Kansas City’s the Pedaljets will issue Twist the Lens on 14 February 2020 via Electric Moth Records. This marks the second new release from the group since they reunited in the late 2000s. Initially formed in 1984, the group‘s particular brand of what was then known as college rock led the quartet out of the Midwest and on to national stages with acts such as the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Meat Puppets, and the Flaming Lips.
Six years after the release of What’s in Between, Twist the Lens demonstrates that the veteran outfit’s melodic sensibilities and formidable powers are still intact. Tracked in three main sessions, Twist was produced by the group along with former lead guitarist Paul Malinowski (Shiner, Season to Risk). (Cody Wyoming handles lead duties on the new tracks.) John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile) mixed the record while Archer Prewitt (The Sea and Cake) provided the cover art.
“Sleepy Girl” is the new single from Twist the Lens and one that guitarist and vocalist Mike Allmayer notes is consistent with one of the collection’s most consistent themes: Finding happiness and contentment.
“I was working my ass off at the time,” he recalls. “On Sunday mornings, before I went into work, I’d go into my local Quick Trip for a cup of coffee, then sit and drink it in my car. For several weeks in a row, I came in at the same time as this one woman did. She looked like she’d just woken up. Every week, she bought a couple of packs of cigarettes and a couple of cups of coffee. The thing that really struck me about her was that she had this contented look on her face: Sleepy but contented. I began to think that there was someone at home she was taking the cigarettes and coffee back to. I imagined her waking that person up with that happy, contented look on her face and hanging out with them for the morning. That was in stark contrast to my life at the time: I was just out of a troubled relationship, and seeing her each week made me feel some contentment. There’s the line: ‘Memories can wait another day.’ Let memories happen later. Live now.”
Built on big, jangling guitars, alongside Allmayer’s unmistakable voice, the tune is immediately memorable, its choruses, instantly hummable and its haunting but hopeful narrative feeling alternately deeply personal and surprisingly universal. If you’ve been waiting to dive into the world of the Pedaljets, now is the time.
Allmayer recently spoke with PopMatters about his band’s unlikely comeback and the tracking of Twist the Lens.
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How soon after the last record did you know you were going to make this one?
It was an ongoing project over the last few years. We didn’t know where it would go. We talked about putting out an EP after What’s in Between. That’s how it started. We recorded three or four songs, but then it didn’t feel like an EP would be right. So, we kept going. If memory serves correctly, it was all done in three major sessions. We’d put down five or six rhythm takes and then finish them up. What strikes me about the album is how it all fits together because it was done over a long period of time.
Is this only stuff you wrote since What’s in Between?
“What Only Cats Chase” is a leftover from those sessions. We didn’t finish it mainly because we had a lot of slow songs on that album. “Sleepy Girl” might have been written around the same time. We did one last session, just before we went up to New Jersey to mix this album, and it flowed differently than the other two sessions did. We gave ourselves a deadline and recorded “Transfer Is Done”, “This Is Sepsis”, “Went Away”, and “The Fader”, along with a few others we’re holding back.
Did you see lyrical connections between the tunes?
I think a lot of these songs are about trying to find and accept contentment. There’s a real restlessness to some of the characters on the album, especially the woman in “Downtown”. When Archer [Prewitt] was listening to the album to do the artwork, he found connections. He described the woman on the [album] cover as “Defiant, insolent, vulnerable and stoned.” [Laughs.] I really liked that because some of the characters fit that. There was a moment when I wondered if the woman in “Downtown” wasn’t the same character as in some of the other tunes, but I wanted to leave that open for the listener. Before anyone can find true happiness or find real joy in life, they have to be able to live in the moment.
On “Uncounted Heads”, that’s a stowaway for life. Somebody who has not found a home. Not found contentment. They feel dispossessed. The chorus on that song ends with the phrase, “You can’t get it right until you’re alright.” You can’t get anything in your life right until you’re right inside, and you can’t get right inside until you find some sense of happiness living in the moment. There are outliers. “This Is Sepsis” is just a big, loud roar. Occasionally you just gotta throw in a loud rocker.
You mentioned contentment and I think that’s such an elusive concept but at some point you strip away the ephemeral.
Exactly. You really have to take an inventory at certain points in your life and look at where you are, what you have, the friends you have, the people who love you, your sense of purpose and belonging. If you feel love, you’re able to give love. You’re in pretty good shape. That helps you live in the moment. All the other stuff is secondary.
It’s taken me a long time to be content. In my younger days, I was trying to make it big in the rock ‘n’ roll business, whatever that meant. Everything was secondary to that. I was probably somewhat callow and didn’t appreciate some of the people around me. As the years went on and I took an inventory, I realized that I have some really good friends, a loving wife, a great family. You take some of these things for granted for years, then you get older and realize they’re not always going to be there. You’ve got to grab the moment. God, I sound like a Coke commercial! [Laughs.]
Was getting the band back together also part of that process? “Were in a different place. We can think about this differently now.”
You hit it on the head there. What we wanted to do was make music and enjoy it while we were making it. We wanted to enjoy each other’s company and camaraderie. We’d been through so much over the years. Matt [Kesler, bass], Rob [Morrow, drums], and I have this incredible chemistry. Any musician who has been working with the same group of players for decades can attest to this: I walk in with a song, and they immediately get it. They run with it. What made this an extra-special do-over for us was that we could reignite that chemistry without the old baggage. We were more contented when we re-started this, and it’s become more so since.
We were friends in the early days, but the friendship part of it seemed to become secondary. On this round, we made a vow that that wouldn’t happen.
What does it mean to still be making music at this point in your life?
It is amazing when you think about it. When the four of us, including Cody [Wyoming, guitar], are making music together, I don’t feel like a lot of time as passed. It’s new again.