By Jared Dudley
The unfiltered, energetic sound of Sweeping Promises is one that easily stands out as something special in today’s music landscape. The latest project from musical duo Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug debuted last year with Hunger for a Way Out. The record, recorded in an underground concrete laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a collection of tracks that capture the band’s DIY sound and emotional vocals, which immediately struck a chord with post-punk fans. During this year’s Levitation Fest, the band sat down with KTSW.
You two relocated from Boston and moved to Austin shortly after the album came out. How was the move? Has it been a big change from living in Massachusetts?
Lira Mondal: Yes and no, Caufield’s from here so it’s like home. I mean, it is home.
Caufield Schnug: Every place is sort of generic during lockdown.
Has the change of scenery affected the songwriting process at all?
LM: Yes, very much. We spent most of lockdown at Caufield’s parent’s house and we were trying to record in his parent’s bathroom, and it was rather challenging!
CS: However, very grateful for the patronage and support from my parents. Because we completely took over their bathroom!
LM: We stayed with them, and we were so lucky to have a place to stay and a roof over our heads because otherwise, I don’t know where we would have ended up.
As a musical duo, you two have been creating music together for over a decade. How did Sweeping Promises come to be?
LM: It sort of emerged spontaneously one evening, we were both finishing up our day and we found this incredible space where we had set up our music equipment. And one night we just started writing what would become the first half of the album. It didn’t sound quite like anything we had done before, and I wanted to commit to pulling this string and seeing how far we could go.
How is Sweeping Promises different from your previous music projects?
CS: We definitely had more infrastructure for Sweeping Promises and a dedicated recording space that was quite large. It felt like we were spreading out and the sound is just a little wilder than our previous projects.
LM: And as far as recording the project, we tried to act as quickly and spontaneously as possible, and only set up one microphone in the room to capture the space. So, we really used the space that we were in as a part of the sound.
Hunger for a Way Out was recorded using the “single mic technique.” Can you talk a bit about that recording process?
CS: The only microphone that we used to record at a time is placed a little over the drums. The bass and amp are really close to the drums, so we play all of that live. When we do overdubs, like the guitars and vocals, the mic is always in the same place, so it adds a pretty uncomplicated dimensionality to the recording.
What influenced the lyrics of the songs on the record? Were they as spontaneous as the recording process for the sound?
LM: Mostly, yes. They emerged as Caufield was writing his guitar line and I would be quietly off to the side trying to write what came to mind. Or when we would write before recording, sometimes lyrics emerged that way. The goal was to be as in the moment as possible.
The artwork for the Hunger for a Way Out was made by D.H. Strother, do you know where the inspiration for the artwork came from?
LM: Honestly, not really. We just gave David the record and told him to go with God.
CS: He’s a mystery, I never know what he’s thinking!
LM: He does a lot of work in punk and DIY music circles. Not only is he an incredible visual artist and designer, he’s also an amazing musician as well. So, I think he had a visceral reaction to the music and that came out in the design.
Caufield, I know you have a major interest in film and visual media as well. Have you ever wanted to have a music video for a Sweeping Promises song?
CS: No. (Laughs.)
All right then!
The emotional lyrics of Hunger seem to have really resonated with listeners given the state of the world. Did the reaction to the record come as a surprise?
LS: Very much, yes. By the time we had sent the record off to the pressing plant, we were quarantined. So, we could not have predicted anything. A lot of it was pent up from living in Boston for the past several years and we didn’t expect anything from it. We didn’t even expect anyone to listen to it!
You have cited 80s post-punk as a major inspiration for the project. Are there any bands in particular that influenced the sound of Sweeping Promises?
LS: We honestly pull from everywhere, and we both cut our teeth on that sound and a lot of those bands like Girls at Our Best, Kleenex, and we love The B-52’s.
CS: We were also interested in global and forgotten paths in post-punk, and the legacies that were somehow not followed.
LS: And we found meaning in the communities that these bands created. Post-punk equalized the playing field and allowed anyone who had strong emotions to communicate that musically in a way that resonates with people.
CS: I think we’re just really attracted to the sound of charismatic self-recordists.
What is it like to tour in a post-COVID world?
LS: We’re grateful that venues are still taking COVID seriously, even as we enter a second year of this pandemic. And we’re grateful that people are still wearing masks indoors and presenting their vaccination criteria.
It’s hard to overstate the fact that, especially with the Delta variant, that people are still afraid to be in social situations. And a lot of people have told us that this weekend has been their first time seeing live shows since the start of the pandemic, so it’s been really overwhelming finally playing again after such a long time and being really social. But the specter of the virus is still lingering.
CS: The communities are there, and the beautiful talent are still there, it’s not annihilated. Things are starting to feel better and we’re still showing care for each other through caution. We’re feeling optimistic about the future.
Featured Image by Jackie Lee Young