Every month or so, Brooklyn Based unveils an exclusive song by a Brooklyn band, recorded at Nadim Issa’s state-of-the-art recording studio in Gowanus, Let ’Em In Music. Then, Laura Leebove of the music-inspired food blog Eating the Beats creates a recipe with—or inspired by—the featured artist. This month’s mp3 is The Shondes’ cover of Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” and the recipe is homemade Pop-Tarts baked with drummer Temim Fruchter.
The Shondes have spent the better part of the last few years touring relentlessly, but as they were starting to write their third LP, the melodic-punk Brooklyn quartet was forced to make other plans. In July 2010, violinist Eli Oberman was diagnosed with cancer, causing the band to cancel a European tour, and in February of this year their van was stolen in Brooklyn. They overcame those challenges—thanks to months of treatment for now-cancer-free Oberman and a successful Kickstarter campaign to replace the van—and they came out the other side with Searchlights, out Sept. 20 via Exotic Fever Records.
Drummer Temim Fruchter says the band wanted to make an album that could still be joyful, despite unexpected circumstances—music equally appropriate for crying and dancing. They turned to 80s pop for inspiration. “It’s incredibly cheesy and over the top and you can dance to it and sing along,” she says, “but it’s also kind of emo and melodramatic in a way that pulls on something for me.” Fruchter, Oberman, vocalist/bassist Louisa Solomon and guitarist Fureigh spent time studying and rediscovering music by artists like Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen and, of course, the singer of their BB Songs cover, Pat Benatar.
“We all have always listened to Pat Benatar, but how much have we paid attention to what ‘Love is a Battlefield’ sounds like and how it’s played?” Fruchter says. “So we buckled down and listened to it, and we listened to Cyndi Lauper in a new kind of way together, and we’re like, ‘Oh, so they’re creating this effect by doing this and that.’”
She described Benatar’s music as having a defiant exuberance to it, and that’s not far off from The Shondes, either. Shonde is Yiddish for “disgrace” — fitting for a group that proudly breaks tradition and expectations by being queer, feminist Jews who are against Israel’s occupation of Palestine. While Searchlights isn’t as overtly political as some of their previous work, Fruchter says the band members’ ideals are still ingrained in everything they do. “On this record I think it’s just about how life is both and horrible and awesome at the same time. That’s sort of what inspired these songs and also it’s kind of true of political work,” she says. “You’re constantly mourning these huge tragedies and also celebrating huge victories. There’s a meta-politic that we hold on to that’s in our hearts while we’re writing this stuff, even if it’s not political in the most literal sense of the term.”
Throughout Searchlights, lyrics about breakups, uncertainty and losing sleep are backed by upbeat, violin-laced punk music that’s fit for driving with the top down. The song “Coney Island Tonight” is about escaping to Coney Island after a rough day, but the chorus is bright with soaring violin and ’60s girl-group harmonies.
Fruchter and Solomon wrote the album’s closing track, “Bright Again,” as a reflection on their rough year. “When I listen to that song, I think a lot of one of the most valuable lessons I learned from Riot Grrrl, which is not to shy away from expressing something just because it feels cliché,” says Solomon. “While there are certainly downsides to relying on clichés, there’s also no reason to over-complicate a simple feeling, like the helplessness and fear that go along with supporting a friend through illness.”
Fruchter says the challenge of staying grounded in Brooklyn gave the band an opportunity to strengthen themselves, as bandmates and friends. “[We reminded] ourselves that this process of songwriting and making art can actually be sustaining and healing,” she says. “We can sit in New York and work together and work out these songs, and when we’re done we’ll have a kickass record.”
Interview by Laura Leebove, the Brooklyn-based writer and self-taught home cook behind the music-inspired food blog Eating the Beats. Her full-time gig is in the editorial department at eMusic, and she spends most of her free time in the kitchen of her Bushwick apartment. Follow her on Twitter at @leebovel.