Seth Reeves has lots of things to say about living in Nashville. Some are good. Others, not so much.
“It’s the city of shattered dreams,” he deadpanned recently over beers at a Fort Worth bar with the rest of the Siberian Traps and me.
Now, Nashville is four years in his rearview mirror. And the new direction shows in his band. In the past, people applied the word “country” to talk about the Traps’ sound. Those people need a new adjective now.
The Siberian Traps formed in Nashville after Reeves had moved there from Fort Worth in 2009. He met drummer Peter Wierenga (proud graduate of Belmont University) and Parker Donaldson (who played with Wierenga in a band called SpiderFriends) at a house show.
“I was playing this solo set,” Reeves recalled, “and Pete was like, ‘Mind if I jump in on drums?’ So pretty soon after that, I started jamming with those guys.”
Reeves made a go at making it as a musician in Nashville. But, in 2011, his father passed away. With Wierenga and Donaldson in tow, he moved back to the Fort in 2012. Around the same time, bassist Mike Best was making the rounds as a sideman in now-defunct bands like Skeleton Coast and Mailman. Mailman main man Jon Phillips knew the SpiderFriends needed a bass player, so he gave Best’s number to Wierenga.
“Hey, Mike. Do you want to join Traps?”
Best was in.
The Siberian Traps’ sound carried the countrified Americana hallmarks from its Music City origins. But, within a year, more life events happened. The band more or less went on hiatus only to emerge a couple years later with a lineup change.
“The biggest difference, besides de-emphasizing the ‘twang’ or whatever, is that Parker moved back to Nashville in 2013, my wife had a baby in 2013, and I took a break from playing for nearly a year,” Reeves said.
When he was back at it, the band played as a three-piece until relatively recently, when Ben Hance (Secret Ghost Champion) joined on guitar and keyboards.
The Traps went into the studio and started work on their forthcoming album, Stray Dogs.
Reeves’ new ideas differed from the band’s first EP and album.
“I think, mainly, I wanted to do a record that was more up-tempo,” he said.
He cites REM’s 1986 album Life’s Rich Pageant as an influence on the new songwriting and production. You can definitely hear REM in the sonics and arrangements, but Stray Dogs grooves a little harder than the Athens band’s mid-’80s college-radio staples: Best and Wierenga share a near-telepathic intuition of each other’s stylistic moves, and when paired with Reeves melodies, the band hits its stride in a refreshingly bouncy take on jangle-pop. The buoyancy in the title track hints at a Paul Simon influence, while “She Came to Me” makes you think of Peter Gabriel filtered through someone who survived Nashville’s singer-songwriter meat grinder with his muse intact.
Stray Dogs’ overall vibe is almost giddy, but for all of that effervescence, the lyrical content is deeper, dealing with the kind of real feelings, insecurities, and life events that separate your 20s from 30s.
“I guess I’m pretty serious,” Reeves said. “My whole family is. It’s congenital dourness. But the songs on the record are also pretty serious. It was the first time I was able to really process my dad passing away. I thought I would write some song really quickly to deal with it right after he died, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t even know how to begin to approach his passing.”
Long before his father’s death, however, Reeves had an idea for an EP of “fictional Red Army patriotic songs.” His father was a WWII buff, and Reeves himself was fascinated with the Eastern Front, the battle fought between Germany and the Soviet Union.
“But, eventually, I realized I was never going to write this stupid Red Army record,” he said. “And I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to write about losing my dad. So I wrote a song called ‘Songs I Don’t Write.’ It’s about how I would like to write this song about these Red Army soldiers, how I’d write that kind of song for my dad. And that’s the closest I could really get.”
The death of Reeves’ father informs that particular track, but it’s Reeves’ own life that has shaped the album as a whole. The title comes from dealing with two separate mutts, one a scary junkyard dog he managed to yell into obedience and the other a wild dog he was determined to adopt.
“She was some kind of shepherd-husky mix, and at the high school where I teach, there was all this room for her to run around,” Reeves recalled. “I fed her cans of food every day, and eventually she let me get within about 10 feet before she’d run away. I thought, ‘I’m actually making progress with this dog.’ But then an ice storm hit. I never saw her again. I was ramping up the songwriting for this record and dealing with those stray dogs, so the title just fit.”
The band hopes that Stray Dogs is able to, well, roam. In anticipation of the album’s release on June 17 at Shipping & Receiving Bar, the Traps are dropping a video (on Wednesday, May 18) for “New Friend in Town,” a song produced by War Party drummer Peter Marsh.
The Traps also will tour up to Illinois toward the end of June to record a session for Daytrotter. In the meantime, Reeves and his band are going to keep looking ahead.
“I’ve already written five new ones for the next record,” he said.