It’s a proud moment when a band can celebrate the release of its debut full-length album but slightly more unusual to celebrate the same release again six months later. But, as any fan will tell you, Eat Sugar doesn’t do much by the book.
Last August, the Cincy-based Electro/Indie/Rock quartet announced the digital release of its first full album, Levantense, promptly making it available on iTunes.
“We figured it was expensive to make CDs and people weren’t buying CDs anyway,” Eat Sugar drummer Greg Poneris says over beers at the Northside Tavern.
Within days, the band heard from Mush Records, which expressed serious interest in signing Eat Sugar and distributing Levantense traditionally, which meant the end of the album’s digital presence.
“Those recordings had been finished in March last year and we were pretty anxious to let people hear the recorded versions because in some instances they were so different,” vocalist Aidan Bogosian says. “We figured the easiest and least expensive way was to do the digital thing — ‘Let’s get it out there because we can.’ ”
With almost no publicity, Levantense barely blipped the Internet’s all-encompassing radar, a by-product of the brevity of its iTunes run, which Mush halted to help eventual physical sales.
“I’m continually surprised when people say, ‘Great record,’ and I’m like, ‘How did you hear it?’ ” Bogosian says. “But there’s always bit torrents out there. Once the genie’s out of the bottle …”
In some ways, Levantense naturally follows Eat Sugar’s previous EP, 2009’s well-received It’s Not Our Responsibility, which established the band’s profile as a guitar-less Synth Pop outfit with serious Rock & Roll energy. Both releases were produced by John Schmersal of NYC Indie/Electro band Enon, a guy who knows something about blending synth atmospherics with a Rock ethic.
But Levantense departs significantly from Responsibility.
“I felt like we’d progressed in songwriting in a way that I would never have anticipated at the start of the band,” Bogosian says. “More depth and texture, and less breakneck tempos, but still rhythmically forward. For this set of songs, I really wanted to have them come across in the best possible way, which I think we did. Toward the beginning, I had a set template in my head of what an Eat Sugar song sounds like, and that’s completely gone. I’m excited by the songs that if you told me three years ago this would be one of our songs, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Ohio Art Punk ass-shakers like Devo and Brainiac were early touchstones, but sonic similarities and influences are clearly two different subjects. Bogosian recognizes the need for people to connect those dots but establishes some ground rules.
“Be sure to do your own spin on, ‘If you’ve ever wondered, what if Devo hijacked a bus and drove it into Jim Morrison’s wedding where he married Linda Blair from The Exorcist and The Monkees were playing with John Lennon sitting in, that’s what Eat Sugar sounds like,’ ” Bogosian says, tongue firmly in cheek. “One review said we sounded like Afrika Bambaataa and Lady Gaga. I don’t know what they were listening to.”
However you define it, Eat Sugar upends the synth-driven Dance Pop concept by injecting it with a frenetic Rock vibe that gives the band’s sound a wildly appealing, unhinged edge. Bogosian frames it as “rhythmically aware, deconstructed Pop songs.”
Eat Sugar’s no-guitar profile has been in place since the band started five years ago when former Chalk members Poneris and bassist/keyboardist Jim Reynolds connected with Bogosian through mutual friends. Jamming on songs that Poneris and Reynolds had written led to the decision to add another keyboardist rather than a guitarist. After losing its original synthesizist, Mike McBride ultimately filled the slot.
“Me and Jim started the band, he played bass and keyboards and I played drums,” Poneris says. “A major influence to do that at the time were bands like Death From Above 1979. What’s funny is that a lot of people think there’s guitar because they think Jim’s bass sounds like a guitar, because they’re hardwired to think, ‘Oh — Rock band, guitar.’ ”
“Right away, a big part of the standard things that a Rock band does, we were automatically going to stay away from,” Reynolds says. “It opened us up to a lot of other things. It was useful in that way.”
“And of the typical primary Rock & Roll instruments, I think the guitar has the most potential for evil,” Bogosian adds. “The awful, wanky parts. I will happily stand apart from awful showboat guitarists.”
So what exactly is the significance of the new album’s title? Bogosian clarifies things. Slightly.
“I came up with a list of a hundred (titles) and there was consensus on surprisingly few,” he says with a laugh. “We liked the way (Levantense) looks, we liked the way it sounds. Graphically, I love it. ‘Levantense’ is actually command form Spanish for ‘stand up.’ Take that with a grain of salt. It’s our bid to win a Latin Grammy.”
Given Eat Sugar’s propulsive beats and adrenalized live presence, perhaps the sophomore follow-up should be command form Spanish for ‘now that you’re up, dance like a dervish.’ What the hell? You’re going to anyway.
Eat Sugar celebrates the Mush Records relaunch of Levantense with a free show Friday at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine with Pop Empire. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.