Whether wielding a guitar, pounding a drum kit, or packing a pen, Epic Soundtracks has always been on the edge. At 12, he and his brother, Nikki Sudden, formed the Swell Maps, precocious pre-punks who doted on experimentalists like Can. The late '70s and 1980s saw him play drums for a veritable Who's Who of modern rockers including These Immortal Souls, the Red Krayola, Crime And The City Solution, and the Jacobites.
With the 1992 release of Rise Above, Epic Soundtracks emerged from behind his drum kit to become a piano-playing songwriter and singer. While the change was bound to baffle those who only knew Soundtracks from his previous bands, fans of alternative rock were drawn to the album's dark romanticism, a strange blend of Harry Nilsson and Alex Chilton. Several well-known Swell Maps fans joined Soundtracks on it, including J. Mascis, Rowland Howard, and members of Sonic Youth. Rise Above made many year-end ten-best lists, as did the follow-up,1994's Sleeping Star.
Change My Life
In the wake of Sleeping Star, Epic Soundtracks did a tour with Evan Dando, a longtime fan. They have been writing together and the material may be used on a forthcoming Lemonheads album.
Change My Life, produced by Primal Scream's Henry Olsen, is Soundtracks' third, and it's no coincidence that the title speaks of change. To his favorite subjects of love and loss, Soundtracks adds an unprecedented level of rock and roll energy. Musicians like Will Pepper (Thee Hypnotics) and Russ Bassman (Plush) feed the vibe. From the opening salvo of the Neil Youngian rocker "You Can Be My Baby," to the pet sounds of "Ring The Bells," to the sinisterly romantic "Wishing Well" Soundtracks retains his songs' highly-praised intimacy while juicing up their emotional and musical intensity. Pop without the pap.
Listeners wanting a taste of Soundtracks' current live band need only skip to the hidden bonus track, a medley of Big Star songs "Nightime" and "Thirteen." On that track, Soundtracks is backed by Bassman, Anthony Illarde (Lava Sutra), and Kevin Junior (The Rosehips), the same musicians who will join Soundtracks this summer in his first US full-band tour.
Despite the optimistic-sounding title, Change My Life has a dark edge that will be familiar to fans of Soundtracks' previous work. But, as Soundtracks recently explained to Billboard, there's a silver lining to his sound: "A lot of people think the songs are sad, because it's usually just piano and vocal. But I want people to go away from hearing my songs with hope. Music gets me through more than anything. I'm not being ironic or clever or kitschy. I truly believe that it's made a difference in my life."
Epic formed Swell Maps with his brother Nikki Sudden when he was twelve years old. He has also performed with the Jacobites, These Immortal Souls, Crime & the City Solution, and Red Crayola. He has also done sessions with Sonic Youth, Pere Ubu, Robert Wyatt, Mike Watt, etc., etc...
Rise Above, Epic's first album, was a love fest of famous underground American rock scenesters (J. Mascis, Sonic Youth). Spin magazine called it one of the "10 Best Albums of the Year". It was also a suprise hit in France, where it was included in many end of the year polls. Billboard called the album "a gem out of left field... in the league with the best of Alex Chilton," and Cake Magazine went so far as to describe the album as music "like the Carpenters for junkies and pillheads."
Sleeping Star was recorded in England at Chiswick Reach Studio in January. Epic chose the studio for its archaic recording console that used old style valve equipment (some of it originally used by the Beatles). Twenty-three songs were recorded with twelve ultimately chosen for Sleeping Star. Hopefully in the future, Bar/None will be releasing some of the outtakes, including a slow, haunting version of The Beatles' "I'll Be Back."
The album features some of Epic's English friends including Henry Olsen of Primal Scream who did the string arrangements and Will Pepper (Thee Hypnotics) played an inspired first take guitar solo on "Emily May", and some of the bass. Epic handles all of the drums, piano and vocals (lead and harmony), some bass and most guitar. The soulful female backing vocals are provided by Asyam Kael.
Since the completion of Sleeping Star, Epic has written many new songs, some in collaboration with Evan Dando of the Lemonheads. There are plans for an Evan Dando / Epic Soundtracks East Coast tour in November, with both musicians performing solo.
Epic won't tell us why his new album is called Sleeping Star. Is it a reference to the nocturnal flavor of the album or perhaps a new kind of drug? Let the listener imbibe.