Sweeping Promises Talk Pandemic Living, Sophomore LPs, and Cinema Studies (8/8 at JB’s)

Earlier today Lawrence, Kansas punk duo Sweeping Promises – comprised of Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug – dropped their recent Unacceptable Color performance.  Unacceptable Color is a live music...

Earlier today Lawrence, Kansas punk duo Sweeping Promises – comprised of Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug – dropped their recent Unacceptable Color performance.  Unacceptable Color is a live music channel produced by Mondal and Schnug, photographer and multimedia artist Shawn Brackbill, and engineers Rob and Ryan Pope (of The Get Up Kids).  The live performance features three tracks off of Sweeping Promises’ sophomore LP, Good Living Is Coming for You, which dropped this June (courtesy of Feel It Records in the US, and Sub Pop in the rest of the world), in addition to the title track of their 2020 debut, Hunger for a Way Out.

Good Living Is Coming for You has already received a plethora of critical praise, with Pitchfork saying, “…you’re hit with a streamlined barrage of crunchy guitar, bargain-bin synths, snappy drums, and, most critically, Lira Mondal’s titanic vocals. Her acrobatic, ear-shattering wail pirouettes to perfection across Good Living Is Coming For You…” and Monorail going so far as to call it, “…quite possibly my favourite post-punk record I’ve heard this century… It’s a record that pumps fuel in your engine, reminds you why you skipped school to listen to 7”s with your pals or, 30 years on, reminds you why you got into music in the first place.”

Sweeping Promises are set to kick off a US tour behind Good Living Is Coming for You next Tuesday, August 1st, in St. Louis, which runs through the end of September, before the band heads to Europe in October and November.  The North American leg includes an August 8th stop at our very own Johnny Brenda’s, which, during a recent Zoom chat, Sweeping Promises tell me they are very excited about.  They also tell me about a number of recent relocations, the creation and conceptualization of their sophomore record, and some of their favorite cinema…  We kind of got a little off-track mid-convo when it came up that we all had backgrounds in film…

Izzy: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I have to ask your thoughts on the city, as you have played some pretty big shows here just post-lockdown.

Lira Mondal: Honestly, there was a time when we were seriously considering moving to Philly.  It was at the tail end of Caufield’s program at Harvard, and we found an apartment and we were getting ready to move and…

Caufield Schnug: We moved our stuff there!

Lira: We did!  And then I ended up getting a job at the last minute at a fancy restaurant and we ended up moving to Back Bay in Boston.

Caufield: A fancy one!

Lira: But we were almost Philly residents!  But we have a ton of friends there, we love the scene there!  But yeah, we’ve played the Church and we had the pleasure of playing You 2 Fest last year.  I think it was the first one!

Izzy: I know that you’re based out of Lawrence, Kansas, which I don’t know anything about, and I know you even kind of just got there relatively recently.  So, I’m curious, how is it being a band there?  How is the music and arts scene?

Caufield: Lawrence is awesome.  It’s a college town… sort of a hippie place.  I think we’re very used to being in bands in large cities, like Austin and Boston are the places we’ve experienced doing this.  So, it’s not like that at all.  But there are lots of cool bands!  We’ve been pleasantly surprised.  Well, not surprised…  It is a cultural nexus…

Lira: It is!  Yeah!  And especially with the proximity to Kansas City.  There’s a ton of really awesome stuff coming out of there, as well.  And we’re really fortunate to count Ian Teeple among one of our very good friends, who’s in the wonderful Silicone Prairie; he’s out on tour right now with Snooper.  There are a bunch of other folks, friends of ours, who have really awesome projects going on.

Caufield: And then there’s the larger Midwest region, as people are traveling and trying to find their waypoints in this vacant land, that’ll come through Lawrence in the most spectacular of ways.  So, we feel multi-regional in a way that maybe you don’t feel when you’re in like Philly or Chicago or that big of a city.

Lira: Yeah!  I feel like we have the fortune of not only having an immediate scene, but like Caufield said, because we’re in the middle of the country, we just get the best of everything.  Whereas in Philly or in Boston or in New York, it can get pretty insular.  And that’s something that we definitely experienced in Boston.  There were these like blinders on, that nothing existed beyond the like five-mile radius.

Izzy: Last month you released your sophomore LP, Good Living Is Coming for You.  Have you had any favorite reactions to the music so far, whether something you read or something that your fans have told you?  I know you’ve gotten a lot of super positive reviews that I’ve seen you posting on Twitter.

Lira: We are extremely awed and grateful for the response.  I think the first piece where our eyes both sort of lit up was what Taylor Ruckle wrote for Paste, and that was just one of the most beautiful and clarifying and thoughtful, heartfelt, with-it responses.

Caufield: It’s fun when a critic finds ideological contours and inclinations, or dynamics that we know are there, but even we didn’t articulate it fully…

Lira: Yeah!  And that’s what I feel like really good criticism does, not only for the general public, but also for the artist too, is a way of reflecting back onto you the art that you make.  And I just find it to be really helpful and really clarifying, too, because it’s all stuff that was inherent in there, but sometimes when you’re in the middle of making, you can’t quite put a finger on every impulse you have, even though it’s something that you feel pretty viscerally.

Izzy: How do you feel like the album compares to your first LP, both in terms of sound and just the process of writing and recording it?  I know the first one was written prior to the pandemic, which seems to have changed a lot for a lot of artists.

Caufield: The second album was really scary, because we took forever and we moved a million times, and it was kind of like that scramble for resources and infrastructure and time and space to make a thing.  And we spent forever, went through I don’t even know how many different versions…

Lira: At least three separate album configurations, like front to back…

Caufield: Yeah, like the crazy amount of labor that went into it.  But the sound was also very lo-fi.  We wanted it to sound primitive, and even amateur is something that I kind of think about it.  Like, I’ve always wanted our music to sound like people could play it and do it in their living room, because that’s literally kind of how we do it.  I feel like those are sort of weird dynamics to an album, where you’re like working really, really hard on something, you’re working every single day, it’s going through lots of refinements, but it’s also this ramshackle thing.

Lira: And I feel like there could also potentially be a critique of a forced amateurishness, which I want to dispel, because there’s like 15 years of experience going into this and with that is the collecting of aesthetic preferences, and also honing various songwriting tactics and our musical relationship, too.  So, even though we want it to feel pretty accessible, it’s not to say we’re trying to create some sort of forced – I don’t know – fake lo-fi elements.

Caufield: It’s the difference between kind of simpleness, or directness, and kind of a more ornate album-making process.  Although this was quite ornate.  For the first album, we didn’t care at all, and thought that literally no one would listen to it, like literally it was for our immediate friends.  It was an album that we thought two people would listen to.  So, you get that type of vibe.

Lira: Which is funny, because it’s like for that one we didn’t think anybody would, and the second one we were worried that nobody would listen to it.  It’s like two completely different things [laughs].

Izzy: You released the album’s title track as its most recent single, so I’m curious how that particular track came about?

Lira: In the summer of 2020, we moved in with Caufield’s parents because our jobs were obliterated in the pandemic [laughs], so we didn’t have anything else to do but to bunker down and wait that whole thing out.  So, we had a lot of time on our hands, and we were able to secure a practice space in Austin not too far from the parents’ house, and we had this day where we wrote a bunch of songs, including what would eventually turn into “Good Living Is Coming for You.”  And that one started out as a really jangly Orange Juice/Josef K, Scottish post-punk sort of thing, which is something that we both love so much.  Life was just really getting me down one day, so I remember taking a walk around in the neighborhood, and ended up writing the lyrics for it.  And so that song morphed in four different versions into what it is now.  And it was a lot wordier, actually.  And then I remember we were workshopping it once we moved into our house here in Lawrence, and it was proving to be really difficult trying to capture what it was about that song that we felt we wanted to put out, ‘cause we liked the structure of it and the chords and everything, but it just wasn’t really sticking.  And so we finally, after putting it on the shelf for a long time, eventually came back to it and totally changed it up and chopped it up and the result is what is on the album now.

Izzy: And you also have a really cool music video for that song that you made with Jessica Bardsley, who is also really cool, and who I understand is a good friend of yours, so I’m curious how did you all cross paths and originally form that relationship?

Caufield: Ghosts of grad student past, ya know?  I was in a PhD program for film: film criticism, film history…  And Jessica’s a filmmaker and a scholar.  I knew her for years!

Lira: And visual artist, too!

Caufield: Yeah!  And visual artist, does everything!  And makes strict, yet fanciful, meta-movies and semi-structural films about all sorts of topics.  In the past she’s visited houses of poets and kind of made architectural films.

Lira: She also has this really wonderful film called Goodbye Thelma, which is sort of a re-interpolation of Thelma & Louise, where she flips it into negative black and white, and it’s about these cross-country drives that she would take as an artist, but also as a woman alone, and how frightful and freaky that experience can be, of just navigating various terrain, both geographic and otherwise…

Caufield: Jessica is very much, indeed, an esteemed academic and filmmaker, but also someone who used our station to explore subculture on the East Coast and be part of the punk scene.  Like, that was something that we feel kinship with, and it’s really rare, actually, unfortunately.

Lira: Of all the people in Caufield’s cohort, I feel like she is the one that I felt the most attuned to, and we became really good friends.

Caufield: Or, just like, someone who’s interested in going to shows.

Lira: That’s what I mean.  Or, at least, I wasn’t as intimidated by her [laughs].  She just became a really good friend!

Caufield: She’s awesome!

Lira: Yeah!

Izzy: Well, since you have film backgrounds, I’m curious, because I’m like a total cinema person, or cinephile, and a college professor actually, but I don’t teach that…

Caufield: Oh my god!  What do you do?

Izzy: Liberal arts and English…  Yeah, I realized it’s been 14 years now and I’m like, “Wow!  I feel old!”

Lira: Oh my god, you’re doing the lord’s work!

Caufield: You’re fellow humanities…

Izzy: Yeah, I teach like Great Books courses and First Year Writing courses, so all that stuff…

Lira: Amazing!

Caufield: Hell yeah!

Izzy: So, I am curious, what are some of your favorite either individual movies or filmmakers or movements/scenes?

Caufield: Lira and I are omnivorous and hard to pin down.  We love films.  I’m really into classic westerns…  What would you say?  I mean, maybe stuff that’s influencing the project?

Lira: Everything from British kitchen sink realism to like every New Wave that there has been in the past like 70 years…

Caufield: All global New Waves…

Lira: We really have been exploring more, this is gonna sound so nerdy but, Japanese anime and cinema.  Like, we just checked out The Tatami Galaxy from the library — we have a really wonderful library – ‘cause it’s the same person that did The Night is Short, Walk on Girl

Caufield: Mind Game

Lira: Oh, yeah!

Caufield: Animation in general.  We’ve been watching some Soviet animation, some North Korean films…

Lira: Nice!  All kinds of horror, like giallo…  Lots of horror!  We have like a hundred movies right now on our Criterion channel queue that we need to watch [laughs].

Izzy: I have to ask, because I always get on bands about this, although you’re not playing in that neighborhood…  But you have seen Eraserhead, right?

Caufield: Oh, yeah

Izzy: Okay, because it’s about a neighborhood in Philadelphia, and it’s actually where Union Transfer is…

Lira: Oh, wild!

Izzy: Yeah, it’s about that neighborhood, and Underground Arts is there and PhilaMOCA’s there…

Lira: Oh, yeah!  We were at Underground Arts…

Caufield: Yeah, because David Lynch used to live there, no?

Izzy: Yeah!  He lived in that neighborhood, and the movie was inspired by that…  I mean, I love David Lynch, but, I mean…  I don’t think of him that much, other than in the local context, but I’m like, “If you’re a punk band coming through Philly, you have to have seen like the most important film ever about this city… and a lot of bands haven’t

Caufield: Just watch noir…  I mean, Lira doesn’t agree with me.  I’m not a big David Lynch person [laughs].

Lira: He hasn’t even seen all of Twin Peaks yet!  And I’m not even talking about the third season!  I’m talking about the second season!

Caufield: It gets boring…

Lira: No, it doesn’t, though!

Izzy: I go back and forth… Ya know what I didn’t love, when it came out, when I was much younger, but I’ve come around…  Lost Highway is, I think, pretty stunningly amazing.  Like, I saw it when it came out and thought it was kind of alright, but then years and years later I read that it was Catherine Breillat’s fourth favorite film of all-time…

Lira: Woahhhhh…  I feel like that tracks!  At first, I was like, “Woah,” but now I totally see that.

Caufield: Have you seen the Bluebeard film by her?

Izzy: Yes!

Lira: We love Catherine Breillat!  Yeah, she’s great!

Caufield: Fat Girl!

Izzy: Yeah, Fat Girl and Anatomy of Hell are two of my maybe Top 10 or 12…  Anatomy of Hell is one of my Top 3 that I saw on its initial theatrical run…  But yeah, when they did the BFI poll like maybe two of them ago, it was her fourth pick…

Lira: Yeah, I wanna see like all of hers!  I wanna know!

Caufield: My whole thing is like, if you like non-purpose-driven Freudianism and dark mystery and an image of like a ruined LA, you should just watch the noir films of the kind of middle-period…  That’s where David Lynch is coming from, very much.

Izzy: But, I mean, I think that Lost Highway is one of the best neo-noir films, and especially of its generation, like post-French New Wave neo-noir, I mean maybe the best since The Element of Crime

Caufield: Woah, that’s interesting…  I mean, it has the dream demon.  It has true surrealism…

Izzy: Anyway…  sort of on a related note, at least just sticking to art you’re into…  I always try to avoid asking artists about their biggest musical influences, and instead try to find some other way to ask them about their favorite music.  So, considering this is your second full-length, I’m curious if you have any favorite sophomore albums from music history?

Lira: What a question

Izzy: Feel free to consult your devices [laughs].

Caufield: Sophomore is usually not too good…

Izzy: I mean, it can go both ways.  Like, it can be scary, like you were saying…

Lira: Well, okay, one sophomore album that I just realized I had on my device, that I’m excited to dig into, is the new Current Affairs, which just came out, like two days ago.  And they’re a band that we have adored for a couple of years now, also contemporaries…

Caufield: They’re pretty great!

Lira: And, so I’m excited to dig into that!  But, let’s see here…  [Looking through device.]

Caufieuld: That’s my pick! Oh, and Television, Adventure.  I think it gets a bad rap, and I think there’s some good stuff on there.

Lira: The second P.I.L., Metal BoxDuh, the second Pylon album, ChompLove that one!

Izzy: You’re about to kick off a pretty huge tour of the US and Europe.  Are there any shows you’re especially excited to play, whether venues you’re excited about, bills that are really cool (You’re doing a lot of festivals.), or cities you’re especially excited to visit or revisit?

Lira: Ya know, we’ve been compiling this giant Excel doc of all of the tour dates that we’re playing and supports for each one, and I am genuinely excited for every single one!  I feel like this whole tour is just gonna be playing with people we love…

Caufield: We spent a really long time picking out supports and trying to do so in an unobvious way…  Like, [Lira] did a lot of research…

Lira: So, the very first show is gonna be in St. Louis, with our really good friend, Martin Meyer [and] his band, Soup Activists…  And he has recorded at our house a bunch of times, and so I feel like there’s no better way to kick this whole thing off than to play with him.  The very second show is gonna be in Cincinnati with Beef, which is Sam’s band, who’s also label head of Feel It Records…

Caufield: That’s gonna be a Feel It show, which’ll probably be fun!  I am looking forward to Philly!  I’m looking forward to Chicago!

Lira: Philly’s gonna be sick!  Chicago’s gonna be amazing!  Cleveland, with Disintegration and Suitor!

Izzy: That’s interesting, because I did realize here it was local support, but I didn’t realize you selected all of the people.

Caufield: Yeah, it’s something we demand, but it’s super hard [laughs].  But it’s amazing!

Lira: And, honestly, Gonerfest this year, twentieth anniversary of the festival, so many amazing bands that we’re gonna be playing with.  We are playing the same night at The Gories, which is insane to me, like I still can’t get over it, and The Mummies and Optic Sink, our best friends who are playing that, Ibex Clone, and plus, that’s gonna be the very last show of our US run, so things are gonna go crazy [laughs].

Izzy: On a related note, these dates have you playing a lot of different types of venue spaces, from barrooms to some pretty huge nightclubs, and then some of these massive outdoor festivals.  Do you have a particular favorite type of space to play, or do you kind of like getting to do it all?

Caufield: We’ve played in bands a really long time and we’ve played some big stages, but I think it’s like our first time playing like really big festival stages, so that has been an adjustment, but it’s been fun.  I’ve discovered that I can just get lost on a bigger stage and it’s really easy for me to sort of just dissolve into it all, but you seem to like that thing, too…

Lira: I like it!  I honestly like playing any stage!  I’m excited to perform wherever we get a chance to.  I will say, though, I think my favorite situation is a very tiny club where everyone is kind of surrounding you, because it’s just more immediate.

Caufield: I like the thirty-person shows where we come from, where we’ve done that for like 15 years, and it’s just sort of where we are…

Lira: It’s home!

Caufield: Yeah, but now it’s not home!

Lira: Well, you can have multiple homes…

Caufield: That’s true!

Izzy: Finally, what can be expected of the live experience when you play Johnny Brenda’s in a few weeks, which is definitely the coolest room in the city?

Lira: We’re so excited to play it, because it’s an incredible venue.  I think, just expect to…

Caufield: It’ll be a rocker…

Lira: Just expect to get sweaty from dancing!

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.