Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Copyrights

It takes exactly ninety-six seconds for North Sentinel Island, the fourth full-length by the Carbondale-based band the Copyrights, to reveal itself as a pop-punk record.

It's at that ninety-sixth second that “Trustees of Modern Chemistry”, the record's raging opening track, has completed its first verse-chorus cycle, one in which Luck McNeill's rock-solid and straight drums stampede beneath distorted guitars strummed in steady, four-chord clusters. And it's up to this ninety-sixth second that bassist Adam Fletcher's voice has hovered above this blast of hooves and growls, bolstered by the shouts of his bandmates; “How can we make this right,” he sang, “When we're fucked beyond belief tonight?” When the song stops at second ninety-six to take its first breath, North Sentinel Island has already exhibited all of the conventions of modern, Ramones-inspired pop-punk—the sort easily shelved beside bands like Teenage Bottlerocket, Off With Their Heads, or Screeching Weasel.

Still, there's something in the way the guitars veer suddenly and in dangerous directions, or in the suspicious simplicity of its lyrics, which seem less literal than in other pop-punk songs—something that hints that there is more to the Copyrights than their genre suggests. Maybe they're pushing this punk-rock tradition; maybe they're mixing it up somehow.

Yeah, like we're mixing it up by, you know, playing the same three chords,” Fletcher laughs sarcastically, “and playing the second verse the same as the first. But that's the thing when you give yourself a certain amount of creative boundaries. By being a pop-punk band, we're in a two-minute-song box, and it's got to have loud guitars, and it's got to have a catchy chorus. These are all elements necessary to our song-writing. Whenever we try to flip things around a little bit, though we try to do something a little bit experimental, we never lose that straight-forward songwriting.”

It seems strange (maybe paradoxical) to use the word “experimental” to describe a pop-punk band, but something surfaces on the record's fifth song that's impossible to ignore. In this pushy, punchy song titled “Expatriate Blues”, Fletcher and his bandmates sing, “I'm not homesick, I'm sick of home” before the track retreats into an acoustic outro. And though the next track, “Bow Down”, begins with a sampled description of the isolated, romanticized civilization after which the record is titled, it's “Worn Out Passport”, the proceeding song, that seems to seek it a hiding place.

Restless Head”, meanwhile, laments the woes of living in a small town when one's ambitions are begging him to do something bigger. “Sleep Better” echoes these same sentiments; amid a bed of “Woahs” and the grumbling guitars of Jeff Funburg and Brett Hunter, the Copyrights shout the song's sole lyrics: “You always sleep better when you don't have any dreams.” Considering this thematic thread—one loosely related to traveling (or at least leaving home) to pursue one's passions—it seems obvious that North Sentinel Island has some sort of conceptual side.

There ended up being a couple of reoccurring things on the record, maybe because of the time and place where I was writing songs,” says McNeill, who wrote both the album's songs and lyrics. “Traveling and a sense of adventure were kind of a big thing on this record in relation to having a stable—I guess you can say boring—regular life. I sort of tie travel into not growing up and to being in a band.”

I think a lot of bands in our genre of underground pop-punk stuff or whatnot don't usually attempt to do a record that's a concept record or even with a running theme throughout the record,” Fletcher admits. “It's usually just a collection of their songs. But it's also kind of interesting that people who have heard the record have automatically caught onto that theme.”

This notion, that an “experimental” pop-punk band has made some sort of concept record, probably makes the Copyrights a contradiction, but it also makes North Sentinel Island one of the most thought-provoking punk-rock records of the year. Sure, the Copyrights have placed themselves in a box, as Fletcher says, but they seem to be kicking at its corners and stretching out its sides in an attempt to see how far they can push pop-punk—an admittedly limited genre—without altering its essence.

It may take ninety-six seconds for North Sentinel Island to reveal itself as a pop-punk record, but in a mere thirty-four minutes, the amount of time it takes for this it to play through completely, the Copyrights seem to have set a new standard for pop-punk and written one of the most interesting simple albums in independent music.

The band recorded "Hard-Wired" in Fletcher's basement during a summer afternoon. While McNeill played a drumset made of a crash cymbal and snare, Funburg and Hunter played electric guitars. Fletcher played a bass through a guitar amp with an effects pedal. Following this recording, the landline phone broke down, and the band had to record "Stormy Weather" a week later without McNeill, who was out of town.

These sessions are the first "electric" Switchboard Sessions; almost all of the instruments were not only electric instruments (instead of acoustic), but played through amps.

"Hard-Wired" appears on the Copyrights 2011 record titled North Sentinel Island. "Stormy Weather" is a Kepi Ghoulie cover; the song originally appeared on the 2009 album American Gothic.

Visit the band's Bandcamp page for more music.

Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume Two for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2011. If you're desperate for a copy of these tracks, please see the "About the Switchboard Sessions" page for info on how to contact the author.

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