Philly rockers Remember Sports’ latest single, “Out Loud” starts out simply enough. A single sound, a kind of metallic, “move about the cabin” plink and then, well, it’s the Carmen Perry show, her top-of-the-mix vocals a proper introduction to one of Remember Sports’ primary sources of raw power. Slowly, the scene fills. In comes guitarist Jack Washburn, a gentle harmony bubbling up alongside Perry’s hypnotizing guitar. Then it’s Catherine Dwyer’s persistent bassline and the ripple of an edge-blurring synth. This is followed by more guitar, this time a slashing, machete-sharp ring to fill the bridge, clearing the runway as Perry stretches the chorus to its absolute breaking point.
All this and we’re only halfway through the best song on what is undoubtedly Remember Sports’ best work to date, their new record Like A Stone. This song and record might sound like a giant leap for this Philly indie-punk band, and in many ways it is, but a closer look reveals more a culmination of forces than lightning in a bottle. This is the sound of a band who’s cultivated a trust and respect that transcends musical synchronicity, a record of friends finding the space to allow each to flourish on their own terms, and the result is one of the best records of the year.
Remember Sports is an almost maniacally deferential band, but it is hard to ignore the presence Perry commands at its center. There are a lot of things about Remember Sports setting them apart, but first and foremost are Perry’s vocals. Like A Stone seems to know this innately, placing her front and center from virtually its opening notes. “Pinky Ring” is a rocker, all basement-shaking drums and crunchy riffs, a throat-clearing for the record to come, but things really get going when Perry enters the scene. “And I couldn’t wait ‘til you went home,” she sings her in her charmingly emotive growl. “It’s not that I hate you, just wanted to be alone, but every time you leave I rip holes in my skin.” This kind of mildly-pissed lyrical self-own is typical of Perry, but it’s the way she maneuvers this anger, the nasally, tempered howl she somehow squeezes into her wordy verses, that sets her apart.
Perry’s life in music began in earnest back in Montclair, New Jersey when she was fifteen years old and got her first guitar from her parents. The instrument stuck with her more than the violin and piano of her younger days. From there she took the familiar path of chords, tabs and messing around in her bedroom. When she did start writing her own songs, they were very much for her ears only, the notion of sharing her work, much less starting her own band, far from her mind. “When I was in high school there was a pretty nice music scene,” Perry told me recently of those early days in New Jersey. “But not a lot of girls really played in bands, so it didn’t really feel like a possibility to me.”
That all changed at Kenyon College, a private liberal arts school in Gambier, Ohio. It’s here Perry met then guitarist Catherine Dwyer and started Remember Sports — simply called Sports back then — during her sophomore year. After kicking around the campus party scene for a few months, the band decided to make things a little more official, recording their first record at the Kenyon College radio station WKCO with the help of Benji Dossetter on drums and James Karlin on bass. “Honestly, the first thing we did was only so we had a record of what we sounded like live,” says Perry. The result was 2014’s Sunchokes, a record that far exceeded those modest expectations, garnering the band a significant amount of underground praise and credibility.
Overall, Sunchokes capture a band in its infancy,
hooky and fuzzy but brimming with the kind of manic energy that oozes from the
six-bill college shows they were accustomed to playing. In the album’s hit
“Clean Jeans”, we see the embryo of what Remember Sports will become but not
without a healthy dose of the kind of strident, razor-sharp angst you often
find on band’s early punk records. “I could be at Crossfit like you but I’d
rather be dead,” goes the song’s most devastating line, Perry’s disgust
splattered across the crunchy guitar, furious drums and two-minute run time.
It’s not groundbreaking stuff and far from the dynamic indie-pop they will make
in the future, but it’s hard to ignore just how much listeners seemed to
connect with Perry as both a singer and lyricist, even early on.
Given that, It might be surprising to learn Perry has had a sometimes contentious relationship with songwriting. In high school it was something she did in private, in college it was about friendship, messing with songs in dorm rooms between classes, Saturdays nights with contemporaries. But ever since graduation, Perry’s felt a little more pressure than before. At first, she says, she was excited to make things more legitimate. This coincided with Perry and Dwyer’s, and eventually Jack Washburn’s, move to Philadelphia, a move they made in part because of their desire to become a part of the bustling DIY scene. “In 2015 it really seemed like Philly was the place to be if you wanted to be in a band,” says Perry. But with the goal of legitimacy came a self-assigned pressure she’d never felt before. Songwriting wasn’t just a hobby now, it was a job, something that couldn’t merely exist in the margins of a notebook but needed to be completed on a schedule with deadlines. For Perry, this sapped the inspiration and excitement, an issue she is still working to overcome.
“Do something different with all your free time, you’re wasting your mind, you’re wasting your mind, ” goes “Easy” an early-album standout from Like A Stone. If this doesn’t sound like a familiar blend imposter syndrome and self-annihilation I personally envy you. The fact is, “Easy” is anything but a waste. What starts out as the kind of driving punk song that would have fit snugly anywhere on Remember Sports’ catalogue quickly unravels, allowing a noodly bassline, gang vocals, and a pedal steel guitar to amble their way into the mix as Perry uncorks all the self-doubt careening around her mind. “Nothing came easy like you thought that it might, just do something right, just do anything right.”
Perhaps the most effective way to relieve pressure is to allow others to carry some of the burden. Looking back at the early years of Remember Sports, it’s clear things were very much driven by Perry, the source of the band’s urgent, fiery propulsion. Slowly but surely, however, things have expanded. While drummers have changed over the years, Washburn and Dwyer have become mainstays of the band, their importance shining through with each subsequent record and not simply as foils to Perry. Like A Stone marks the first time the band has fully embraced collaboration, with Dwyer and Washburn receiving songwriting credits on more than a few of it’s songs, and it’s hard to argue the band isn’t that much better for it.
As Washburn sees it, this was a gradual process, the seeds of which were planted early on. From the beginning, the band was about friendship. After all, Remember Sports wasn’t formed by a bunch of late-20’s musicians looking to break through with their fourth or fifth band, but by a group of young people looking to play music with friends on the weekends. It might seem inconsequential, but Washburn sees it as an essential factor in how the band currently functions. “Having the kind of environment where you are really just friends above all else can make you more comfortable bringing your own particular ideas to the table and feeling less self-conscious,” says Washburn.
In the past, even when another member might have written something, things weren’t necessarily fully collaborative. Both Perry and Dwyer identify Like A Stone as unique in its ability to bring together the band’s members in a way they never quite managed before. On previous records there may have been a section written by Washburn, or even the bones of an entire song worked out by Dwyer, but they were never really able to transcend the idea that they were simply playing each other’s songs. This time around, no matter where a song started out, it quickly became a Remember Sports song, regardless of credit. “It is very special to create something together, rather than come up with something on your own and bring it to the group,” says Dwyer.
Like A Stone is littered with examples of how Remember Sports have grown together over the years, but few better than “Eggs.” Written by both Dwyer and Perry, “Eggs” is the kind jaunty, indie-pop dawdle absent from the band’s earlier records. Perry might still very much be at the forefront here — her opening line “My eggs flow right out of me like clockwork every month, a bastion of blasphemy, my will just can’t keep up,” one of the most memorable in recent memory — but it’s the cockeyed rhythm section and the yearning, punctured guitars, somewhere between Neil Young and Modest Mouse, that gives the song it’s full punch. What’s remarkable is that Washburn and Dwyer actually switched roles for this song, swapping out bass for guitar in a move that the band had never experimented with before. All of this, the multiple songwriters, the instrumental musical chairs, the sheer naked honesty of the lyrics, does not come without a concerted effort from a band intent on avoiding stasis, one where change and collaboration are welcomed.
Of course, collaboration means someone must relinquish control. “I think before this album I was really rigid in my process and would get nervous getting input from anyone else,” Perry admits. “On this latest album it feels more prominently like a unit.” While those early days might have felt a bit like Perry and The Remember Sports, she’s been able to open up and make room for the vulnerability that comes with letting her friends and bandmates into the process. You get a sense when talking with Perry that this not only made the songs better, but unlocked something for her personally. Control and pressure are inherently intertwined, but allowing either to be shared can only come with a trust and respect that takes years to establish. “Jack and Catherine are my favorite musicians,” says Perry. “It’s better together.”
Which brings us back “Out Loud,” right after that blistering chorus, when the song really gets going. The chorus becomes just one piece of a controlled cacophony, a swirl of plinked guitars, breathy, drowning whispers, and mesmerizing rhythms that very nearly swallow the song whole. That is, until the bottom drops out and everything builds back up to the now familiar chorus, “I won’t stop, never give up, trying to get everything out, of your head into your mouth, we can make this last if you say it out loud.”
But this time it isn’t just Perry. This time every member takes their turn, the single voice that is Remember Sports coming unwound, a proud display of all the seams that makes the band whole, the stitchwork that led them to make the absolute masterpiece that is Like A Stone.
Remember Sports’ Like A Stone is out now via Father/Daughter Records; listen to the album below and pick up a copy via the label’s website.
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