Splashdown – Stars And Garters – Interview


Stars And Garters (Castle von Buhler)
An interview with Kasson Crooker (programming, keys), Melissa Kaplan (vocals), and Adam Buhler (guitars)
by Lex Marburger

Even though relatively new, Splashdown already has a sound that completely transcends the Boston “scene.” With songs that storm though pop territory, wielding sequencers and Eastern European melodies, they catapult themselves into avant commercial, leaning towards a sound that’s part Poe, part Cranberries/Sinead O’ Connor, part Morrissey, and part Portishead, but (oddly enough) an original sound (I know I sound like a typical fawning critic, but it’s true, I tell you). Their lyrics that are actually insightful without being trite, as well as neatly constructed and emotionally moving. Their debut album, Stars And Garters, is an accomplished, professional-sounding work that could well take them national. It’s the kind of album that makes me sound like I’m quoting from a press kit.

The title of the album is Stars and Garters. Any secret Masonic references there?
Adam: If it told you, it wouldn’t be a secret.

Kasson: I wasn’t even involved.

Melissa: Space and sex.

A: It seemed to be a nice combination of Futuristic Outer-spaciness and… soiled panties.

What is Splashdown’s stance on soiled panties?
A: We advocate them very thoroughly. Some people are into NORML and Cannabis Advocation, and we’re into dirty underwear. The rally’s next week.

Okay… the vocals instantly jump out at the listener. What sort of style are you getting at?
M: I come mostly from singing jazz, but I come from RI, and no one pronounces their “R”s there, so I wanted to. People say there’s an Irish thing there, but that’s just how I sing it. This is the first time I’ve had to sing straight lines, ’cause it’s not jazz.

K: We’re also big into the Middle Eastern thing.

M: And Sheila Chandra, after she stopped trying to Westernize her music.

So how did you get together?
A: We were hand-picked by a team of psychologists.

K: We were bred for this.

A: Kasson and I were in a band, before, and Melissa sang on a song that appears on the Anon compilation. I had no idea who she was, but that was one of the better tracks on the disc because of her vocals. Melissa first appeared to us in the infamous Women Of Sodom, doing these crazy vocal things in the background. So I immediately began to record her music. And it was beautiful roses after that. Actually, we kidnapped her. It was a Patty Hearst kind of thing. After we abducted her, she began to see things our way.

M: I auditioned for this guy Thomas, and I met Ilsa (Women of Sodom) next door. She asked me to sing for them, and then I met Adam.

What are some of the basic themes in your lyrics?
M: Ummm…

A: It’s a lot like Room 101 in 1984. Y’know, they’ve got all these caged rats and they say, “Okay, write lyrics now.”

M: “Paradox” ranges from religious to personal, it stemmed from a conversation with my roommate who’s Protestant. I come from a Jewish background, and it bothers me that we’re all trying to say the same thing, “let’s be nice to each other” and the language is getting in the way. I’ve looked into a lot of different philosophies and religions, and they’re all trying to say the same thing.

K: Wow, that’s heavy. I didn’t know that. I’m quitting the band! I disagree! (laughs) I don’t like calling music “sad.” I like “melancholy.” That’s sort of a negative introspective time, so I like songs that are a little darker.

M: “Presumed Lost” is like, we get ourselves into a mode where we find ourselves in a place where we don’t want to be, and trying to get out of it. “I’m here, now what?”

One reason I get excited about bands like yours is because it doesn’t sound anything like “The Boston Sound.”
A: That just happened naturally. We didn’t try to contrive something that didn’t sound like Boston. The textures from one song to another vary greatly on the CD. We go from a psychedelic Middle Eastern opening track to a Funkadelic groove on the third song, “Presumed Lost.” That was purely accidental, but looking back on it that seems like the only way it could have turned out. You can tell it’s the same band, though.

Except for “So Ha,” of course.
(embarrassed pause)

I believe the question in my notes is, “‘So Ha’ – What’s up with that?”
M: It’s actually about Attention Deficit Disorder. (mockingly) It’s a melodramatic picture of frustration, man!

A: All those tracks were done in real time (except for the drums).

K: But there’s a real hand bell in there, which was cool, `cause I got to wear the white glove.

A: We were kind of startled when she started freaking out in the studio on that track. We were all under a lot of stress, and I thought she was cracking up.

M: I was. I kind of wanted to do that, it was the first time I really screamed on a song. It was fun.

A: We’ve gotten a lot of good response to “So Ha,” It’s got something that really grabs attention.

M: It’s good that my weird ideas are happily accepted. I never say “I’m going to do a technically difficult piece of music now,” it’s just that the songs that come out of my head have really strange beat patterns.

On “Running With Scissors,” what are those words and melodies?
M: The words are from a Mari (New Zealand) love song.

A: But it’s the kind of song where New Zealanders would hear this and say, “why is she singing it like that?” The original sounds like Don Ho. But we did have the bubbles going in the studio.

And at the end, you go into a 3/4 Jungle, Drum ‘n’ Bass groove.
K: All three of us come from not only different musical styles, but ways of doing things as well. I come from a very sterile electronic musical heritage. I come from a background of… um… Depeche Mode.

(collective gasp)

K: Y’know, a lot of techno-trance, like Orbital, Aphex Twin, stuff like that. I like being in Splashdown because, as you’ve said, not too many people in Boston are doing this kind of music, and I’ve tried on my own to bring more electronic music to the scene, but that’s very difficult to do. Splashdown gives me an outlet to push technology not solely in instrumental terms, but rather in a poppier realm. When we started “Running With Scissors,” it was just a melancholy song in 3/4, and usually when Melissa stopped singing, the song was over. But I wanted to do something more with it. One thing I like about the album is that it has a lot of different styles on it, from “So Ha,” to some of the more Trip-Hop, to the straight ahead tunes, like “Need Versus Want.” We had nothing that was very fast, or very “Techno-y,” and the thought of doing Jungle in 3/4 seemed interesting.

I’ve never heard Jungle in 3 before. Could this be a first? Waltz Jungle?
K: It could be. I like how it goes from a drone-filled, hypnotic song, and changes direction at the end without changing the feel. It has a very “last song” quality. We’ll probably be covering that aspect a lot more in remixes. Since we’ve got a lot of electronics, remixes are very easy to do. We’ll take a good song, then completely distort and alter it into another good song.

Melissa, what’s your background?
M: Self-taught. None of this pen and paper crap. Not until I got to music school.

A: I went through a big industrial phase, and I’m currently in a glam phase, and I don’t know if that comes through in the music, but it must in some way. I listen to a lot of… stuff, and I definitely like… things…

M (to A): If you don’t say anything, he’ll write that you like Hootie.

Are you projecting any singles?
A: Why yes. It’s right here (hands me a 7″). Although the problem with the 7″ is that it was pressed when those were the only two songs that we had recorded.

K: So those (“Pandora” and “Deserter”) were the two most likely choices.

A: Also, “Thunder” has been on a CMJ Certain Damage CD, and the AP Indie-gestion CD, so I guess we’ve thrown our eggs in that basket. But the best thing about the 7″ is that it’s on blue vinyl, which makes the music sound better.

K: Blue. Melancholy. Yes.

Do you feel there’s any one song that defines the album?
A: Indeed there is not. But, it is a single album. There’s definitely a single, solid mood to the whole thing.

Except for that slight convulsion during “So Ha.”
A: Most of the songs are group compositions, except for one or two. “So Ha” is definitely Melissa’s. She can take either the credit or the blame for that one, but my propensity would be towards credit.

(Melissa mumbles something, wallowing in mock self pity)

So when you write songs together, what is the process?
K: I like that even though the songs are planned out, as it were, the album was recorded on a very quick and sporadic basis in some cases, that it almost has a sense of improvisation to it, where stuff was being added in the studio minutes before it got mixed. Y’know, “Together” is the interesting word in that question. We have a very odd way of writing songs. We have a lot of cool ideas in our heads, we go off and, with the best tools we have at hand, we get the song into some kind of working order.

A: This is a very liberating and exciting place to be. I’ve never worked in an environment were everybody shares equally in the songs. Because we do, we’re able to accomplish things that no one of us could achieve by themselves.

K: Like, I’ll go home and program something, and Adam will come up with a really cool guitar riff and he’ll come over and play it, and I’ll say “oh, I know what would fit onto that,” or Melissa would have something… We’re not a very “jamming” band. We can’t be, using loops and such.

A: But there’s also a refinement and filtration process, where there’s democracy in action in that, if someone comes up with a really hokey chord progression, the other two people will say something. And everybody has had their turn through the filter. The album went through many revisions.

K: A lot of times we end up doing a weird presentation, and then the song gets snapped into about 800 bits, then regurgitated. You can still tell that certain people’s influences come out more than others. The album is a whole, but some songs jut out at weird angles.

A: Like lumps in your undies.