Plenty of bands out there do the sweet girl-fronted thing. And plenty of bands out there do the tough chick schtick. Some bands even manage to pull off both. But with the same singer--in the same song? Enter: Sybris.
Loaded with a trancy vibe and dissonance, Chicago’s Sybris is Veruca Salt on Valium. With dips into Edie Brickell sweetness, you might say that lead singer/guitarist, Angela Mullenhour, shines, but it’s pretty tough to use a sparkly adjective like that for someone who manically swings between wailing passion and whispering love behind her sheet of long, tangled hair. This is not a flirty, cutesy band. This is not a hardcore rage band, either. Started by the tight musical friendship of Shawn Podgurski (bass) and Phil Naumann (guitar), the guys met then 19-year-old singer Angela in a bar (fake IDs can be a wonderful thing), and the rest is history. Sybris is about as close to sonic hallucination one can get without actually imbibing controlled substances, and witnessing this quartet perform live, one can’t help but be sucked in to the contact high.
“Yeah, that and all the reverb. I hear myself echo out there…” Angela laughs in a glassy-eyed comedown after the show.
Together since 2003, Angela says they named themselves after a string of sex hotels.
“There’s a chain of pool suites, hotels with pools and hot tubs and mirrors on the ceiling, that kind of cheesy stuff. Their commercials are on TV in the Chicago all the time,” says drummer Eric Mahle, as he lifts his shirt and flaunts his expanding waistline to everyone backstage at Mississippi Nights. “It’s too bad you can’t catch that on recorder… I should be fit and trim. I don’t know how I got so fat!”
Angela returns to the subject of the hotels. “Yeah, they are to reignite the flames in a marriage. They’re really expensive!” Angela adds. “It was a joke at first. I was like, ‘there is no fucking way that I’m gonna be in a band named Sybris.’ Anything else! It’s just kind of creepy and icky sounding. Sounds like some new disease in the genital area.”
By now, we’ve got the vibe that Eric is the band clown. Typical drummer.
“Have you heard about these new vaginal worms?” Eric says, “There’s a new STD out! It’s like ringworm! A parasite… I think that’s what Sybris is trying to do: to spread the message and urge everyone never to touch a member of the opposite sex ever again. Yeah, we wanna make sure kids don’t drink, do drugs, praise the lord every day and don’t ever kiss anyone cuz you may get ringworm…”
“Or you may fall in love,” warns Angela.
“Yeah, that’s right. We’re against love,” says Eric.
So what kind of love does Sybris get back home in Chicago, with a sea of cool band neighbors such as Kill Hannah and Local H? Is it harder to compete?
“Yeah, [there’s always that attitude,] ‘they got big so we don’t like ‘em anymore!’ That kind of BS,” says Angela. “But we do really well in Chicago. We’ve opened up for Trail of the Dead, Stars, The Thrills…
“We’ve only had like one headlining show in Chicago. We were terrified. We’d really only opened up for people. That’s how people saw us, so we were curious to see and it was a great, sold-out show. We’ve got a lot of support in Chicago. But there are haters everywhere.”
The guys say that after three years, the band is just beginning to get some recognition and respect. “We’re just starting to get it now,” says Eric. “Over the last three months, something happened…”
The band’s goals are modest: eat, pay rent, tour, and record. “I’d like to not have to work in a fucking Chinese restaurant, you know?” laughs Angela. “We don’t want anyone in the group to take themselves too seriously. We just want to have the best time possible and turn it into everybody’s show,” says Angela.
Supporting their self-titled, full-length CD that came out in August [Flameshovel Records], the band is busy touring, and writing songs for the next record. Check ‘em out on www.sybrismusic.com
Photo by Michael Sloan