One of the bands that I'm looking forward to the most at the next Bandwidth on February 22nd is Chicago's own The Bitter Tears. It's a pleasure not only to listen and watch them but also to talk to them, particularly lead singer Alan Scalpone who graciously answered the questions I asked to my heart's delight. Though, as I suggested to him, he also asked himself some of his own....
First, I have to ask because I loved how you dressed up live...how do you decide on the costumes for your shows?
The idea is we usually try to pick something stupid, something that alienates ourselves and our audience, right off the bat. In the world of our songs, gender is a little confused, so we try to reflect that with the clothes. The wedding dresses were a happy accident. Each one was only like $10 at Village Discount Thrift. There is something very comforting about spewing profanities and antagonizing people, just being a filthy whore, in a snow white wedding dress.
How was it that you all met? I like the way all of the instrumentation works on stage and on your recordings. Am I right to think you have known each other for a fairly long time?
You are right. Mike and I met as high school freshmen on a tennis court. Since then, everybody in the band has lived here and there, done this and that, until about 2001, when the Bitter Tears became a real thing. Sometime in the last decade our drummer Foster developed some unnerving martial arts skills involving pressure points.
What is an average day like for Alan Scalpone?
I have my dayjob in the service industry. When I'm not working, I like to eat breakfast at diners, drink lots of coffee, play music, then drink more coffee, and play more music. I spend my nights battling these really fast zombies in the woods down at Bachelor's Grove Cemetery on the South Side.
I really wish I could saw the moon in half.
Are you part monkey? (AS)
We've done lots of one-time experimental gigs with mixed results. We whipped out this racy musical at the Trapdoor theater, for a couple of nights. We sang opera at a fancy restaurant that culminated in a pathetic disappearing act. That confused alot of people. We did a game show at the venerable Hothouse. I've never felt more ice and daggers from an audience than the night we did that. Wow. We probably deserved it. We did get the song "General Glade Bradstone's Lament" out of that so I guess it was worth it.
I thought he was fine with it... but then I went snooping around his house and found his diary.
Do you feel Chicago as a city is receptive to avant garde or more experimental music? Do you feel a sense of a music community here?
Who are some of your favorite bands?
The Chicago band Let's Get Out Of This Terrible Shop is just getting better and better. Also incredible is the Arabic house band, Albert Baba and the Juliana band at restaurant Julianna. At the moment, I also like Tusk and the Andrews Sisters.
In "Murdered at the bar," from your full length self-titled album, you go to excruciating lengths to describe how you were tortured and murdered but you never say why. Why was it that you were murdered?
When I sing that song, I go to a pretty desparate place. The man in that song has been out all night, in some pretty humiliating situations, seen some horribly traumatic things. Its a joy to go there. A song like murdered is fun to play live because, well, there's not much there, so you can be spontaneous and have it completely fall apart.
Do you like Chandeliers? (AS)
Yes! my god, yes!
Does the person in "Please Let Me Into The Drench" ever actually make it into that drench?
Yeah, that guy. The character in that song is living in a lumbering, hunchbacked metropolis, much like Chicago. Even if they let that guy into the Drench, I doubt if he would fully appreciate it cause his nerves have been scrolled through a pasta machine and hung out to dry.
How do you find inspiration for song lyrics? (AS)
A good deal of the Bitter Tears work is collaborative. We are one big happy dim-witted family. I bartend weddings a good deal so I've developed a healthy contempt for matrimony rituals and it shows up in our lyrics. Our latest material covers topics such as sticking your head in the oven and James Ellroy and his mother. Also young adult novels marketed towards girls like judy blume, and v.c.andrews.
Have you read the book "Bridge to Terabithia"?(AS)