Straight From The Garage: Shoulder Voices

A Practice With Shoulder Voices

Mark Lopez
6 min read
The Death of Death
Mary Stockton (tambourine, vocals) and Kevin Elder (bass) (Mark Lopez)
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I’m sitting in Little Bobby Tucker’s living room in his Northeast Heights house. The band Shoulder Voices is setting up for practice. The room is covered in posters of David Bowie, Pink Floyd and various flyers for Shoulder Voices’ shows, including one where they opened for Le Tigre offshoot MEN. The posters remind me of Altamont. The death of the summer of love, windswept flowers rotting in the sand, a thousand faces venturing toward ramshackle homes and dust-covered tents, heads down, basking in the loss of feel-good jams that were supposed to reflect a free-flowing age of harmony and unity. I’m reminded of death in general; pieces of the American psyche left to wander, then emerge under candy-coated rhymes and rhythms.

The band sets up all around me. I’m literally surrounded by them, four mics in the center of the room, one for bassist Kevin Elder, one for guitarist Joe Buffaloe, one for tambourine player and singer Mary Stockton and one for Bobby, who resides behind the keyboards in the corner of the room, his own little deranged nook. Drummer Ryan Sciarrotta is in the kitchen; there’s no room for his drum kit in the living room, so I can’t see him from where I sit. And Bobby’s girlfriend Amanda Pritchard stands near me, her dog resting its butt against the small of my back.

Describing their sound as “fantasy death pop,” the band is in the process of finishing a new full-length record, scheduled for release some time this fall, but their focus on today’s practice is to map out a setlist for an upcoming show at Burt’s Tiki Lounge. They start in on a tune called “Baby,” with Ryan counting it off before pounding on the skins. Right away, I’m overtaken by their particular brand of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s got a love-pop feel to it. “She likes to do it rough. She never gets enough.” It’s fun. I hear elements of The Mamas & the Papas, but with a knife to the throat. Maybe even the knife Hells Angel Alan Passaro wielded at Altamont. It’s catchy. Amanda is like a whimsical hype-girl-nymph, dancing to and fro and banging a tambourine. It’s an oddly disjointed mix of sounds, as their whimsical melodies are overshadowed by Joe’s guitar. But it works. “Your guitar sounds good, Joe,” Kevin says.

Then they do “Paralyze.” Bobby shouts, “I need a tambourine!” “Who doesn’t?” Kevin responds. I like the harmonies on this one. They pull me into the song, like bits of sweetness embedded in glittered wounds. Bobby’s vocals, while not technically adept, fit the mood of the song perfectly. Then there’s “Mirror, Mirror.” Again, Ryan counts it off, and I can’t help but relish in those four words: “One! Two! Three! Four!” How, within the framing of a song, they come to mean so much. They strike at the beginning, bringing on a tidal wave of sound meant to thrash whatever preconceptions you might have about any particular band. It just gets to the root of everything. Joe’s guitar screams on this tune, those high notes like a desperate screech driving the sinister ditty toward eerie places. It’s in this song that I realize what a great guitarist Joe is. He’s strangely chaotic, but always on point.

The room starts to get steamy, so they take a break, and we go outside. The band reminisces about their best shows: Frank’s in Austin and a festival in Las Cruces. When everyone’s cooled off, we go back inside so the band can continue. Little Bobby puts on his signature head-piece, a top hat covered in multicolored flowers and feathers. They kick off another tune that reminds me of The Dandy Warhols, but with a little Monkees thrown in for good measure, which makes sense as The Monkees are one of Bobby’s main inspirations. As I think this, I also notice that Little Bobby looks like a mad scientist behind the keyboards, wailing away, hitting random notes; some work, some don’t.

Then they do “Bartender,” and I get lost in it. Through the open window I notice the sun winking out from behind a distant mass of clouds. The world outside has no idea about the mystical surges of pop-infused hooks belting their way over the hardwood floor. It’s just another living room in another city in another state. Nothing to see, but a lot to hear. The sound is fantastical, dreamy, but littered with broken bottles, aching muscles from having danced too hard on precious nights, nights drowning in the beauty of discord, hums along the highway, an orgy happening on the periphery. Dark and sweet. Then it’s over. “Something like that,” Bobby says.

Next is “Universe.” It’s more crunchy. I can’t really understand the lyrics, as the sounds of the guitar drown out Bobby’s vocals. It kind of reminds me of Dead Kennedys, with its off-kilter aesthetics, but it lacks that particular ferocity. Amanda has a smile on her face, dancing side to side, shaking her tambourine, excited to be included in the beautiful madness. I hear Bobby sing, “Do you believe in life after love?” I wonder if it’s a Cher reference. If so, I’m won over. If not, I’m still won over. Once the song finishes, I’m again reminded of the death of the California dream, black holes and sunsets, the beginning of the end, outer space pushing down on the horizon, a party for the end of the world.

The band takes another break when the heat becomes too much, and they talk about scheduling time for Bobby to go into the studio to record vocals for the new album. When they’re back behind their mics, instruments in hand, they play a tune called “Stuffed Animal Band,” which is a nod to the Albuquerque music scene, according to Bobby. Once again, Ryan counts it off. “One! Two! Three! Four!” There are shout-outs to Leeches of Lore and The Porter Draw amidst “oooh oooh’s.” “Come out to the van. Then you’ll be the #1 fan.” “Show’s over,” Joe says when the song’s finished. Time to go back to their lives. Time to venture on. The death of love is over.
The Death of Death

Joe Buffaloe (guitar) and Little Bobby Tucker (vocals, keys)

Mark Lopez

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