When CaveofswordS releases its sophomore album this Friday with a show at the Demo, the local four-piece will play its latest set of dark-tinted, beat-driven songs. The band is powered by the twin engines of married duo Sunyatta and Kevin McDermott -- she supplies trance-like lyrics and delivers them with a clarion call while he handles programming, spy-movie guitar lines and intricate production. While CaveofswordS has grown into a formidable live act in recent years with the addition of bassist Eric Armbruster and drummer Zagk Gibbons, the band has its roots in studio tinkering and its albums are where CaveofswordS makes its cleanest mark.
At the merch table, fans can find Sigils on compact disc as well as on vinyl, with the album pressed on smoky translucent wax. To produce such a striking product on costly vinyl, the McDermotts didn't turn to Kickstarter or empty their bank account; they partnered with local creative agency Boxing Clever, an outfit whose day-to-day operation usually finds its employees creating advertising materials rather than stuffing records into mailer envelopes.
The album marks Boxing Clever Records' second full-length release by a local band -- garage-pop duo Bruiser Queen released Sweet Static late last year on Pepto-pink vinyl -- and the label has designs on releasing music by more artists at home and abroad.
But why would an advertising agency that can boast of a portfolio thick with creative work for liquor and beer companies dance on the notoriously razor-thin profit margins of releasing records?
Jim Harper, a partner and executive creative director at Boxing Clever, is the man behind this unlikely bridge between the advertising world and independent music. A look inside his tightly packed office in the agency's downtown loft space tells part of the story: One of his three computer screens is open to a cassette-tape ordering form. A Cocteau Twins LP sits on his office hi-fi, and a pair of My Bloody Valentine posters covers the wall above his desk. For the 47-year-old Harper, who spent much of his twenties playing drums in local bands like Snake Ranch and Pave the Rocket, music is a clear passion and wellspring for creativity.
A short, stout fellow of Tolkienesque proportions, with a clean pate and full, fiery orange beard with nips of gray at its borders, Harper talks of his company's new enterprise with record-geek glee. Speaking on CaveofswordS, he's positively gushy.
"I fell in love with them when I met them and heard it because the album, to me, is a long-player," says Harper. "Like, now that vinyl is back, everyone is talking about how albums take on a little bit more life. There's a thing about listening to albums again. When I heard theirs, I thought, 'Man, this is gonna sound so good on vinyl.'"
That love of vinyl, the long-forgotten and recently fetishized medium, is at the core of the label's identity. Boxing Clever branched into record sales a few years ago when the agency released a series of six split singles, including several St. Louis bands, on attractive seven-inch platters. Each single was pressed on eye-catching vinyl -- Coke-bottle green, oxblood red -- and was housed in hearty, screen-printed card stock.
Harper explains the series' genesis: "The seven-inches began as a design project. We're not gonna lie -- we're an ad agency. We did this fun thing and sent them to friends of ours from all over the world."
Boxing Clever initially conceived of the singles as an oversized business card: a fun, funky piece of branding that married design (the agency's product) with music (the agency's passion). But some of those seven-inches found their way onto the turntable of Mark Gardener, who was a founding member of the beloved shoegaze quartet Ride. After a few introductory emails (which Harper, an avowed Ride fanboy, describes with pants-crapping zeal), a deal was struck.
Mark Gardener's collaboration record with artists including Ulrich Schnauss, Cat Martino and Miranda Lee Richards will be released in April -- just in time for Ride's reunion tour, complete with marquee billing at the Coachella festival. If all goes as planned, Gardener's Boxing Clever-released LP will be on Ride's merch table during these globe-trotting gigs.
The label continues its outreach to bands across the nation -- look for an EP from Brooklyn's Vomitface in April -- but Boxing Clever looks to keep its roots in St. Louis' musical heritage.
"We're a St. Louis label, and we're gonna be very much attuned to what we find St. Louis would think is cool, what they want," says Harper. This year's release schedule includes a full-length album by Al Bundie's Army (which Harper describes as "a punk-rock Iron Maiden") and an archival release of Alton, Illinois-based trio Judge Nothing's cassette-era material on vinyl. Harper is also in discussions with '90s dream-pop band Three Merry Widows about issuing its long-shelved second album.
Continue to page two for more.
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