuff, all the disco-y stuff. Anything I can rip off without anyone really knowing [laughs].

Of course! [laughs]. Did you go to record stores a lot when you were growing up?

Yeah. The drummer in my first band, he worked at Tower Records and he’d steal all the best shit. He’d also get me tickets to stuff, which was the best thing about him being in the band. There were a couple of occasions where we’d get into fist fights in record stores over records. Not, like, who was going to buy it, though.

One time, he was like, “We’re not the Talking Heads!” I said, “Well, I wish we fucking were!” He was like, “Talking Heads suck!” That was it. We knocked over a bunch of records and got thrown out.

Where was that?!

In the village [in New York City]! We used to get into it. He was a wild man.

That’s crazy!

He didn’t even mean it. He was just saying it to piss me off.

What are some essential new wave records for you?

I really like Berlin! And all of the Blondie stuff.

Let’s go find a Blondie record and talk about Blondie.

We venture towards the back of the store, unable to locate any Blondie. Inevitably, we find ourselves posted up near all the Smiths records.

I was really thinking about doing a Smiths cover band at The Jinx last year. The only thing I’d feel comfortable with, though, is singing the Morrissey parts. I know I can do that. I’ve never been in a cover band or anything like that. One time we did a Berlin cover, though. For about a year in Street Clothes, we did “Metro.”

I love that song!

That’s one of my favorites. My favorite record is The Idiot by Iggy Pop. The sound of it, the weirdness to it. But yet, it's still super catchy. And really fucking dark. That record and Joy Division's Closer really kind of go right next to each other. Without that record, there'd be no Closer.

The lineage of all of that stuff is so weird. If you think about what Iggy was listening to and surrounding himself with at the time; Kraftwerk, DEVO...

Stuff that went really well with doing a lot of cocaine.

Exactly!

And Joy Division, weirdly, was really into Jim Morrison. Or, Ian was.

Right, which makes a lot of sense contextually with his vocal style.

Yeah! But not when you hear it. When I learned that I was like, "Oh, right." Which is kind of upsetting because you think he was otherworldly and he invented it all. But really he was trying to do a shitty British impression of Jim Morrison [laughs].

Absolutely. I mean, I'll take Joy Division over The Doors any day.

Of course! Infinitely better. At least, I'm not drawn to The Doors as much.

What else do you gravitate towards when you go record shopping?

Always Smiths. Always. But I also just love all the weird stuff that nobody is buying.

What's the weirdest thing you've bought? Have you ever just bought an album based on the cover with no other knowledge of it?

Oh, yeah! All the time. I think the last time I did that it ended up being Miles Davis' Elevator to the Gallows. Which is, I guess, from that movie. I didn't know that, and the cover is artwork from the film. I was like, "I don't even care what this is." I don't even like jazz that much! But I'm glad I got it. It's really cool! And he improvised the score, which I didn't know until afterwards.

That's right!

I got a Roxy Music album with Marilyn Monroe on the cover, and I didn't even know half of the songs on the record. It was, like, $35. Ryan was like, "You should probably get that."

Are you big into Roxy?

Not really. I like Brian Eno a lot. I didn't get that much into it, though.

Have you listened to Avalon?

No!

It's like this weird, synth pop but kind of easy listening-esque record that was simultaneously very of its time and ahead of its time. It's really an incredible record.

Was Eno in the band at that point?

No, this was years later!

They were always a little too glam rock for my taste. I lean more towards dance-y stuff, a little more bass oriented.

So if you buy a 70s record, you're going more for something like Chic?

Oh, yeah! When I see a Chic record for 10 bucks, it's mine. And then I'm going to listen to it and try to rip it off in my own way [laughs].

Speaking of Nile Rodgers, are you into Bowie at all?

I’m obsessed with Bowie.

What era?

All of them. Bowie’s the only constant in my life. I was lunatic obsessed with Hunky Dory. And then Low and Heroes.

The Berlin-era stuff is unbeatable.

Yes! For me the trifecta is Loud Reed, Iggy, and Bowie. I've never not been obsessed with Bowie.

The interesting thing about Iggy is that he's of course noted for the proto-punk thing and the Stooges stuff, but I think he's pretty overlooked for how musically inclined he is.

Absolutely. I think The Idiot was mostly Bowie and him, and Carlos Alomar. Iggy I relate to, because I'm not a good musician by any stretch of the imagination. But if you put me in a room...

You hear it.

I hear it! But not only that, the best thing for me is to have another musician who is super talented there. I think that's what Iggy Pop does best. Especially the last record with Josh Homme and all of those guys—when he has those kinds of people like that around, it's fucking magical.

I've heard that Iggy wasn't super thrilled with Bowie's mix of Raw Power, but there's something kind of charming about that record in the sense that you don't care whether it sounds phenomenal.

There's no punk rock left, in that sense. But I think sometimes what bothers me is that there is nothing that will ever sound like that again. When you listen to The Germs, you're not like, "This is the best mix I've ever heard."

Exactly. There's something about Darby and Pat and the vibe of it all.

Right! And that record was "produced by Joan Jett."

Yeah! [laughs]. You wonder what that actually means.

Exactly. At the same time, Bad Brains could've been produced very poorly. But then you had Ric Ocasek, who came in and made it sound super produced. Maybe he ruined punk rock [laughs].

There's the headline! "Ric Ocasek ruined punk rock."

Meanwhile, that's the other biggest influence I've got going on. The Cars. All of the equipment at The Dollhouse is from Ric directly. Ric gifted Peter [Mavrogeorgis] all of this gear. There's a song on our first record called "Smells Like Sex," which is a hilarious name for a song. The end of the song is a complete rip off of "Push It," which is actually a Cars riff that then became "Push It."

We did it just enough that I can’t get sued [laughs]. But that’s the whole ending to the song. I was like, “Well, let’s just do it because we have The Cars’ tape machine.”

I don’t think he gets enough credit for the records he produced. Weezer, Nada Surf, Bad Brains, etc.

A lot of people don’t know about that. But he didn’t produce his own stuff, which is weird. It doesn’t matter, though. When you hear the guitar work on those records, you know it’s him. When you hear Bad Brains, Weezer, and The Cars, you know that that’s the same guy. Especially the solos.

With his passing, I think he’s getting a lot more praise for being as incredible a songwriter as he was.

Yeah. I think the Cars stuff has this boxy, very straightforward thing going on. And that’s what I think I’m trying to do. I’m always just trying to do that.

cs

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