SATURDAY LOOKS GOOD TO ME has taken many forms since it’s inception in 1999. Founded and maintained, in various forms, by Fred Thomas, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, SATURDAY LOOKS GOOD TO ME plays classic indie pop that hearkens back to sixties-era girl groups and Motown harmonies, with contemporary elements to keep them current. It’s like what would happen if the BEACH BOYS had female vocalists and a hefty amount of lyrical influence from BELLE AND SEBASTIAN. Their recently released fifth album, One Kiss Ends it All (available on Polyvinyl) is a record full of sunlight that is about to be obscured by thunderclouds: ruminative and mournful lyrics over a Day-Glo sound. This is the Brady Bunch after losing the mortgage. Nothing But Hope and Passion had a little Q&A with Fred Thomas, who wrote about making a living as a musician, the Great Lakes and ever-changing band line-ups. If you have never had the pleasure of visiting the Midwest of the USA or meeting a Midwesterner, just think, this is the land where both “nice” and “earnest” were invented. Fred fits the bill with his enthusiastic and sweetly sincere answers. Plus, he references the CAN discography.
SATURDAY LOOKS GOOD TO ME has been a band since 1999. What have been some key time periods for the band?
Things have seemed to go in really different phases. From late ’99 to about 2002 I just recorded on four-track in my basement. There were only a few live shows always with different members. In 2003 we got a booking agent, put out a record and went from being mostly a recording thing to a band that toured for months on end. We basically were on tour in the US and Europe for five years. Then in 2008, exhausted and confused, the band was paused for a while before popping back up last year.
SLGTM has had several line-up changes, and your studio band and live band are different. With your self-proclaimed “revolving door” line-up, you end up playing with a range of musicians. How do you find the people to collaborate with, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of switching it up like this?
This came about mainly because I write all the songs and record the core instruments for most songs by myself on the records. There are always guests and different people singing the songs, and that’s usually just because I like other people’s voices more than my own for many of these songs. When we started touring constantly, we still never reached a level of financial success that made it worthwhile for people involved in the band to just drop their lives and come on tour forever. Rather than have a single, unchangeable lineup and have to say no to almost every touring opportunity, it worked out to just cobble together a new version of the band almost every time. There have been some phases of consistent line-ups, but not many and not for very long. One of the main drawbacks about this is that people who come to see the shows can be surprised, upset or disappointed when they get something way different than they expected. I sometimes envy bands that don’t have to explain the changes in their membership to pissed-off fans!! Playing in my other band SWIMSUIT is really great because it’s been the same four people for every single show, simple and easy to understand.
You and SLGTM re-emerged in 2012, after an abrupt hiatus in May 2008. Indie rock loves mystery. Care to elaborate on the reasons and motivations for this?
It was kind of a mystery to me, as well. I tried hard not to overexplain things in interviews because I couldn’t exactly place the reasons for it myself at the time. I will say I had been moving around a lot (Michigan to Portland to New York and ultimately back to Michigan) and it was becoming more and more desperate feeling trying to keep the band going with new people, and losing more and more money on tour every time. Around the time of our 2007 album Fill Up The Room I was also getting really immersed into the more experimental and sample-based sounds that would make up my next project CITY CENTER, and trying to translate those weirder elements into what had always been at least somewhat a traditional pop band was confusing for both audiences and myself. Stepping away was necessary and we waited until the right time to come back.
The musical landscape has shifted dramatically since you started the band. What has been the coolest thing about the Internet revolutionizing the musical industry, and what’s the worst?
This has probably been said before in different ways, but I think the best and worst thing about the Internet’s effect on the music world is the same thing. Instant access gives the people whatever they want, whenever, for free. This is of course amazing because you have people in their early teens just getting into music who already have digested and understood the CAN discography or are clicks away from the immediate influence of whatever turns them on. By the same token, this can lessen the impact and urgency of music, and sort of homogenize people’s opinions, listening habits and music making habits. There was a controversial article sort of about this called “Our Band Could Be Your Band” by the guy from El Guapo. He posited that the internet was making all new bands kind of sound the same, which I don’t totally agree with, but it is changing the ways people are passionate about music.
“One Kiss Ends It All”, your most recent record, is a beautifully crafted gem of indie pop, yet themes that emerge are by no means bubblegum and lighthearted: there’s jealousy, break ups, and the idea of moving to Brooklyn. Any particular inspiration for lyrics?
Our lyrics have always been dark and lonely themes buried in incredibly sunny sounds, but most people don’t really notice. Thanks for noticing!! This record is no different, but written from a place of greater isolation and heavy-heartedness. The song Sunglasses is probably the most chipper one on the record, but it’s about being exhausted by constant strife, harassment and ugliness and just wanting to throw it all away and try to remember what fun feels like.
SATURDAY LOOKS GOOD TO ME: “Hope and passion are indeed pretty much what life is about.”
You’re from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Motown and Northern Soul, which is from that part of the US, influences your sound. Tell me more about key influences, important early bands or musicians in your life.
Motown is omnipresent, and some of the best, most magical music ever put to tape. I really love how even though those songs are classic, flawless pop, played expertly with so much love and youthful joy, there’s still a lot of randomness to it. Improvised parts, kind of winging it, miscommunication between the drummer and the horn section or even weird production stuff. I really love that and think might be a Michigan thing. I searched out the space between really meticulous and totally random, and found it the most in stuff like Motown, dub like KING TUBBY or SCIENTIST, early K Records or Postcard bands, and of course all the awkward twilight feelings that BELLE AND SEBASTIAN expressed so perfectly on their first few records.
For our European audience, could you tell us what is so great about the Great Lakes region?
Well, if you’re standing anywhere in Michigan, you’re never more than six miles away from a lake. Usually less than six miles, so you can pretty much walk to the water from wherever you are, jump in and start your life afresh.
If you could be any member of the BEACH BOYS, which one would you be? From which album/era?
Dennis Wilson right around Pacific Ocean Blue. I might have said something different ten years ago, but like life itself, the trajectory of the BEACH BOYS takes us all places we never expected.
It’s all about hope and passion here at Nothing But Hope And Passion. We always ask: what do hope and passion mean to you?
I’m so glad you asked. Hope and passion are indeed pretty much what life is about. Without either of these things everything is gray, mechanical, bottom line ugliness. I’ve always been incredibly passionate about my art, my friendships, the way people treat each other and the extremely idealized way I’d like to see the world become. Hope is what fuels these passions because they’re all really difficult to keep going. I feel like my life has been and will continue to be a really unique, beautiful, ceaselessly pure thing because of how I’ve chosen to be true to my hopes and passions, and I feel both lucky and proud to be able to say and believe that! Since you asked and all. Thank you!!!