It’s been three years since the release of the amazing emo punk rock debut from PACK SOUNDS, and it seems that after the 2020’s acoustic departure on their acoustic EP “Rally On”, the band cherished this new softer direction. As with most bands, Covid halted all their touring and recording plans and they couldn’t record their planned full band record “Real Gusto”. The band decided to pen out a new intimate EP< tracked in their guitarist’s bedroom. We sat down with the band’s Russ Wagner (also of the Reptilian), who ended up pulling producer duty for this release, to give you a full story about this deeply relaxing offering.
After a long road to fruition, the newest release from Kalamazoo, Michigan’s PACK SOUNDS (members of LOCKTENDER, THE REPTILIAN, BIKE TUFF) arrives fully realised, tenderly clever, and refreshing. This 4-tracker will leave many fans of the singer/songwriter and acoustic tradition eager for more, but only time will tell what we’ll get on their upcoming sophomore full length album later this year.
Words by Russ Wagner
On Sad Everything, I got to step into the role of producer as Pack Sounds struggled to figure out what we could even do with ourselves during the time of Covid. Most of my experience making music over the years has been tied to writing songs as a full band, but I’ve always been fascinated by the process of a single songwriter working directly with a producer in the studio. We tracked Andrew’s guitar and vocals in my bedroom and I worked out the drum programming, all the keyboards, some additional guitar, and the occasional backup vocal.
We had a lot of fun going to town on manipulating many of the sounds on the EP, like running drum loops through a series of guitar pedals or meticulously affecting multiple layers of Andrew’s vocals. Doing this all on our own for the first time really freed us up to spend as much time as we wanted getting weird. It was also a really cool challenge to have Andrew say something like “What if we take this tune and give it a doo-wop approach?” or, “What if we make this one sound distant and creepy, like a bad dream?” and then from there it was up to me to figure out how to pull that off.
Treadmills and Shut Eye are non-album tracks that hadn’t found homes yet, Glasses Half Empty is a song we’ll actually be recording amped up and full band for our next LP, and Six Men Getting Sick Six Times is a cover by the band Martha that both Andrew and I are obsessed with.
There were a handful of albums I looked to for specific inspiration in crafting the four songs on Sad Everything.
All of these have definitely played a part in pushing me to think harder about the process of crafting songs and to improve my game in terms of recording music.
This is a pretty perfect example of the recording process I’m talking about. Any Phoebe Bridgers song could be completely compelling stripped down to just vocals and guitar, but all the tasteful layering across this album elevates what is already great and, I imagine at times, transformed songs that might have been conceived one way into something very different. I spent a lot of last Summer listening to music on headphones more than I ever have in my life, taking walks through my neighborhood or through the woods nearby. There’s so much additional ear candy to be found across this record, especially listening that intimately. That Twin Peaks-sounding tremolo on the guitar in the chorus of Smoke Signals just does something to me.
This has to be where I learned to love intentionally lo-fi drum machine and keyboard sounds in emo and indie music. I didn’t even understand how much this album imprinted on my musical leanings until many years after I fell I love with the Execution of All Things. It’s been extremely satisfying for me to get to explore more of those influences lately in life. I’ll go for long periods of time where I don’t listen to this album and then kind of re-discover it again and I always find something new. That certainly happened for me again as lockdown was in full effect last year.
This is an obvious choice because we covered Mendable for our EP. Andrew got me obsessed with Martha not too long ago. When that band clicked for me, it clicked hard. I spent so much of last Spring and Summer blasting every one of their albums whenever I drove my van anywhere. I love that their sweetest and most spare song found its way onto this release, and we were highly interested in morphing it into something that sounded quite different and very much our own. I also love this split because I’ve been a Radiator Hospital fan for a long time and the way Sam Cook-Parrott records these wonderfully double-tracked and distorted vocal parts is a big influence on how I like to record vocals.
4) Against Me! – As the Eternal Cowboy / The Disco Before the Breakdown
I cite two older Against Me! releases here partially because this band was very formative for me in high school. They were probably the first band to show me that you can play this loud, aggressive punk music and then also have this other dimension of your band where you write sparse, stripped-down songs as well. The piano on Sink, Florida, Sink has always stood out to me for being so perfectly minimal and exactly what the song needs. Definitely tried to channel that for both Treadmills and Shut Eye. Additionally, Beginning in an Ending is a song that Andrew and I often reference to each other. The fact that the song may or may not have been recorded in a bathroom is really affirming to the DIY part of my heart that says to go for it regardless of whether or not you have the best equipment or the best situation to work with.
I’ve actually written on Idioteq before about how masterful this record is. I love how this band is an absolutely crushing rock and roll machine but can also just sound like Band of Horses when they want to. Definitely another band that shows off their aptitude for dimension. We’ve been playing Glasses Half Empty for quite some time now as a full four-piece punk jammer, so it was fun to adapt it for this EP We actually did something really different with the end of the song for this version. I’d say that outro was definitely directly influenced by the Sidekicks.