Ithaca Journal - 27 May 01
By Jim Catalano
Not every band sticks to the usual guitar-bass-drums-keyboard format. Take Suran Song in Stag, for instance, who will perform Friday at the Nines.
The self-described art-pop combo from New Jersey uses bass and drums in its live shows, but rather than a guitar, singer Suran Song handles a slide projector to stream visuals on screens behind the band and on the musicians bodies during the show. The band also integrates costumes and fake blood into its multimedia presentation of "action art."
"The Germans actually invented the term," explains Song, "where the canvas becomes a huge, tall target of sorts, and the painter takes a running, charging attack with their loaded paintbrush in hand toward the picture plane. In performance art it's come to mean living paintings of sorts visuals or mark-making where the live human body animates the projected images to produce a condensed meaning, like a poem."
The band's musical influences range from Mike Watt and Gang of Four to the Go-Go's, Minor Threat, and Hugo Largo. While Brad Yablonsky sets down the drum grooves, bassist William Weis provides much of the sonic backdrop, covering the range and filling the space of both guitar and bass. "Mike Watt has been a key inspiration for him in pushing electric bass beyond what its conventional function is," Song says. "He spends about three hours every morning researching sounds the bass can make, and writes all these crazy diagrams and tables out of pedal knob positions and combinations."
The band is obviously named after Song, but where did the "in Stag" come from? "All of the musicians Bil and I have worked with have been guys, or Stag," Song explains. "So, it was a way to make a racy, ironic name like Barenaked Ladies or 10,000 Maniacs. Pornography rarely enters our show's subject matter, and if does it's there only to form questions for the viewer, like, 'Do you enjoy this still picture more than a real body? Why?'"
On their latest CD, the two-disc "Cowboys and Indians," Suran Song in Stag examine mirror images (see the photo, which is based on the cover art). The first CD, "Karaoke Cowboy Dance Disc," features sequels to songs from bands such as the Gang of Four, the Lords of the New Church and the Chills. The second disc, "Small Change Indian Trance Disc," features originals that the band views as a "Siamese outgrowth" of the songs on the first disc.
Thematically, on the CD, "we are trying to excavate the unconscious narrative of The Bully and America," Song says. "The story line of the 'Cowboys and Indians' live show and CD is a quest to unravel the where, why, how, who of domination." (Actually, there's a whole lot more to it than that, but you'll have to see the show to find out for yourself.)
Despite the band's use of visuals during live shows, "the music always comes first, before the invention of the action art, so the songs stand on their own," according to Song.
"Most people hear the CD and it registers as a driving punk-pop collection of songs," she says. "We were really conscious with this record about the songs not being a soundtrack, where you feel you are missing something by not seeing a simultaneous visual element. The CD has been getting people out to the shows, and then they see our film loops of playground bullies, our slide projections of our cloning experiments upon ourselves as various sundry mutant Cowboys and Indians, our fake blood, and then I think they go home with the action art to the songs locked in memory - I hope."