Bleeding Rainbow singer Sarah Everton begins the band’s latest album by singing on the six minute plus opus “Go Ahead” that “some things need to change, nothing will stay the same, so please tell me what I want to hear.” The song functions as a personal plea, a “Destination Unknown” for the 21st century, but it also marks some big changes for the group formally known as Reading Rainbow.
In advance of their North American tour, scheduled to launch March 31 at Chicago’s Empty Bottle, the other half of the original duo (and Everton’s other half), Rob Garcia shared some insights into how the group began and how they’ve evolved since their original formation from their home-base of Philadelphia.
While Garcia’s father taught him how to play piano in elementary school, and he was in various rock bands throughout middle school and high school, his spouse is comparatively new to performing music. He met Everton while she was attending art school and they started doing musical projects between his band obligations.
“Sarah viewed it more of a performance art thing,” he says, which at first “she wasn’t taking too seriously, but as we kept moving forward, it just came together that we had the chance to play a few shows as a new project,” Garcia says.
At the last minute they decided to call their new effort Reading Rainbow, wrote six songs in two weeks and made a cassette. That was the beginning.
“We really liked what we were doing, so we kept working on it and it’s grown into this thing that we never initially thought it would, and we’re totally happy with it,” Garcia says.
Their original moniker, Reading Rainbow, was another story. Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney/WildFlag/”Portlandia” fame had liked the music on the band’s second album, Prism Eyes (Hozac), so much that she had featured a song from it on a National Public Radio segment called “All Songs Considered” in May 2010. However, she was not a big fan of the duo’s chosen name, saying it was “kind of an annoyingly ironic name” and “not the number one choice when you’re reaching into the grab bag of names.” Garcia doesn’t dispute that point, and says they knew it was just a matter of time before a certain television program of the same name made a legal issue of it.
“We knew that the PBS show had renewed their license that year, in 2011 or 2010, I think, so if we continued as the band Reading Rainbow and we received a cease and desist order after our next album came out, that could be horribly bad,” Garcia says.
Coincidentally, around the same time, Garcia and Everton decided to expand their group from a duo to a quartet. The pair began to realize they should expand their sound when they were touring around the South By Southwest music festival in Austin and opening for The Dodos a few years ago and realized they wanted more of a stage presence.
“We were playing these larger venues that were upwards to over 1,000 capacity, which we had never done before, and it was completely eye-opening, playing these massive places, because we started feeling extremely exposed for what we were, which was essentially playing really stripped down punk songs,” Garcia says.
“In a recording, you can make yourself sound however you want and there’s only so much you can do live.”
On that same tour with The Dodos, the couple started listening to guitar-based bands from the 1970s and 1980s, including The Wipers, Sonic Youth and The Smashing Pumpkins.
“We were listening to this music that was totally guitar-centric and we wanted a bigger sound,” Garcia says.
In an effort to evolve from just a two-piece playing simple guitar rock into something larger, they called up their good friend Al Creedon, who had helped them record the first two Reading Rainbow records, and asked him to learn all of their songs so he could join the band.
When writing songs for the new album, Yeah Right (Kanine Records), they still planned on Everton playing the drums, but while recording, they realized they needed to fill out the low end, and in addition to that, the drums were getting much more complicated. Since Everton is the lead vocalist, they decided it was more natural to move her toward the front of the stage and play bass. She had been teaching herself to play the guitar, so the transition to bass was not that difficult and she was able to learn the parts quickly. While they auditioned a few drummers, they selected Greg Frantz in the end because he had “the best musical taste of anybody I’d ever met before,” Garcia says, explaining that his style of drumming fit exactly what they wanted (a drummer that relies on a lot of toms), and as a great sign, he even had a tattoo of Sonic Youth’s Goo album cover on his arm.
Compared to being in bands with other people, Garcia says being in a band with his wife is actually awesome. “I’m sure so many people think I would hate to be that close, or around your significant other at all hours of the day, when you’re on tour, but it actually works out great. I can’t complain at all, Garcia says. “It’s really fun to be able to work on something creative and to strive towards a specific goal together.”
The group’s musical goals have changed over time as well. Whereas the first album Mystical Participation (Slipshod Mucus Kiss/Single Girl Married Girl) was all about the psychedelic drone and more focused on the aesthetics of its sound, on the next release, Prism Eyes, the band focused on writing pop songs. For Yeah Right, Garcia says, they were trying to “meld those two aesthetic ideas together, and push ourselves to write more instrumental sections, be really good musicians and focus more on guitar tones.”
Although Yeah Right may have been the first record the group recorded in a professional studio, Bleeding Rainbow didn’t go to the studio to clean up its sound. The band went into the studio to “highlight the dissonance and the gnarly sludge, basically,” Garcia says with a laugh, describing that sound as difficult to emphasize when recording something at home or on four-track recording equipment.
“We were still totally in love with scuzzy guitar, extremely fucked up guitar tones and really noisy dissonant sounds.”
Garcia has come to see his involvement with music as a type of therapy. When he had a full-time job, music was his way to cope with growing up and trying to deal with responsibilities. Even though he’s recently made the leap from full-time mechanical engineer to part-time dishwasher, he says music has become “a way to process emotions and communicate ideas. It becomes an extension of your self,” and it’s not something he simply wants to do. He feels he must make music.
After paying his way through grad school to study mechanical engineering, studying and getting a good job in that field, Garcia discovered that he wasn’t happy and was filling a void he felt with music. He eventually left his job for part-time work, as the schedule flexibility permitted him to pursue music. He admits that, for him, it was “the biggest head-fuck ever, going from a mechanical engineer to a dishwasher, but it’s a means to an end,” as he calls it. Now, Garcia says, “I’m doing something that makes me happy, instead of forcing myself to do something that I don’t want really do.”
Escapism and growing up are common themes in lyric writing, Garcia says. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a song yet that we’re like, “I want to write about this,” it just happens naturally and subconsciously. We’ll demo a song now and have a vocal melody in mind and the vibe of the song, get ideas together and write out words based on the feeling that the songs evoke, and work those lyrics into something that works better with the melody” Garcia says.
On the upcoming tour with Cave Singers, Bleeding Rainbow won’t include Frantz (and his Goo tattoo) on drums. Instead, they are bringing their good friend Dominique Montgomery of the Two Funerals. Garcia is especially looking forward to what will be the band’s fourth trip to Austin for South By Southwest, as he looks forward to the challenge of playing nine shows while in the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capitol of the World.”
“Even the point that you get to where you’re completely exhausted is actually kind of fun in a way. It’s totally all a mental game, like, ‘Can you get through it?’” Garcia says. “It’s an opportunity to prove to everybody what type of band we are and being able to show everybody in that environment what we’re about.”
Garcia indicates that their songs and albums sound a certain way, but when they play live, the songs are “much more raw and intense,” so he can’t wait to tour behind Yeah Right. Not only that, but Garcia says they plan on recording yet another new album this summer. “I just want us to keep pushing ourselves forward, and that’s our goal.”
For information on Bleeding Rainbow tour dates with Cave Singers (JAGJAGUWAR) visit the band’s Facebook page. Dates for SXSW will be available soon.