Musically, the Vietnam War era is remembered through "All Along the Watch Tower," "American Woman," "War Pigs," and Hot Rocks-era Rolling Stones — the sort of heavily bluesified rock songs you'll hear in Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. Odd as it may seem, future generations may think Operation Iraqi Freedom sounds like Franz Ferdinand, The White Stripes, and Modest Mouse.
At least to Dan Somers, lead singer and guitarist for Phoenix indie band Lisa Savidge, who did two tours of duty in Iraq.
"We were literally rolling around lacing people up with a machine gun blasting The Killers' Hot Fuss," he says.
Yes, "Mr. Brightside" and all. The irony of fighting a war while indie rock songs like "All These Things That I've Done" ("I've gooot soul but I'm nooot a sooooldier") play in the background is not lost on Somers.
"I admit that that's a little bizarre, but that's what it was. I hadn't really gotten introduced to indie rock before that, so suddenly it became this part of my life in the most bizarre circumstances imaginable."
Perhaps it's not surprising that the music that soundtracked that experience, indie rock, became Somers medium of choice. It heavily informs Lisa Savidge's music, which is a mix of prog rock, post punk, and shoegaze.
If you read the name Lisa Savidge and pictured her as a pot-smoking, peace rambling vegan songstress with a backup band, you've made the local quintet smile.
"We decided to make this fake person. The only way the [name] wouldn't box us in is if it's the opposite of what we were, so we picked a singer songwriter crunchy granola sort of name," said Somers.
So there isn't a woman named Lisa in the band. Somers and lead guitarist Ellery Keller came up with the name after a night of drinking.
"For whatever reason, the name Lisa jumped out at us right away, maybe I was thinking of Lisa Loeb, that sounded very granola. A couple weeks before that I was in New York City, and I saw the movie The Savages. I thought it was really clever, I didn't realize until I saw the movie that Savages was the last name," said Somers.
Keller suggested an alternate spelling to differentiate them from a band like Savage Garden — and Phoenix's least-traditional band name was born. That's pretty much the least thought they've put into anything about this serious-minded band.
Partly that's a function of how things began. Somers formed the band to share his experiences after serving in Iraq because, in his words, "nobody wants to be Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski."
Not that his time was any less powerful for him than when Walter watched his buddies die face down in the muck.
Somers describes his time fighting as "this crystallized perspective where everything is important in a Sartre kind of way. Every day you're creating yourself. I didn't have that perspective and if [I hadn't got] in a very permanent and harsh way, I probably wouldn't be able to write at all."
Yet Lisa Savidge's songs are not explicitly about the glories and horrors of war. "Appalachacha (Pts. 1&2)", the closing track from their latest self-titled album, was inspired by a drive to Los Angeles as the band discovered the "unglamorous" side of touring. Somers said the touring experience wasn't quite what they expected — it felt like punching a clock.
The idea of being young and idealistic, yet learning things never work out as planned, is a reoccurring theme on the album.
Keyboardist/guitarist Nick Gortari feels that way, too. "It spans the 20s part of your life where you have this idealism but end up pulling levers all day. We wanted to show that this is worldwide; it's not just a Western thing."
Lisa Savidge set out to make a record that fans would listen to in full, defying the trend in the mp3 age. Five songs from the band's eponymous release have more than one movement. Somers grew up listening to Bach and high-concept records from Pink Floyd and The Beatles, so it made sense to him.
"Imagine starting halfway through or stopping halfway through — that doesn't make sense," he says, comparing the experience to vinyl. "Instead, we have this approach where we'll take a sonic idea and run it through its chorus. When it's done, it's done, we move on to a related idea. That's where it starts dividing into parts, but at the same time we can't put those on separate tracks."
The parts are also used to indicate that a particular band member wrote a specific piece of a song. Lisa Savidge is a democracy — each member writes his own music and has equal say in how it turns out, which may come as a surprise because Somers produced the album and Gortari owns the band's label, Black Cactus Records.
After about a year of planning, they recorded the album over a three-day span at audioconfusion, Jalipaz Nelson's Mesa studio. The band preferred this setting to the "Hollywood style" recording of their first record, which did not turn out as they expected. Nelson acted professionally and diligently while doing "a really good job of making you feel relaxed and at home so you can get your best performance possible," Somers said. The album was released last month.
Unlike Walter Sobchak, Somers does not refuse to work on Shabbos, in fact, he and the other band members are always diligently working on something. Somers said their philosophy is like Bright Eyes' lyrics put in a different context: "I'd rather be working for a paycheck than trying to win the lottery."
The goal is to make unique music. "I wanted to hear something nobody else had made yet. If someone else had made it before me, I wouldn't have bothered. I'd go to law school and make big money so I could drive a BMW," Somers said.
The band has already created four music videos and has three more in the works. With the help of public domain films, they were able to take old footage and cut it to the pace of their songs, as seen in "Appalachacha," "You Killed Me," and "Moment of Silence."
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The Lisa Savidge guys are also busy distributing their music through guerrilla marketing tactics. They started a campaign based on the "Where's George?" concept of tracking the circulation of dollar bills and made a game out of distributing a sampler of their album. These "elk cloners" were hidden in local coffee shops, clothing stores, "and wherever tastemakers hang out," said Gortari. The CD's insert, which reads, "You're part of a social experiment," encourages the listener to burn a copy the album for their friends and go online to input their location information. The sampler has been distributed as far as England.
They have a few shows scheduled in the Phoenix area before they embark on a West Coast tour in April. All their March proceeds will go to Red Crescent, which provides blood to those ensnared in Middle East conflicts.
"We're not taking a political stance, because it's not our position to do so. People on all sides have been hurt and need care, whether it's protesters, soldiers, or police who are just kids trying to do their job. In a country like Libya, a few bucks will make a huge difference," Somers says.
No doubt someone at the organization will be very thankful that a nice young lady named Lisa — probably imagined as some hippie chick in a flowing skirt — sent a check.