Sybris | No Drama Vortex Here

sybris2.jpgIt is stream of consciousness stuff. I will get a melody and go back and write some words. When it comes time to record and fill in the rest of the words it is interesting. What I was sort of saying/mumbling has a lot more meaning.

Photos: Heather Stumpf

I had come in to my interview with Sybris ‘s (pronounced si-briss) Angela Mullenhour wondering how truly unique voices often come with a personality to match. We have all heard the stories – Joplin and her bottle, Dulli and his skirmishes, or any one of a thousand other misbehaving rock stars – and we wonder if that vocal perfection is accompanied by behavior that makes them just a bit out of control. I have stood at the edge of the stage and wondered just where is that singer’s head at? Is this night that he will smash his guitar? Self-destruct on stage?  Where does the act end and the real person start?

All these questions flowed through my mind as I was preparing to talk with Mullenhour of the Chicago-based band. Her onstage singer/guitarist duties seemed to include being transported far off into space. The body on stage shakes and screams, throwing lyrics like a stream of consciousness at the audience and the walls. "I have no idea where it comes from or what is really happening when I’m on stage," says Mullenhour "I don’t think about anything really, just singing really hard. I am just sure that is what I am supposed to be doing – it is the one time I am 100% sure."

The singer gets a lot of time on stage. The band has toured nearly non-stop since it was founded six years ago when the 19-year old Mullenhour met Eric Mahle, Phil Naumann, and Shawn Podgurksi. This was her first band and the first time she felt comfortable singing in public. She admitted that in high school she had tried out for the yearly musicals "but once I would get in front of anybody I couldn’t do it" adding "they were all like shitty Grease songs anyway."

They started performing and touring soon after and released an EP, A Time for Hollerin’. Their growing fan base and the attention they started receiving from national press got them a contract with Flameshovel for their self-titled debut. The album received glowing reviews. They continued touring on that album, opening for the Hold Steady and Fiery Furnaces, plus appearing at Lollapalooza. Last year their new label, Absolutely Kosher had them record a follow-up Into The Trees with John Congleton at his Pachyderm Studios (home to PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, Nirvana’s In Utero, and many more).

Currently the band is taking some time off the road and working on new material. They hope to record a follow-up to Trees later in the year. Mullenhour and the band are not homebodies though. "Touring is where Sybris really comes together and remember why we are in a band. Hopefully, after this record comes out we just want to be on the road constantly." Essentially it comes down to a group that likes each other a great deal and finds energy from the long haul to far away cities. Mullenhour also admitted that this was a way the band could see all those places they couldn’t really afford to travel to, but "we can just see writing songs."

In trying to describe a Sybris song it is hard not to say "stream of consciousness" as the songs tell a story that is probably apparent to their author, but not so much to the rest of the world. In talking with Mullenhour I kept using the term "inner voice" and she chuckled saying "it is stream of consciousness stuff. I will get a melody and go back and write some words. When it comes time to record and fill in the rest of the words it is interesting. What I was sort of saying/mumbling has a lot more meaning."

"Sometimes" she points out "we build songs around poems I’ve written ("Saint Veronica") or through the rehearsal process" where the band will start a jam and find what works. Mullenhour almost apologizes when explaining that the band does not really have any slow songs. "We’re not very good at writing slow songs…like sad songs. But we all really like slow, sad songs. When we get in our room together we all just want to thrash around." sybris2.jpg

One of the oddest features of Sybris these days is that they have gone Hollywood. One of my first questions to Mullenhour was what Hilary Duff is really like. Once again she was apologetic and let me know she had never actually met Duff. What prompted my question was the use of Sybris’s "Breathe Like You’re Dancing" from their first album as the main song for the new Duff movie Greta. "It couldn’t be more surreal" said the singer, "we played a street fair couple years ago and video director Nancy Bardawil saw us and wanted to use our music for her first feature – Greta." Mullenhour went on to relate how the chance meeting lead to "this strange relationship. I ended up helping with trailers that were sent to producers doing a sort of a weird internal monolugue of Hillary Duff." Word is that the film has been picked up for distribution. For now you can enjoy the Website:

Mullenhour appeared safe from the raging personality I had pictured, never once offering to clock me with a bottle of Jack Daniels. "I’m a pretty chilled out person" she assured me "my life is really easy. I don’t make a lot of drama. I do get surly and shit, but I’m not a crazy person. I don’t know where that comes from on stage. It is a different thing. Otherwise I am just kind of wandering around, riding my bike, going to the bars, cracking jokes… Not really a drama vortex…"

Suddenly out of the phone erupted a string of obscenity that would make even Richard Nixon blush. I learned words in those moments that I will not forget, even on my death bed. The interview had taken place on the streets of Chicago where Mullenhour had just finished a yoga class and was pacing on the block around the building with her BMX bike, safely chained in front of the building. Returning back and just after having answered my question about her off-stage demeanor she found that some capable Chicago thief had made off with the back tire. The woman was pissed at the junior criminal, the City of Chicago, and long walk back to her apartment.

After calming down and chuckling at the irony of the question’s timing Mullenhour calmed my fears once again and probably went off to kick some junior criminal ass while she lays the groundwork for a future Sybris track on the evils of BMX tire boosting. | Jim Dunn


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About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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