When Margot & the Nuclear So and So's decided to record a new album the year before a presidential election, the Indianapolis art-pop collective did not anticipate becoming involved in a campaign of its own involving the simultaneous release of not one, but two sophomore albums.
At the end of 2007, during one of the coldest winters Chicago had experienced in decades, the group's eight members crammed into a studio to record the follow-up to its 2006 debut chamber-pop confection, "The Dust of Retreat."
"No one had packed coats," recalled front man and songwriter Richard Edwards. "So, we were forced to stay inside for weeks at a time, drinking whiskey, and concentrating on 20-second noise solos for 10 hours at a time."
Perhaps unconsciously drawing inspiration from the octet's years of sharing a house together and touring in a beat-up, black school bus outfitted with bunk beds, he originally planned the group's follow-up as a concept album about the Heaven's Gate cult and the 1997 mass suicide of its Nike-clad followers.
"(The Heaven's Gate theme) wasn't very cohesive," Edwards said. "But something was different " an intense focus overtook everyone involved. Songs began taking on a different kind of life."
THREE STRAIGHT MONTHS OF RECORDING
After three straight months of recording, the exhausted band completed and delivered to Epic Records, a 12-song album titled "Animal!" " a multi-instrumental smorgasbord of sweeping strings, grinding guitars, and perfervid percussive elements swirled together with Edwards' sincere but slightly skewed, wintery romanticism. Although the Heaven's Gate-centric track "Hello Vagina" may hint at an early vision of the album, songs like "As Tall as Cliffs" and "Mariel's Brazen Overture" (songs respectively about a ghost attempting to hang a sheriff and farm children establishing a collective inside of a mine shaft) bring a slightly darker weight to the band's material.
"I was very proud of it. It was something we had worked on for two years and it was finally done," Edwards said. "I felt very close to all of the songs and thought it created a nice, strange feeling when listened to in order."
The record label, unfortunately, felt differently, and wanted to remix the album to include songs from recording sessions that hadn't made the cut, including several set-list staples from Margot performances over the years.
"We made our record, sequenced it, and the label didn't like it," Edwards said. "So, we all drunkenly tried to come up with some ideas for a compromise, including some talk of just offering up all of the songs from the sessions on CD and digitally."
After weeks of escalating tensions over a singular album vision between Margot and Epic, both sides arrived at an agreeable arrangement to release two different versions of the album " "Animal!," featuring the band's original song selection and sequence, would come out as a vinyl-only release, while "Not Animal," a compilation of the label's favorite tracks, would be made available on CD and as a digital download.
"There's not much that overlaps between the two albums, because whatever songs from the sessions they liked and felt should be on the record were pretty much completely different from what we thought," Edwards said. "Eventually we decided if were just allowed to release 'Animal!' untouched without any label input in the best quality, like on two vinyl records, and really concentrate on making sure it sounds good, then the label could release a CD of the songs they wanted."
With a recent reinforcement of self-assurance, the act will bring its entire catalog of tunes, both shiny-new and "label faves" to the Opolis on Tuesday. With eight members traveling on the road together, the biggest obstacle now facing Margot may be developing an effective buddy system.
"Yeah, we've accidentally left people behind on the road. Our drummer (Chris Fry) got left at a truck stop in the middle of the night without a phone or any money for almost eight hours and almost got attacked by a gang of young hoodlums," Edwards said. "Other than that, I think it's a really great way to tour." "Lucas Ross