After more than a decade writing and singing songs, Seth Reeves, singer/guitarist of power-pop quartet Siberian Traps, is at a point where he feels he has said all he wants to say – at least about himself. Though the songwriting never stops, he said he just hit a moment when he didn’t have anything interesting to write about from a personal perspective.
“I just felt like the well had run dry writing personal, introspective songs about my own life and my own personal situation,” he said.
At the same time, the AP English Literature teacher by day was contemplating going to grad school for a master’s degree in his field and had been diving deeper into the literary material he taught to his students in class, so as Siberian Traps began working on material for a new album, he had an idea.
“I had started to take my craft and my subject [English Literature] a lot more seriously,” he said. “As I did that, I thought, ‘You know, I’ve been getting pretty tired of writing about myself. I’m going to try an experiment where, for the first time, I’m going to write in character.’ ”
This weekend, Siberian Traps will release their latest studio album, the fourth in their 10-year career. Infinite Jest – a nod to Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet, Reeves said, not the David Foster Wallace novel of the same name – is a literary concept album “in five acts,” as Reeves put it. Over the LP’s 10 tracks, Reeves inserts himself into different characters from literary history. The songs are paired off in couplets with Reeves approaching the subject from two opposing perspectives in each track. For example, the album’s first “act,” featuring the songs “Icarus” and its partner, “Fall of Daedalus,” was inspired by Ovid’s fable Icarus.
“I was watching my daughter who was 3 at the time, playing outside,” Reeves said about how the inspiration for the concept came to him. “She was getting mad because the wind was blowing her hair in a way that she didn’t like, so she was yelling at the wind to stop blowing. I had been reading James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young man, which is a retelling of the Icarus fatalist myth, at the time. I wrote ‘Fall of Daedalus’ thinking about my daughter yelling at the wind and how she would eventually learn one day that she could yell at the wind all she wanted, but it would never stop blowing.”
With that song finished, he decided to approach the story from the viewpoint of Daedalus’ son, Icarus. Reeves followed a similar pattern throughout the remainder of the album, with pairs of tracks inspired by Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and works by Shakespeare. Unaccustomed to writing from a perspective other than his own, Reeves said he was surprised to find the task almost effortless.
“It was actually much easier than I thought,” he said. “In some ways, it was much easier to write lyrics and conceptualize a song. It was like the pressure was off to, like, dramatize my ordinary boring life and personal situations. It was interesting to be able to go full-on theatrical with it.”
Musically, Infinite Jest shows Reeves, bassist Mike Best, guitarist Ben Hance, and drummer Peter Weirenga peaking sonically, as well as creatively. The so-called “Americana” root of their sound, from which they have tried to distance themselves and have gradually diluted over the course of their previous releases, has been washed completely away. What remains is harmony-driven, hook-heavy indie-rock blanketed in a lush, crystalline sheen of shimmering pop. It makes for a pleasing contrast to the weighty intellectualism of the lyrics. It’s not uncommon to find literary references from a brooding Leonard Cohen-type singer-songwriter, but it’s almost unheard of for such scholarly content to be delivered with the smooth candy-coating of Big Star-esque power pop.
The first single, “Ariel,” dropped on Friday and is a great prequel to the colorful psych-tinged production of the album. Jest was recorded at Taylor Tatsch’s Audio Styles in Dripping Springs, with Tatsch serving as engineer and drummer Weirenga producing. The album both hits as hard as a crane kick to the chest and envelopes the listener in a bed of downy clouds, highlighting all the more Reeves’ erudite lyrical phrases.
“I think it was Shakespeare who made the point that theater doesn’t just imitate life, [that] life itself is theatrical,” Reeves said. “I believe that it is inherently theatrical. It’s really the overriding idea connecting everything” on the album.
Siberian Traps album release show
9pm Sat w/Son of Stan and Polydogs at Shipping & Receiving Bar, 201 S Calhoun St, FW. $10.