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In the summer of 2009, Chicago musician Brett Sova embarked on a solo project. Performing under the name, “Axis: Sova,” the songwriter was deeply inspired by the psychedelic leanings of Jimi Hendrix’s landmark 1967 album, Axis: Bold as Love. It’s a fitting homage that informs the listener, readying them for wild guitar rock that knows no limits. Speaking to Pancakes and Whiskey via email, Sova recently spoke about his earliest influences, songwriting and the recording of 2012’s Weight of a Color and 2015’s Early Surf.    


You’ve said that you grew up in a house that exposed you to everything from the Beach Boys and the Stones to Mozart and Beethoven. When would you say your interest in music turned serious and began to take shape?

Punk was the most attractive music of all to my young, teenage mind. Learning about SST and exploring all their best bands was paramount, and seeing Decline Of Western Civilization as a young teenager made a very focused, lasting impression on me growing up in Columbus, Ohio. My friends and I were playing in bands together from the age of 14 on; we took it pretty seriously then!

You began playing guitar in the sixth grade. What made you choose the guitar over other instruments?

What else is there to play? Drums? (Ha)


Do you still own or play your first guitar?

I’ve only owned two electric guitars – a Squire Fender Strat that I got when I was 12, and a ’73 Telecaster Custom I got when I was 20 or so. The Squire hasn’t seen the light of day for years, while the Tele has been kind of like a 5th appendage since we met.


You’ve previously named the Misfits, Fugazi and the Stooges amongst a long list of early influences. Would you say you’ve outgrown some of the genres of your teenage years, or have the favorites of your past stuck with you?

Everyone’s tastes evolve. Each of those bands were formative for me, but the only one I return to with regularity and that still has as much of an impact on the music I make today as it did back when is The Stooges.


I feel like sometimes we tend to place limits on our own creativity, and almost need to give ourselves permission to take an idea as far as we can take it. Keeping with that idea, you’ve referred to the beginning of Axis: Sova as “natural and liberating.” Did earlier projects make you feel confined to entertaining only certain ideas or performance styles?

Not necessarily, it’s more that all the ideas when working alone flow without compromise or interruption. The idea of permitting something like that to occur is interesting. For me it may have been more of a discovery, rather than something I hadn’t allowed before. Discovering that I could conceive of entire songs or jams or whatever they are on my own, playing all the instruments and so forth. Still, after finishing Early Surf, it became apparent that putting a band together to relate these songs in a live setting would be a blast, if not essential – there are just too many voices going on in most of them to express them properly solo.

You’ve said “Raising Hell,” off of A Weight of a Color never sounded the way you wanted it to. What was it about the song that was so hard to record and would you ever consider recording it again for a future release?

Mixing on the Tascam 488 tends to be very live: levels may change, EQs may change, tracks may be punched in and out and panned in different directions while creating a final version. Since it’s analog, I couldn’t just go back and tweak one thing while keeping everything else the same, I’d have to do a completely new mix of the entire song. So each mix of “Raising Hell” would be slightly different than the previous – one thing would be better while another was worse. The final mix felt like a compromise at the time more than anything. While I’ve got no problems with “Raising Hell” now, it’s probably one of the reasons I emphasized first takes on Early Surf – to endure fewer concussions from constantly beating my head against the wall.

While a “Raising Hell” re-record is unlikely, I’m all about re-appropriating previously used song elements for use in new songs later on.


Do you ever play “Raising Hell,” live? If so, are you able to capture what you felt you couldn’t in the studio?

I used to play it live, but haven’t recently. It was always different, live. Everything is different live.


What came first, the song “A Weight of a Color,” or the idea as an album title?

The song came first. “Weight of a Color” represents the first seed, thought, and utterance of Axis: Sova – the earliest version of it was the only thing I played live at the first Axis: Sova show. The album title came later.


You’ve said that “A Weight of a Color,” was recorded in one take. Do you ever limit yourself to a certain amount of takes as a way of maintaining spontaneity, or do prefer to record a song as many times as it takes until it feels right?

Spontaneity is so key. The more I record, the greater value I apply to first takes.

How did the artwork for the record come about?

Andrew Hannigan painted that cover specifically for Weight Of A Color. He’s provided some crucial element of art for all the Axis: Sova releases, except the Worse Fools cassette. Andrew is an art therapist with a wild mind and great intuition. He took the pic we used for the cover of Early Surf.


Early Surf was released last month. Did the writing/recording process differ from past releases?

I try to keep writing and recording on a regular basis, so it’s more like constant evolution and refinement. That said, my standards were definitely set higher for this one. I wanted it to go further than previous recordings. When I first “finished” Early Surf, I realized that some of it was a lot better than the rest of it, which led me to scrap half of what I’d done and keep going until it was more respectable as a whole. Previously, I may’ve just been satisfied with completing 9 or 10 songs.


Which song was your favorite to record?

Recording the basic guitar and drum track for “Ask Me About My Smell” ended up being a favorite moment. I wasn’t close enough to my Tascam to stop, place mics and record it properly while in the moment of playing it for the first time, so I just grabbed my cell phone outta my pocket and recorded with that, instead. I didn’t know what it was at first- I was just trying to capture this unconscious jam that suddenly materialized and seemed to be urgently leading itself somewhere. The recording captured this spontaneous energy that wouldn’t have be recreated by tracking it again, so I just dumped it into the 8-track and started building. The song was “written” while editing, recording and dubbing over that basic, cell-phone recorded track.

You’ve previously said that, “nothing really exists until it’s been recorded.” Is that idea what motivates you to take a song into the studio?

Nearly all Axis: Sova songs are created in the studio from an assemblage of loose jam recordings that are edited, dubbed, fucked, and bent into songs, so it might just be the simple truth!


Don’t miss Axis: Sova perform in Philadelphia at Everybody Hits on 4/4 and on 4/5 at Palisades in Brooklyn


Early Surf is available online and in stores now

Article by: Caitlin Phillips


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