By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
If you bought Sleepy Kitty's full-length debut, Infinity City, which came out last year on Euclid Records, you might have noticed a small item in the liner notes about a lyric sheet. Thinking this might be as simple as a Word document headed toward your e-mail inbox, you might have followed the instructions. And when instead you got a treasure chest of an envelope containing a dozen-odd printed objects corresponding to each of the album's songs, you might have been a little disoriented.
"We had somebody who was like, 'Yeah, I got this package from you,'" says drummer Evan Sult. "And it took him a long time to realize what he was looking at.
"They're so elaborate that when we finished them I was a little embarrassed," he says. "Imagine giving this to a stranger: 'Oh, you want the lyrics? Here.' And it's this completely intimate, completely overdone project."
As Sleepy Kitty the band, Sult and Paige Brubeck (guitar and vocals) play a propulsive, breathless collage of fuzzy guitar rock and bombastic musical and rust-belt blues. They are also a printmaking duo (also called Sleepy Kitty), mostly known for their concert posters, which pop brightly and in nonstandard sizes from shop windows all over St. Louis.
Occasionally the band and the print work cross paths in expected ways: Sult and Brubeck will make a poster for a Sleepy Kitty show, for example, and Infinity City is packaged in a visibly Sleepy Kitty design. But they're not separate artistic pursuits that happen to be called the same thing. They are one expression of two people.
Art has lost its shape. Limitless, instantaneous information has taken incubating movements, isolated forms and techniques, and blown their sides off. Heroes and influences come from every culture and time at once. Musical genres are an oblivion of post-neo-avant-portmanteau word scrambles. Everyone is a cottage industry unto himself, and artists can no longer even be confined to one general medium. The consequences can be numbing and are often fleeting, but they don't have to be either.
That's one way to think about the lyrics packets — as something permanent and meticulous in a world of culture that isn't. Sult and Brubeck only printed 100 sets, and each song has its own artifact. "Speaking Politely," an eye-roll aimed at tactless, prowling men at bars, comes as a page out of an etiquette book. It's printed on 50-year-old paper with images and fonts taken from the real thing. The chapter and page numbers on the print correspond to the song's track listing and duration, respectively. There are countless miniscule details to uncover. Sult drew "a thousand" doodles before he got the one he wanted for a lyric meant to look like a middle-school note. Brubeck spent hours finding the right handwriting for a postcard with the words from "NYC Really Has It All."
Whether the lyric packets are a brilliant summation of Brubeck and Sult's art or their particular insanity (or both) is an academic discussion about the end result. What led them to create such an elaborate document was a natural translation for one of the songs to print that just kept getting bigger, one little idea at a time.
Brubeck based "NYC Really Has It All" on a postcard she sent; the song merely redirects the recipient, and that's what the song is in the lyric packet: a postcard. But the final prints didn't all follow from the songs. In some cases, in fact, the print ended up seeming like a sort of predecessor, a "false source" in Sult's words. He describes the effect with the "Speaking Politely" page: "We created this thing, using paper that's 50 years old...there's a sense when you look at it like maybe we did somehow write the song backward from a page in an etiquette book."
Other prints ended up more like parallel images with the songs. The poster for the single "Seventeen," which borrows its lyrics from "I Saw Her Standing There," does the clearest job.
"It was supposed to feel big, like something you would get as some ephemera of a limited release of a movie. Like a lobby card or something," says Sult. "It completes our version of the song — you get that noir component, the possibility that murder somehow is involved, which I always kind of felt about our version of the song.
"Some people can turn lyrics by changing the gender or the speed or whatever, and the way we approached that song, casting the lyrics in a way that you notice things like the past tense. I think in the original, you think of the song as a boy falling for a girl. And in our version you get a man observing a girl, and then something happens."
"And I'm the voice of that man," says Brubeck.
There's a fairly healthy market for printmaking in St. Louis, and Sleepy Kitty's work can certainly command some cash. People have no problem paying anywhere from $15 to $25 for one of the band's concert posters. And yet this lyric packet — by far the most intricate and ambitious thing to come out of the duo's studio — can't be purchased at all. It's free to the first 100 people who read the Infinity City liner notes and act on them. (Much to the duo's chagrin, the instructions didn't make it onto the vinyl notes — those who bought that can contact Sleepy Kitty to learn how to get the lyrics.)
"I don't necessarily want to push this on somebody unless they want to know about it," says Brubeck.
"We talked about selling them, and we were like, 'How would we price these?' says Sult. "The price that these actually cost, that we put into them is high; the time we put in is crazy high. You put a number on it, and somehow it becomes...we want the albums to sell. We want the lyric packs to be examined."