DOWNSIZE THIS: The So and Sos' everything-at-once sense of inclusion rubs roughly against a longing for control and direction.
If you're in a Boston band and you're fond of complaining that our little hamlet is just too little a hamlet, or that our close cultural quarters and high concentration of music types conspire to smother the creative energy enjoyed by more sprawling cities, I've got six syllables to set you straight: Indianapolis.
Yeah that's right: not only does Indianapolis exist, it seems, but it's got people who form bands. Just not very many.
"It's one of those places that if you get involved with the four or so bands that are doing something, you know everyone," says a logy Richard Edwards, maestro of the free-wheelin' Indy rock octet Margot & the Nuclear So and So's, who'll grace the Paradise this Tuesday. "There aren't many people to choose from, but it's nice: everyone knows everyone."
Although Edwards has lived in Chicago for the past five months, he remains a staunch defender of his Naptown roots. He notes that whereas it's a very difficult city in which to gain an audience, its innate tightness enables — or even necessitates — a collaborative spirit. In assembling his own band, Edwards pulled a ShamWow move and sucked in every nearby talent he could.
Thus we have the Nuclear So and So's (spoiler: there's no Margot): two guitarists (including Edwards), bass, drums, keyboards, percussion, assorted brass, and lap steel. If that gear list has you thinking of populous outfits like Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire, you have joined the ranks of everyone who has ever written about them without listening. The So and Sos' brand of hoedown is a bit more clambering, unbuttoned, and believable. Their bio throws its hands up halfway through and resorts to "genre-defying" — but the nervous energy that urges each song forward sounds a lot more like anxiety than defiance. There's an everything-at-once sense of inclusion in the music that rubs roughly against an almost palpable longing for control and direction — and that has a lot to do with the quavering vocal leadership of Edwards.
"We wanted to make a record that was very personal-sounding — even in terms of its sounds. That doesn't always make for a jangly, catchy record. And personal records, I believe, are a little out of style right now, but we wanted to reflect the mood of things around us."
That mood was cold, dark, cloistered, and crowded. The eight piled into their converted shortbus and headed to Chicago, where they camped in producer Brian Deck's digs for the winter months of '07-'08. Edwards credits Deck with paring down the "85,000 ideas" the band were trying to do into a set of rag-tag yet tidy ditties that still amounted to two discs' worth of material, last fall's Animal! and its companion Not Animal (Epic). He laments his two-headed monster to an extent, born as it was of Epic reps seeing no dollar signs radiating from Animal! as they delivered it and pressuring the band into releasing the less-cohesive (if catchier) fare of Not Animal.