Local Wire

A Before and After Look at Robin Vining's Sweetbleeders

Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona around or shortly after the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have a limited time to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.

You know that "vote of no confidence" that radio gives a band when it hasn't released a record in a long time? And once that band puts out a new record, radio stations immediately start playing the band's older records in heavy rotation? Well, that's not what's happening here. I've been a fan of Sweetbleeders since I first saw them on a bill with another band I've subsequently forgotten, and the law of diminishing returns definitely has not kicked in. You can't help but be drawn in by Robin Vining's angelic voice, sharp songwriting and off-the-charts musicianship. It may not always be the kind of music you expect to hear at a place that serves firewater, but it is the kind of music you take with you after that night out has otherwise vaporized in the memory bank.

On Thursday, November 12, Robin Vining, David Marquez, Steven Dueck, and Brendan Dueck begin a new chapter in the band's history with the release of We Were Never Here, an album that took four years to make. To mark the release, the band will bring its new music to Crescent Ballroom on the same night that Vining and choreographer Jessica Rajko will debut a new dance work titled I'm Not as Think as You Drunk I Am.

"I think it makes sense to bring these worlds together for once, as I have been accompanying dance classes as a profession for over 12 years, and composing music and soundtracks for dance pieces that don't get much attention outside of the ASU dance department," says Vining. "It's a major part of my life and has had a big influence on what I do anywhere making music."

Of course, Vining is no stranger to multitasking. You also can see him playing with Jimmy Eat World, Fatigo, and a host of other bands that tap his services. And it was that way when he and Sweetbleeders co-founder Mark Erickson headed up two bands, with Erickson being the lead guy in Colorstore and Vining the main voice and songwriter of Sweetbleeders. I'd never seen anything like the cooperative those guys managed to have until Erickson's death in 2012. They would plot out whole seasons of shows and recordings when they would be in service of one band or another, almost like farmers' method of crop rotation.

From my 2004 profile of the band ("Side Projectors"):

Sweetbleeders' strange adventure of merger and intrigue began in 2000, when Vining was introduced to kindred spirit Mark Erickson, his partner both in the current Sweetbleeders and in Colorstore. At that time, the original version of Colorstore was fading to black. In a ringing endorsement of his friend's talents, Vining submerged his ego and his rhythm section into a second version of Colorstore, with no mention of the Bleeders for a year. But while the styles of two different writers jelled, it was hard to build momentum in a set when lead vocalists had to tag team every couple of songs.

"There's so much material — that's one of the factors in having the two bands," explains Erickson. "In Colorstore, I write the songs. In Sweetbleeders, Robin writes the songs. And one of the ideas in separating the bands was to give each other the freedom to say, 'This is how it's gonna be,' without having a unified band direction or sound."
Our "then" Sweetbleeders track is "Smoke in the Valley," which hails from 2003's five-song EP, Murder Go Home, recorded at WaveLab in Tucson. It's a fine representation of the timeless crime-and-punishment songs Vining wrote then, when people cared enough to kill other people with blunt instruments instead of impersonal lethal injection. Nothing says "you're out of here" like a guillotine blade.

Fast-forward to "now," with Vining and his crew looking less like a boy band but more like the kind of go-to guys you ask for directions when you're hopelessly lost. Here's the title track from the new album, with added instrumentation from violinist Megyn Neff and pedal steel master Jon Rauhouse. Here's Vining ruminating over abandonment, loss, and the secrets we keep from our closest loved ones and take to the grave. "Turns out that you were someone else / And turns out that I was someone else / Turns out that we were never here at all." But it's also optimistic: "No longer being a stranger once here ceases to be the prime location for us." Should go over well with all types of transient Phoenicians!

Hopefully, by the time you read this, the entire album will be available for download on Bandcamp, but if our Heritage Hump offerings can't hold you until you have the whole album, you also can enjoy and purchase an EP version that contains Albuterol II (the second movement of their quadruple-part Albuterol epic and two other selections).

Sweetbleeders head up a nght of music and dance Thursday, November 12, at Crescent Ballroom. Also on the bill are choreographer Jessica Rajko, Treasure Mammal, and DJ Fabulous.
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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic