Shades of Fiction
By Sara Farr
Billy Corgan better watch his ass.
On Aug. 5, Chicago four-piece experimental art-rock collective Shades of Fiction will release The Nurse with Amnesia, a CD that could easily unseat the crown prince of poetic contradiction if it gets in the hands of a savvy A&R rep.
The Nurse with Amnesia is one of the most ambitious records done on a DIY scale since Conor Oberst got hold of a four-track -- but better, because SoF actually spent the money to do it right. Recorded by Manny Sanchez at Gravity Studios, the album is crisp, clean and pops with a rich headphone surround sound, enveloping the listener in a montage of electronics, organic drums, synergistic lyrical vignettes and buzzing, crunchy guitars.
"If you've got a musical mind, you can listen to something that sounds badly recorded and still say, This is good!,'" said bassist/programmer Mike Tate. "But a lot of people can't do that, and we want to reach everybody that we can. That's why we put the extra money into it; we think it's worth it."
Each of the band's members has been around the block; drummer John Salazar was in major-label act Relative Ash, while vocalist Picasso Dular was in Chicago-based Crash Poet and Tate and guitarist Brian Kowalski logged time in the Midwest regional act Red River.
"Before, we used to conform, to try to write a certain type of material, radio-friendly or whatever," Salazar said. "But with this band, we don't have any boudaries. We just try to create music where you don't even have to think about anything, it just takes over your entire body and you just listen."
Tate also carries the marks from past musical experiences. For him, it was knowing when to step back from a song.
"I try to be more open to everything," he said. "If I'm not writing a song and I don't agree with it or the direction it's going, then I need to sit out and let the others write it who believe in it and let them max it out and make it as good as it can possibly be. And I always end up liking it. That makes me a little easier to get along with."
Intricately scripted and effects-laden splashes of gut-wrenching, emotional rock, the songs begin life as fragments and snippets, worked and tweaked by the band during their practice sessions before they are committed to tape. In fact, the original drum tracks for The Nurse with Amnesia were recorded nearly a year and half before the album was completed.
"We really believe in what we do and it takes us awhile to write, but we feel strongly that everything we write is going to be used," Salazar said. "We're not going to have an entire album of B-sides that sound like crap. It's all going to be pristine."
There's not much on the record that the band can't replicate in the live setting other than the backing vocals that were overdubbed in the studio.
"Every time we practice it just singing, I'm fine," Salazar laughed. "But some of the stuff I play is so intricate that when I try to sing and play those parts, I get all discombobulated."
The band hasn't done extensive touring, preferring to do short trips to neighboring cities such as Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, where the band opened for the Jimmy Chamberlain Complex.
"We've done a lot of national shows," Salazar says. "That helped us get our start, and the clubs liked us and would start asking us back."
Websites such as Sonicbids and MySpace are also helping the band build an online community of interested fans.
"We were virgins to the idea of MySpace -- we had no idea what it was about," Salazar said. "We're not the type of people who will add every person. There are bands on there that have more fans than listens. It's pretty ridiculous.
"But it does help us to get the word out and it's good for promoting shows," he said. "It's easier to update, because with a webmaster, it takes a couple days to get things done. But with MySpace, it's instant. And it's usually the band doing it, so it's the most personal, which I think people like and are into. It's a great way for new people to check us out."
Like most unsigned bands, SoF has had its share of almost-but-not-quite experiences. Through a mutual friend who had done some work for them out of Chicago, they came into contact with an entertainment firm that was supposedly connected to the Warped Tour through its record label and was in a need of a band to replace a last-minute cancellation on the tour. The friend arranged a conference call and then everyone connected to the event "disappeared."
"That was bizarre," Salazar said. "That failed on us really quickly. I sent out a CD through FedEx, FedEx called me and said that they got it, they're claiming that they never got it. It's like right there -- shady."
Bands who already have that head start from the DIY work ethic are prime fodder for the not-so-reputable, Salazar said.
"You've already got a head start, and they can just come in and work off that," he said. "It makes it easier for them. We've had some interest from management and some record labels but as anybody will tell you, they like to see a band that's established. They like to see a band that can almost do it on their own before they want to drop in and spend money on you.
"We're searching for the people who will let us remain with our creative integrity and let us do what we do and put it out there," Salazar said. "It may not sell a million records but you know what? There's going to be a lot of people who do like it; I can guarantee you that."
Shades of Fiction