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Bound Stems

Making sense of this making-waves band.
Thursday Oct 19, 2006.     By Gavin Paul
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Bound Stems
photo: Chris Strong, courtesy of Flameshovel
So two high-school teachers, a lab scientist, a database guru and a comic book nerd walk onto a Chicago street. One has a minidisk player. Attached to it is a mic. There are no blondes, no one feels the need to duck and, reportedly, there were no rabbis on site, either.

These five, dubbed Bound Stems after a quizzical literary term involving a word's ability to make sense without a prefix or suffix, hit the streets to collect sound samples for their debut record, Appreciation Night, after the sensation of wanting everyone they know "to be there and raise their glasses."

They put the mic up in empty space at airport lobbies and CTA turnstiles, anything transit-oriented. "We're loyal to the city in that we're loyal to our place in it," they say, right before saying this: "All of us moved to Chicago at a very pivotal and interesting time in our lives, when we didn't know which direction we'd be going and we didn't have one sure foot on the ground."

They take these samples to their live show, too, where they're just another layer of textures over five divergent instruments and musicians. Somehow the clinks and clanks and rumbles will wash over audiences seamlessly. The magazines and newspapers write about it feverishly. The five Stems and their label, Chicago's Flameshovel Records, launch a first coast-to-coast tour to promote it.

Three of the Stems met in the Chicago suburb of Naperville; two Dans—one Fluery, the other Radzicki—and Bobby Gallivan. One Dan plays a guitar like a frustrated drummer, mad with his own rhythms. The other Dan enjoys belting nerve-sharp lyrics and snaking them with weightless bass and key notes. Bobby writes those lyrics. He was a high school history teacher before the band took off, which is why its record is full of historical and literature narratives, like the song "Waiter Waters Addresses the Bonus Army." But love and relationships are in there, too. Songs like "Excellent News, Colonel" come riddled with so many pop and pull punchy hooks, you might as well be bruised. The two other Stems, Janie Porche, master of samples and strings, and Evan Sult of the former Seattle low-fi quartet Harvey Danger, take the band to its full cacophony of indie rock explosions. Take a man out and every fuse fizzles out, like some weird, simultaneous broadcast of The Walkmen, the jerky rhythms and screeches of Kings of Leon and the pre-crescendo clarity of Explosions in the Sky.

There is no punchline: "Some people don't like it, or they don't have the attention for it or whatever. And that's...that's fine. That's something that we totally chose to do, that was a conscious decision," they say, before continuing, "Hopefully you can distinguish who's doing what and see that this is really complicated stuff that we're trying to make fit together really precisely."

In the beginning: The official Bound Stems first show was at The Big Horse Cafe in Wicker Park, and people were eating burritos.

What's cool in your neck of the woods: Empty Bottle, Reckless Records, Myopic Books, Earwax Cafe.

After a gig we: Eat tacos.

We get live at: The Empty Bottle—they really know how to make people dance. The sound is good. They have $1 beers. You can ride your bike.

Coming soon to a stage near you: October 19 at Subterranean, with Maritime


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