Tuff Sunshine – All Hail The One That Got Away

Exciting news, Dig Nation! We have a special video premiere for you this fine morning of "All Hail The One That Got Way" by Tuff Sunshine. They have an EP called Kids Know coming soon. Read on for my thoughts on the video, the EP, and an interview with the band.

Tuff Sunshine is a three piece Brooklyn band of John Leitera on guitar and vocals, Ani Cordero on drums, percussion, and backing vocals and Turner Stough on bass. They came together about a year ago; all had been immersed in previous projects, tours, and bands. John directed this video. He also stars in it, with one of the two narrative threads depicting him going through a real panic attack, or more accurately, an OCD ritual. As you can read below, this is something that happens to him regularly. I think including such a personal moment for everyone to see makes the video that much more powerful. It certainly was for John afterwards. The song is a burner of searing riffs and propulsive drumming, and with the extra tinge of anxiety from what we are watching, it places us in that interesting space between things falling apart and things being rebuilt.

The other thread shows a voodoo doll being made, leading one to ponder the possibility that the character stuck in the room was being subjected to their misery via manipulation of the voodoo doll. John revealed this is the intent. He liked the irony of having the ability to force himself to do something so uncomfortable. The video explores the concept of what we can control and what controls us. It visually probably falls more on the side of how we are controlled, and as John explains, a lot of the feeling and thematic choices stem out of a sense of longing and regret. However, to me the sound of the track has a confident vibe that inspires some optimism about our ability to get through it all. Which is really one of the best things about music. I like to think of the rocking "All Hail The One That Got Away" as an acknowledgement of what gets us down but also a spark of sonic adrenaline to help boost us beyond that.

This song is the first on a new EP called Kids Know, the band's debut release. One thing I really dug about this collection of five songs was how it balances a fuzzy garage energy and tone with a strong sense of melody and sense of adventurousness. It's generally raucous and rollicking, but there are flashes of different genres throughout that make for an even more interesting listen. “Mining the Moat” has an almost hip-hop first verse before becoming more surf and bluesy. The last track “Open Mic” has a much more emotive feeling and slows down the pace. From the second verse on, it reminds me a bit of Wilco, particularly vocally. The lyrics on Kids Know are well-written, and I like how they are usually detailed and lengthy. It all suggests a band that will be worth following as they continue to hone their sound, make more records, and play more shows.

You can get this EP at any price here on Bandcamp. Like Tuff Sunshine on Facebook here and follow them on Twitter here. The band plays a release show at the Gutter on May 24th, you can get tickets and details here.

I had the chance to ask John some questions via email about the video, the EP, and other things. Ani chimed in on a few as well.

TWD: You say this depicts a real-life panic attack. What’s the story behind it?

John: I just recently began making videos, and I'm doing everything pretty low-tech and without much of an idea how to manipulate the medium. I am interested in minimal visuals that coincide with the band's stripped-down sound, so for "All Hail" I wanted to reflect the regret/longing element of the lyrics. The "panic attack" depicted is actually more of an OCD ritual thing that I have been dealing with for years, getting trapped in thought patterns which prohibit me from leaving rooms without certain rituals, that kind of thing, which I decided to let my girlfriend just go ahead and film. It kicks off sometimes with thoughts of regret or the past. It really was a tough decision, as I didn't want it to come off as "precious" or fake or attention-seeking, but after a while, I really lost awareness of the camera because it just takes over. I feel like OCD has been kind of a trendy topic lately in the popular press and it is much more than the stereotypical lining stuff up on your desk or arranging your shoes in a row, it is a continuum and can be very debilitating, and I guess I wanted to see if I could capture that feeling of being trapped, physically via the mental tricks that play out. It was actually pretty therapeutic to watch after.

TWD: What was the inspiration for the voodoo aspect of the story? How do you see the two halves fitting together?

J: When I showed the video to some folks for feedback, they felt it needed a more linear aspect story-wise, so I thought about it, and after thinking it through I felt the metaphor of me making a voodoo doll of myself was perfect; I am in essence controlling (or lacking control) during these rituals, and the irony of me with a voodoo doll of myself forcing me to do these things seemed perfect.

TWD: Which band member would be most likely to use a voodoo doll?

J: I guess that would be me.

TWD: Why are the street addresses listed on the bottom of the screen periodically?

J: The element of the black and white stills was influenced by the French film "La Jetee" by Chris Marker (1962) as I love the look of that film. The addresses are actual addresses of places I have lived or have meaning for me because I felt it added some mystery and could be read in different ways. The "BPM" shots reflect pulse rate/anxiety.

TWD: Any other interesting facts about making the video you’d like to share?

J: I had a "sewing stunt-double" who is a seamstress who did the actual behind the scenes work of putting the doll together. It would have taken me weeks.

TWD: What is your typical writing/collaborating process? How do you all work together creatively?

J: I am super lucky to be working with two people who not only take arranging very seriously but are exceptionally good at it. I write the basic song structure and lyrics and we take it from there. I really am able to bring things in earlier and earlier these days; for a band that is about a year old, I feel we got that part down.

[This following passage comes from another question related to this one] The music that Ani writes with her band Cordero is very different than what Tuff Sunshine is doing, but she brings some of that element to the songs, Turner plays with many different types of musicians and that comes into play and it all melds with whatever I bring in and we roll with it. We all try to serve the song while keeping a general vibe of looseness and not over-thinking stuff too much.

TWD: Your songs are both melodic and fuzzy. What appeals to you about mixing those elements and do you have any sonic “role models” in this regard?

J: This band allows me to be in a situation that was more freed up and loose, and a little edgier than what I personally have done in the past, and we are continuing to develop a sound that reflects that. For me, that means more Replacements, Big Star, older-Arctic Monkeys creeping in. Martin Bisi, who has worked with Sonic Youth and many other low-fi bands, recorded and mixed the EP and helped a lot with that. I think we maintain a pop aesthetic with a rawness that works for us. He was great to work with.

TWD: “Kids Know” strikes me a little as about being out of touch or feeling old and that a lot has changed. I’m not sure how old you all are, but is this something you relate to? Are there any things happening in music you don’t quite get but can see how someone younger would?

J: This is a great question, and a tough one.  I think the song is about how things actually don't really change that much at all. Music is always going to be personal and people will always want to feel a personal connection to it. However, the song deals with how the Internet is having an impact on how we listen to music as well as how technology has an impact on what it actually sounds like. Lines like "disguise your voice with a Helium high" reflect how I feel a lot of music is very affected and sterile-sounding right now. I'm focused on making music that sounds real, like three people playing in a basement, imperfect at times, without a lot of literal bells and whistles, and wondering about the validity of that in today's "music as background noise" culture. What do people discuss when they discuss a lot of new music? They talk about the video, as we have here, or the "hand-painted cassette"-only release, they need an pre-existing reference (this band sounds like…). And the old mediums of finding out about new music, what used to be older sisters and the neighborhood dude in a Husker Du T-shirt have now become predominately Internet-based.  There's no denying this progression, but "Kids Know" is me working through these realizations. "Buck up, this is gonna hurt a little bit". You can read what you want into that, and you will probably be spot-on.

TWD: Ani, you toured with Os Mutantes. If you got to Brazil, what is something memorable you saw, or ate, or did while there? If not, do you have any favorite Brazilian cultural spots in NYC?

Ani: I haven't been to Brazil yet, but it's on the list.  In NYC, my favorite Brazilian hangout is Miss Favela on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in Williamsburg.

TWD: The song “Mining the Moat” has that bit about words in a bottle. It got me thinking about receiving an unexpected message. What is something you heard or read that came to you out of the blue and was really striking or memorable?

J: I wrote "Mining the Moat" after reading that it is a term that means digging tunnels under the castle when you know you are about to lose it, when it's about to be taken over and there's no saving it or holding on to it, so you flood the foundation and let it crash so the enemy can't have it. What a metaphor-gold mine!

TWD: I always like hearing about creative stuff people are into. Can you give a recommendation of a song or album or film or book or tv show you are digging lately?

J: I continue to champion the Australian band You Am I and the New Zealand band The Phoenix Foundation every chance I get, very different but both very genius and criminally under-heard bands here in the US. And I'm very into The B-Sides Blog (http://redkelly.blogspot.com/) which is a blog that exists to share old soul B-sides. It keeps me up all night a few times a week. And I will be listening to the now late but always great George Jones the rest of the night. RIP, George…

A: I'm really liking the Sinkane album.