Kurt Cobain, who in the '80s appeared on a ragtag project of Calvin Johnson's called the Go Team, was such a fan of the Northwest indie-pop scene that he inked the "K shield"—the insignia of Johnson's K Records, on his arm. In the Oct. 24 Pitchfork article "Twee as Fuck," Nitsuh Abebe points out that devotees of the indie-pop scene—who've reclaimed the label "twee," once used to negatively refer to the style's emotional directness and amateurish musicianship—are "some of the only people in the world who remember that Kurt Cobain used to kind of be one of them."
That fact is not lost on the members of Speaker Speaker, a young Seattle band whose take on pop is neither here (syrupy, simplistic) nor there (brooding, aggressive), and who—like many of their musically attuned peers—transform equal affection for Nirvana and '60s pop into jangly songs with just enough seriousness to avoid the polarizing "twee" label. Nevertheless, they were asked to play the "Twee, Pop Fest" Saturday, Dec. 10, at Chop Suey, to their admitted confusion. "I didn't know if I was out of it for not knowing it was actually a word," says bassist Danny Oleson. Twee Speaker Speaker may not be, but pop they definitely are.
"I Was Wrong," the best song on their brief, self-issued new EP, Again & Again & Again, is a familiar tale of romantic disillusionment complete with hand claps, Phil Spector–like drum hits, and punk power chords alternating throughout. Oleson and guitarist Colin McBride, who share vocal duties, started the math-rock band Vermillion almost 10 years ago in high school and called it quits in 2002. "Vermillion was a very arty band, difficult to listen to for a lot of people, and we got tired of it," says Oleson. A year and a half ago, they found themselves together again with the common goal of penning a few old-fashioned pop songs. Drummer Jasen Samford had idolized the guys in their former incarnation and was enlisted years later as a member of Speaker Speaker. The easy camaraderie among the three prevents any undesirable power dynamics.
This joviality carries over to Again & Again & Again, recorded at Orbit Audio—the band members met the studio's Joe Reineke at his "Localpalooza" showcase last summer. The crisp recording displays the tightness of the new band. "Statues/Shadows," which has received airplay on KEXP and the End—Speaker Speaker was recently picked as the latter's "MySpace Band of the Week"—recalls They Might Be Giants as McBride tries to shake off an unwanted object of affection in a scant two minutes. The title track reverses the situation, letting a goofy, noodly guitar solo occasionally break through McBride's proclamation: "Three long years and not a girl has ever touched my heart/You did it in two days; you ripped it apart." Sing/scream-along background chorus "Again and again and again and again/The only one I want is you" contrasts with "ooh-ooh/ba-ba-ba" for a charming result—an unlikely marriage of girl-group harmonies and fist-pounding, heart-on-the-floor drinking songs.
Although the band has released precious little of its material, the EP's artwork, done by Patent Pending's Jesse LeDoux—who was nominated for a Grammy for his work on the Shins' Chutes Too Narrow—may garner it some extra attention. LeDoux's signature style of bright colors, quirky shapes, and imagery is practically a stamp of quality for many Northwest musicians. Speaker Speaker hope the look of professionalism will run parallel to perceptions of their music. "The presentation was important to us. We didn't want to do it yet if we didn't have the capacity to do something we were proud of. So we planned it out, got the resources, and did as much as we could," says Oleson.
Speaker Speaker's sound caters to a younger crowd, with audiences at all-ages and now-defunct venues like the Punkin House (where they played one of its last shows) more receptive than the bar-band crowd. "I think there is a dichotomy in Seattle between bands that are starting out. There are only so many Friday and Saturday nights and only so many good venues in town," says McBride. Occasionally the bar scene offers surprises, though, as during one recent show at a Pioneer Square venue. "We played with two really quiet bands; we headlined and were really loud," says McBride. "A song in, we got a note to turn it down, and all the waitresses were plugging their ears. Meanwhile, there's a Rolling Stone article on the wall about Alice in Chains, and Layne Staley is saying, 'When we started out, we just wanted to play here'—and I'm like, we just got told to turn it down?" Seattle may change, but the feisty spirit of indie pop—or whatever you want to call it—stays basically the same.
Speaker Speaker play the Paradox Theater at 7 p.m. Sat., Dec. 10. $8. All ages.