Check your comparisons at the door. They want to stand on their own merits, and rightfully so. Because for all that The Sheila Divine encompass that which is good about the best moody rock from the “80s, they also extend their sound far beyond that to create a sonic wall of melancholy fit for discerning ears in the ’00s.
And those ears will have a new treat soon, as the band is poised to release their sophomore full-length, ~ Have My Countrymen Gone, nationally on March 20, 2001 on Co-Op Pop Records, a label affiliated with the Newbury Comics retail chain in their now-hometown of Boston. The album is an 11-song snapshot of life Sheila Divine-style: equal parts moody and sad, epic and sweeping, and beautifully hopeful. Oh yeah, and rock ‘n’ roll.
For three guys who met in college (State University of New York -Oneonta), it’s been an interesting journey to the here and now. Aaron Perrino (vocals, guitars), Shawn Sears (drums), and Jim Gilbert (bass) didn’t actually even begin playing together until they’d all ended up, quite independently, in Boston. They booked their first gig before they’d even rehearsed once. Only six months passed before they were signed to a label (Roadrunner). An eponymous EP and an album (New Parade) later, they found themselves with a great deal of experience under their proverbial belts.
Looking for a different direction, the band set out to do things themselves the next go-around, which also meant The Sheila Divine could stir things up a bit. “I was listening to Radiohead’s The Bends and it just came to me that we needed another guitarist,” says Gilbert. “We had decided to do a DIY record and it was the perfect time to reinvent ourselves a little bit.” Perrino concurs, adding, “It feels fake when you just hire a musician. We wanted the commitment of having someone who was into it as much as we are, which meant another official band member.”
Enter Colin Decker, who was looking for a new gig after his long-time band Lincolnville had disbanded a few months prior. In a wonderful “small world” connection, he’d actually done some of the mastering on New Parade, and he’d gotten wind that The Sheila Divine was looking for a guitarist. When he ran into Gilbert at a club in Boston, the die was cast. “I said to Jim, ‘Where do I go?’ meaning where would I need to go to tryout,” says Decker. “His response was perfect. He said, ‘Stage right, next to Aaron.’ The fit was immediate, and where we are coming from in some very basic, core ways is uncannily close.” And so they were four.
With the line-up comfortably altered for the better, the band entered Zippah Studios in Brookline, Massachusetts for a whirlwind recording session which took a mere 13 days. Where Have My Countrymen Gone (the title is a line cribbed from the beginning of the song “Countrymen”) was produced by Brian Charles, who did production work on
eight of the songs on New Parade, as well as the band themselves. Additional recording was completed at Q Division Studios in Boston with Scott Reibling and Mike Denneen. Mixing was completed by Mike Denneen.
“There was a really great collaborative buzz going on in the studio and the songs were really open to accept that,” says Gilbert. Adds Perrino: “It felt like I was doing everything for the first time with the fourth person in the band. It’s so much more fun to play with another guitarist. Also, this record is definitely a more personal record for me lyrically. It’s more obscure in parts, but overalll think it’s more obvious than the last one.”
Obscurity or obviousness aside, the band members describe their sound in general terms such as “melodic pop- rock” or “song-oriented rock.” But whatever it’s tagged these days, it’s certainly an emotional ride. It sets you up, knocks you over, drags you through the dirt a bit to make sure you really feel that pain, and picks you back up. You’re wrung lyrically through Aaron Perrino’s consciousness with his vocals, blasted with the dual melodic/rhythmic attack of Jim Gilbert’s bass, kept in line with Shawn Sears’ drums, and walloped by Colin Decker’s guitar work. For every song on the album that rocks and rocks hard (“Ostrich,” “Sideways,” “Walking Dead”), there are other songs that ease and soothe sonically (“Vanishing Act,” “Antidote”). A tangible cloak of melancholy settles over it all as a cohesive veil of emotion.
Some of the band’s influences shine proudly on their musical sleeves, while others float softly in the background. They run a fairly interesting gamut, yet often overlap: Joy Division, The Cure, The Pixies (Perrino); R.E.M., Sonic Youth, American Music Club, Neil Young, Nick Drake (Decker); ’80s hair bands, R.E.M., U2 (Sears); ’70s radio rock, Led Zeppelin, The Sundays, RUN- DMC (Gilbert). The press has been kind to them. Pulse! said: “Just when I think alternative rock’s breathed its last, these sleek-pop warriors come along with their wall of guitars and killer hooks to prove me wrong.” And the Washington Post chimed in with: “U2 is reportedly working on a new album in its old style, but who needs ’em? The Sheila Divine has its own version of that sound complete with surging melodies, dramatic flourishes and yearning vocals.” They’ve been lauded in their hometown, where they were the winners at the 2000 NEMO Boston Music Awards in three categories: Album of The Year, Outstanding Male Vocalist, and Outstanding Rock Band.
The foursome is looking ahead and looking forward to the challenges of releasing this album themselves. “For me it’s great, because music business is what I went to school for,” says Sears. “This is a challenge and I’m really enjoying it. It’s nice to have complete control over what we’re doing. It’s a scary feeling, but it’s so cool.” Gilbert cranks it up a notch: “There’s been a British invasion going on for the past seven years,” he says. “And America is countering that with rock-rap. In the past we gave back stuff like Crosby, Stills & Nash, Hendrix, Joplin -things that actually rivaled what the Brits were doing. There is good American music out there now. I want The Sheila Divine to be the band that makes people recognize Boston and recognize American rock.” Big shoes to fill, but the band is certainly up to the challenge.