Photo: David DeAustin
SLUG’s very own Jessica Davis will celebrate her twenty-first birthday at this month’s Localized with The Broken Spells and her solo project, S.L.F.M. Local favorites Tolchock Trio will kick off the event on September 17 for just $5 at Urban Lounge.
Jessica Davis – Ukulele, Vocals
With a moustache that is thicker and bigger than mine, solo artist Jessica Davis of S.L.F.M. tells me, “Moustaches are just an idea that I enjoy. [The appeal] basically comes from villains, cowboys, sexy men on [the covers of] ridiculous novels, spies and disguises.” I have a strong suspicion that Davis’ ‘stache doesn’t grow naturally—seeing as how she is a charming young woman with a knack for writing love songs. Acquired facial hair notwithstanding, S.L.F.M. is a burgeoning local artist whom you may have seen busking around Salt Lake with her distorted ukulele.
S.L.F.M. began almost two years ago. Davis says, “I bought a ukulele, I had keyboards and I started playing as S.L.F.M. … And then the keyboards faded out because I’m lazy and don’t like to carry all that shit around.” She desired to create a sound that she considers to be new and different: She uses a distortion pedal that her dad gave her from when he played guitar. Not only does she add effects to the already uncommon ukulele, but she plays it differently than most ukulele artists do—“I just play it fast,” says Davis. Though her speedy technique has led to others’ delineations of her work as ‘uke-thrash’ and ‘uku-wailing,’ S.L.F.M.’s dulcet singing flows above and dips into the polyphonic ridge-rhythms of her instrument.
At the same time, Davis cannot help but indulge in a tad of cacophony. Davis says, “With some of the newer [songs], I push myself to yell or scream sometimes, and a lot of times, people just don’t expect that and it’s cool to see their faces—‘What is that noise coming from that girl?’” S.L.F.M. has played Velour, Farmer’s Market and in and around The Green Ant, to mention a couple spots. She can virtually play anywhere with power outlets because her amp has a P.A. system in it. She says, “I can just plug in my amp and my vocals and I don’t need anybody. Street shows have been good.”
Davis draws her influences from big names like Tune-Yards, NOBUNNY and CocoRosie, and local acts such as The Broken Spells, Tambourine Death Squad and Tolchock Trio. But part of S.L.F.M.’s allure is Davis’ willful submergence into random worlds and skewed conventions in love. Her song, “Adventure, We Go” is a song about adventuring in an effort to counter the norms of society. She says, “I’ll be the one that saves the knight from the evil damsel in distress. It’s what’s expected in loves stories: The man is there to save the woman, but did you ever think that the man has been trapped by this woman?” Davis’ poetic investigation of adventure has led her to yearn for it. Thus, SLUG Localized will only be a stop in a tour S.L.F.M. will do with Boots to the Moon—who also has a moustache. They’ll head in from Colorado, go up in the Northwest, down through California, and end up someplace in between California and Utah—“I’m not quite sure where yet… [But] I need to adventure.” says Davis, “Now!”
Oh, and I’m sure you’re wondering what S.L.F.M. stands for. I’m not going to tell you. Davis won’t either: “I can’t tell you what the name is because it’s a secret … You have to guess it to be in the club because, technically, it’s a club as well as a musical project. You get a club card.” So put on your thinking caps because you only have a few more days to get into the club before S.L.F.M. adventures away after Localized. Here’s a clue from Davis: “I like moustaches.”
Joey Mayes – Guitar
Chaz Costello – Bass
David Newlin – Drums
Mystery Keyboardist – Mystery Keyboards
The Broken Spells seem to chalk up all of their work and endeavors to one thing: “Shiny, shiny failure,” guitarist and vocalist Joey Mayes says. But, with a tour that started out with a pants-less crowd-surfing dude and fans with super soakers filled with beer, that’s hard to believe. From avoiding the tremors of bum fights to dancing in tunnels with excited fans, the band rocked along the coast and back, concluding the tour at a house show with confetti. Mayes remains modest though: “We fail better than most.” After butchering my grandmother’s Spanish rice recipe earlier that day (i.e. ‘failing’), the Broken Spells’ shiny failure during their set at The Compound taught me what making things shiny adds to failure—that is, balls-to-the-wall garage rock. Bassist Chaz Costello doesn’t stop thrashing during any song and drummer David Newlin beats his drum skins like a red-headed stepchild. Mayes tops it off with reverb-ridden screams and guitar that chops at your eardrums. The sheer volume during their performances bewitches the crowd.
Ironically, the band’s name comes from doing the opposite of this bewitching. After being depressed by ex-girlfriend strife, Mayes threw on some vinyl. He says, “The lyrics were ‘I can’t break the spell that you put on my head.’ And I’m like, ‘Fuck that. I’m breaking the spell.’” Since then, the band has grown steadily for about two-and-a-half years: Newlin joined in May of 2009, and Costello followed in April of this year. They uphold the snotty demeanor with which the band was conceived—not to put them into the realm of post-hardcore acts by any means, but Mayes belts out scratchy screams akin to screamo acts of the 90s. “It’s what comes out. I don’t try,” he says. The band derives their sound from a wide array of influences, but mostly from garage bands like The Gories, American Death Ray and The Oblivions. They meld a Jay Reatard sensibility with old soul, old blues and Night Ranger, Costello claims. Mayes even nonchalantly admits that ripping off other music helps shape their sound. And boy, do they love reverb. Costello says, “Reverb’s like the peanut butter of the music world: Peanut butter’s always good.”
The Broken Spells like to keep things easy. They don’t put in effort to exert a contrived, affected and overly-artistic sound—they take what they like and belt it. Hence, you can often find them at their home venue, The Compound, where half of them live and can access music with little travel—people come to them. And yet, after the party-time flavor of their last tour coupled with Costello’s networking capabilities, the band looks forward to working their tunes in some out-of-state shows this October. Moreover, kickin’ it easy never sounded better than on the band’s tape, Panic! When I ask them why they chose the cassette format, Mayes replies, “Because it’s cheap.” Out of the initial 100 that their label, Sorcerer Database, released, only three remain—probably because it’s so affordable to obtain. Essentially, they give you the tools to rock to their band with their offhand frugality.
‘Easy’ is why Mayes throws his lyrics into a sonic blender with his chords, rendering them indiscernible and dirty. ‘Easy’ is why Costello breaks bass strings so frequently, and ‘easy’ is why Newlin finishes The Broken Spells’ sets with bruised and bloody knuckles. ‘Easy’ is a swift kick in your face to break you from the spell of reality to get you hoppin’—and it never felt so good. If you like letting yourself go in a rock n’ roll whirlwind, be sure to make it to this month’s Localized. You’ll get to see The Broken Spells’ new mystery keyboardist, and there’s a slight chance that Costello will “squibbly-do” your Panic! tape into a Lamborghini.