Music — March 31, 2020 11:22 — 0 Comments

The Civilians Band Together On New LP ‘Straight In / Straight Out’

When considering the relationships that comprise a successful band, the idea of loyalty can easily be overlooked. But, without it, there is no triumph. It’s an essential component to progress. In the vulnerable cocoon of creativity, one must be able to look at the person standing beside and feel a depth of trust. And the raucous Seattle-based band, The Civilians, exhibit that shared, mutual faith in spades. Indeed, the feeling exudes from their roughened rock ‘n’ roll and their music is like a medicine in a world that’s disparate and ailing.

While the bonds of artistic and personal friendship bind the songs on The Civilians’ 2019 debut LP, Over The Bar, a jaunty, smartly created collection of catchy choruses and insightful storytelling, those same bonds were tested seriously and many times over as the band wrote and recorded their follow-up, the forthcoming album, Straight In / Straight Out. With each day, a new tragedy seemed to befall the group and with each day, they had to handle it like a unit.

“In the course of writing and recording our second album,” says the band’s songwriter and lead singer, Chris Livesay, “the band lost an extraordinary number of people we were very close to. We all lost a parent. It was a rough road.”

While dealing with these personal loses, the band kept finding time to play together. Their friendships and their music propelled and bound them into the future. As such, the focus of the record and the tone of the music changed and evolved. The band decided to sideline a number of tracks that they were working on and Livesay started to write new ones. These songs were more personal, introspective.

“Every time I thought we were done with the record,” says Livesay, “some new song would pop up and we were like, ‘Well, now we have to put that one on the record, too!’ It was a pretty crazy process.”

The result is a tremendous follow-up to their debut. Straight In / Straight Out kicks off with the brusque and beautiful, “By The Way,” a song that expresses a call to remember tangible, human things that bring people honest joy. On “Bad, Bad Days,” Livesay croons and howls in the face of disaster, all the while knowing life is cruel and the bonds that hold us together can be frighteningly fragile. On the record’s 10th and final track, “I Want The Whole Wide World,” the vocalist sings of joy winning out against bad odds.

For Livesay, whose lyrics walk a gravely voiced line between literalism and metaphor, the songs come as the result of a lot of hard work alone at the piano and guitar. But after they’re written, the tunes are brought fully to life by the magic of the group. The new batch of songs, which were set for a release in May with a show at the historic Columbia City Theater, remain somewhat in limbo, though the first two singles (‘Keep it to Yourself’ and ‘By the Way’) have already received airplay in Seattle on KEXP and Space 101.1 FM. With the current COVID-19 Coronavirus scare, much of the band’s future remains up in the air. Yet, the members remain calm, cool and collected.

“With the Coronavirus reshaping our lives in so many ways,” says drummer, Jim Jeffreys, “the music we make together grounds us. It gives us purpose and helps us forge a connection to others. That matters so much when everything else around us is totally BANANAS.”

The members of The Civilians, as one might expect from listening to their music, have known one another for decades – some since grade school. They’ve traded records and introduced one another to musicians and songs. They know each other’s spouses, children. They’ve shared meals, beers and cups of coffee. They’ve grieved together. They’ve stood on that creative limb, offering their best stab at songs. They’re brothers, bonded by more moments than anyone could count. The result is a unique sound and energy that’s all their own.

Livesay, who grew up the son and grandson of musicians and music lovers, knows that what he and his five-piece – which includes the nimble Jeffreys, steady-handed guitarists Kamuron Gurol and Doug Schwartz, and thumping bassist Jerry Cohen – shares is rare and worth preserving. It’s also worth savoring and building on. The foundation is solid, so the infrastructure that’s built on it seems likely to remain solid for many years and many songs to come.

“Most importantly,” Livesay says, “we’re all old friends. There’s deep loyalty in the band. We’ll argue like brothers sometimes. They’ll give it to me straight, whether it’s praise or criticism. That’s hugely important. It’s not always easy, but it keeps things working as they should.”


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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