Rob Trucks’s “Possibly 4th Street” expositions, in which he invites musicians to perform live and impromptu somewhere in New York City, run intermittently here at Sound of the City. This is the first one with a band named after a Russian president. We are very proud.
all photos by Rob Trucks
Possibly 4th Street
Number 20 (Part One)
Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin
by Rob Trucks
On a Monday afternoon in late April, we gather in Central Park–Strawberry Fields to be specific–with the marble-mouth-monikered Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin. The boys leave their van off Broadway and, without realizing, approach from the north side of 72nd Street, right past the spot where John Lennon met his demise. But just inside the park, in the afternoon shadow of the Dakota, the Springfield, Missouri collective recognizes Strawberry Fields.
Like most any late spring day, an assortment of humanity has gathered: couples, young and old, taking a break from surprisingly active strolls, Upper West Side moms resting next to occupied baby carriages, tourists who’ve come to pay their respects or have their picture made at yet another New York City landmark, and a group of men primarily noticeable for their matching hairstyles–long, stringy, thinning–and loud, pontificating conversations. Guys you might see seated on barstools offering a running stream of opinions well before the rest of the city clocks out for the day. Except this is their bar. This is their social life. Here, in Strawberry Fields, they are regulars.
Flowers, both fresh and not-so, line the “Imagine” circle that defines the centerpoint of what is now known as John Lennon’s figurative corner of the Park. But music–the primary instrument of Lennon’s fame, fortune and force–is not allowed. The signs say so. White letters on green park placards suggest “meditation” as a possible alternative. But no music. Somehow that seems right, and somehow it doesn’t.
But in Central Park there are plenty of places to perform. And it’s a beautiful day made for wandering. So the Boris Yeltsin boys sit on steps, walks down rocks and stands in front of the picturesque lake, almost within reach of the paddleboats drifting by.
Those latent couples, resting moms, and camera-toting visitors can probably hear them. A pop band from Middle America–in a very real sense tourists themselves–strumming open chords and singing harmony. Faintly. In the distance. Carried by the wind. And somehow that seems about right, too.
Possibly 4th Street
Number 20 (Part Two)
Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin
Will Knauer of Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin
Monday, April 21
You’re from Springfield, Missouri. Is that the same Springfield the Simpsons are from?
It was almost the same city. There was a contest when the movie came out to determine which actual city it was, and my stepmom was actually in charge of the directors who had to film a video to prove that our Springfield was indeed the Springfield. And then everybody voted and we lost to Springfield, Vermont.
I didn’t know there was a Springfield, Vermont.
That’s actually where the Simpsons are from.
So did Springfield, Missouri finish second or do you just lose if you don’t win?
We got a free movie poster, but we didn’t win. I don’t think there was a second place.
Let’s talk about Russia since your band played there. Would you have made the trip if Boris Yeltsin wasn’t one-third of the band’s name?
We’d always wanted to [go]. Phil [Dickey] had actually been there with his high school, I believe, or his college, and we do think that one of the reasons we got to go over there was because of the name. One of our original goals was to play for Boris Yeltsin, or at least meet him, and we knew that was a small chance so we were hoping at least he would know about us. But he died about two or three months before we got to go over there.
How was the trip?
It was amazing. We felt like we were going home in a sense, like we were discovering ourselves.
I’m not an expert on the Eurasian sense of humor. Was there any worry that people would find the name of your band disrespectful in some way?
Yeah, actually we talked about that a lot. We joked that there may be like police guarding us as we went to the festival, or if we’d cause riots or anything. We knew that was a little far-fetched, but we were worried there might be some controversy. But it was actually almost the opposite because from stage I could see like people holding up signs that said our name and stuff, and they were very receptive. They were more just curious why we chose Boris Yeltsin because, you know, towards the end of his term he hadn’t been the most popular man in office.
I believe the official story is that Phil’s in the car with his mom and headed to the mall when he thought of the band name. Do you tell the same story in Russia?
I think we kind of got confused in high school where the name came from, because at the same time my brother had written a paper about Boris Yeltsin, and so like we kind of weren’t sure like which happened first and so they’re both kind of true.
So which story do you tell in Central Park?
I guess the Central Park answer is that Phil thought it up in his car around the time Boris Yeltsin resigned.
With such a long and unusual name, I’d imagine promoters and radio station would screw them up about 57 different ways. Do you remember some of the mistakes?
Sure. The very first time we ever played out–I think it was in 2000–we played at Coley’s Pub in Springfield, Missouri, and the newspaper listing said Someone Still Loves You, Gorbachev. And we were like, ‘There’s no way they could’ve gotten it that wrong.’ The other band we were playing with was named Bonfire Legends, but they were listed as Bovine League so I don’t know who was doing the paper that day but . . .
If the band went on Jeopardy and the category was something like Boris Yeltsin or Contemporary Russian Politics, could you just completely kick ass?
You know, we kind of had to look up some things because we did start getting questions about it. I think Phil probably knows more than John [Robert Caldwell] and I about Boris Yeltsin. I think, because of his Russian class, he kind knows a lot more about it. Honestly, I really don’t know too much about him. I mean, I know I wish he was my dad, but . . . “
Your dad? Really? In what way?
He seems really loving. He seems like a big teddy bear I just want to like hug and cuddle up with. I want him to like throw me in the swimming pool and I want to get mad at him and I want him to like buy me presents and stuff.
You said that Phil had a Russian class. Does he speak the language at all?
No. We were practicing in the van yesterday.We remember spasibo, which is thank you, and that’s about it.
What was the best food you ate in Russia?
The borscht. It’s a soup made of like beet. It’s a little thicker. It has like onions and stuff in it. It’s really good. It’s kind of like a deep purple, which is my favorite color.
Tell me about one of the songs you played today.
Okay, the second song we played is called “Half Awake, Deb,” and we were going to record it for a seven-inch split record we were putting out and we only had about two days to record it. And Phil’s like, ‘Okay, well, I have this really old riff that used to be a song called “Where the F is Tom?” who was one of our old members who like we could never find, and so went down into this recording studio that Jonathan (James) kind of has. It’s not as much a recording studio as just like a practice space with lots and lots of equipment and stuff. It’s very cold down there. I remember just sitting around a little heater and hands were freezing. We were in coats, and it was all like blinking flourescent light bulbs, and we just sat down. We just kind of jammed on it and came up with parts and recorded it in like one day.
So if the whole band is jamming, does everyone get a co-write credit or does Phil get the hefty royalty check because he had the riff first?
No, we split it pretty evenly, because, I mean, John did a lot and I did a lot and Jonathan did a lot.
Which song on Pershing was written first?
Actually the first song we played today, “You Could Write A Book.” Phil and I actually wrote that back in high school, probably in like 1999 or 2000. That song’s been sitting around for a long time. It barely made it onto Pershing actually. It’s kind of a last minute thing and I remember I just did the guitar in like one take and we were like, ‘That actually sounds pretty good.’ Everyone seems to like it, though. It’s a really old song but it’s finally getting the recognition it deserves, I think.
And what’s the last song written that made the cut?
I think the last song was probably either the third song we played today, “I Think I Want To Die,” or a song John did called “Some Constellation.” Those were both written during the recording process.
Is there anything to be learned from that wide time range? It almost sounds like you were gathering material for the studio as opposed to, ‘We have these eleven songs and they’re wonderful and pristine and they all go together in a group and this is our album.’
Well, we actually really only dug that one song up. I didn’t mean dug it up. We’ve been playing it for a while. Almost all the songs have been written since Broom, and we’ve been playing them live for a really long time. I guess we didn’t really dig around for old stuff as much as just fine tune these songs that we’ve been playing for a year or two. And we recorded like a lot of other songs and we picked the best ones that would like fit together. And I think “You Could Write A Book” really was like the only really old song. We took a couple just like small riffs that were from a long time ago and put them into songs and stuff, but for the most part, I mean, you know, it’s mostly new.