Bobby Ellis, guitarist for Boy Spit, agonizes over what flavor milkshake to order, initially leaning toward peanut butter but ultimately settling with mint chocolate chip.
“Last time I got the mint chocolate chip and haven’t been able to live it down,” Ellis laments, citing with some exasperation the apparent social undesirability of this particular ice cream flavor, as he and his band mates gather on a Sunday afternoon, at Lost City Diner.
The seven songs on the self-styled shoestring-punk band’s April cassette release “Everyone Is Cool” function almost like a shelf of children’s picture books: stories that are by turn humorous and wistful and occasionally a little sad.
“We like to tailor perspectives and have different voices or narrators in the songs,” guitarist and vocalist Suzie Doogan says.
“For us, the songs all have a story to them, and usually Suzie, when we play live, will let the audience know a little bit about what the song is about,” Ellis adds.
An example is ‘George,’ which is about a prank call that bass player Emily Salinas and drummer Stephen Panicho made to a real man whose number they found on a Facebook group for AOL users. “Actually, the point in the song where George is talking—‘Hi, this is George, I don’t know who called from this number, but this is my number, it’s George, so give me a call back when you get this message, it’s George and have a great day!’—is literally transcribed from a voicemail he left us.”
And there’s ‘Rivkah’s Table,’ the upbeat record-opener that tells the story of the theft of their friend Rivkah’s table from the alternating perspectives of the table’s owner and its thief. Or take ‘No Values,’ a grim, almost “Notes from Underground”-esque screed—“I’m going to start destroying / Everything in my sight”—and you begin to get a sense of how seriously Boy Spit takes its whimsy.
Throughout, Doogan’s vocals are heavily distorted, giving them a difficult to decipher, palimpsestic feel. In particular, ‘Rivkah’s Table’ and ‘Elegant Daughters,’ a plaintive, almost ghostly mid-tempo lament, sound as if they were sung underwater, or perhaps as though they were sung into a bottle that was then corked, tossed in the ocean, picked up on a beach many miles and years away, and laid down over groovy, somewhat nostalgic guitars.
The songs telescope this nostalgia through their sound’s particular genealogy. But after Doogan and Ellis cite The Velvet Underground as an important influence and Salinas points out it’s a sound that indie-pop bands such as Beat Happening or The Vaselines were rediscovering in the late ’80s and early ’90s, violinist Michelle Luong bemusedly chimes in:“This is really funny because I know nothing about music genres, I was classically trained, and so hearing all this, I’m like, ‘oh, I thought we were just making stuff up.’”
It’s the addition of Luong’s classical training and strings that elevates Boy Spit beyond the realm of mere nostalgia, adding a strain of sublime melancholy, of self-indulgent sadness to tracks such as ‘Golden Beast’ and ‘No Values.’
Boy Spit traces its origins to a Wildhoney show at the Holy Underground in late 2012. “It was really sweet because we made our jokes about starting a band but we were pretty serious about [it] and we thought it would be called Full Haus,” Doogan recalls.
Ellis points out that this is somewhat commonplace, people talking about starting a band together, “just joking with friends.” He adds, “But we actually went through with it.”
“It still is that way,” Doogan clarifies. “We are still joking with friends but we are also working and for me, I realized that you can have fun laughing with friends and still be hard-working too.” And that seems to be the band’s driving ethos: laughter and joking as dedicated creative work.
The idea of play as serious business undoubtedly has roots in the pedagogical work of several of the band members: Doogan is an educator, who worked last year at the Montessori Public Charter School as an assistant teacher and nannies a 4-year-old; Ellis is an elementary school librarian; and Luong taught first- and second-grade students at a technology camp. Ellis credits Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices as something of a model: “I think of how Pollard was also an elementary school teacher and that way that he writes and I think of Suzie in the same way: There’s a sense of play and a sense of fun to what we are doing but at the same time it can be taken seriously.”
This sense of fun translates into some pretty bonkers, borderline Dadaist ideas. In the future, the band hopes to enlist kindred Baltimore bands-and dairy products—to enhance the live show. “We want to make a video of [local band] Natural Velvet making milkshakes”—milkshakes are oddly, very important to this band—“and project that onto us as we play,” she suggests, adding, “We are also trying to learn to make yogurt so we can have Boy Spit Yogurt – Yes Whey or No Whey.”
As the conversation draws to a close, Doogan suddenly perks up, announcing, “Oh yeah, we almost forgot to tell you, ‘Bring Paper Towels,’ our slogan is ‘Bring Paper Towels.’ It’s a funny joke because at a lot of shows people say, ‘bring a towel,’ because presumably you’re going to get sweaty, but for us it’s just like a light dabbing away of perspiration.”
It is a pretty funny joke, though, not to be outdone, Ellis suggests a more mercenary motive: “If someone leaves them behind we can take them home and save money on napkins.” ν
Boy Spit plays the Windup Space on Friday, Oct. 10. its EP, “Everyone Is Cool,” is out now.