I Will Make You Like Me

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Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (an interview)

borisyeltsin.jpgPhilip Dickey had a burning question about the pizza place that his band, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, would be playing in January.

It was not about the size of the room, or the setup, or the acoustics.

“Is it really good pizza?” he asked.

I recommended the calzones, but the odd thing was that Dickey seemed genuinely interested in my answer. The question was offered with eager enthusiasm, and the songwriter/drummer/singer/guitarist sounded like he was trying to establish a rapport. As we ended our interview, he not only invited me to the show but suggested that we keep in touch.

The guy wanted me to like him. More than that, I think, he wanted to be my friend.

And how could I not like Dickey? In conversation, there isn’t much that can’t be described as “confusing,” and his band makes charming, lovely, and lively pop music without sacrificing its soul, hitting earnest and honest notes somewhere between the Shins and Weezer, well-suited to the soundtrack of a Wes Anderson movie. Conviction gives the music life, and keeps it from feeling the least bit derivative.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin released its second album, Pershing, on April 8 on Polyvinyl Record Company, and Dickey says it’s more extroverted than the band’s terrific debut, Broom.

Broom is much more about staying in your bedroom on a Friday night because you couldn’t stand seeing other people, or you’re feeling nervous,” he said. “This one’s more about getting out. I think of it kind of like going to a party, but a really nice party where everyone is friendly and no one’s trying to get all the attention, and no one is too drunk.

“These songs are more modeled after wanting people to go out at night and kind of forget about work for a little bit and just have a good time,” Dickey said. “And that’s kind of terrifying, too. It’s so easy to disappoint people.”

Before you assume that Dickey is pathologically needy, keep in mind that he believes strongly in pop music, and by definition that demands that people like it. Pop music that lets down its audience is a failure on some level.

And Dickey believes in art, and he’s pulled by the tension of staying true to oneself and finding, maintaining, and pleasing an audience. One must appeal to people without pandering or trying too hard, all the while doing something that’s personally satisfying.

“It’s like our pop art project,” he said of Pershing. “It’s like, ‘Make people like us.’”

One problem comes when a pop band does its job well, and actually becomes popular. You lose the intimacy of small venues, or if you’re stubborn you leave money on the table by refusing to graduate to bigger rooms.

“In a smaller venue ... that’s where the rock-and-roll spirit really is,” Dickey said. “The crowd is just as important as the band.

“That’s one of the conflicts of being a pop band, that you’re trying to make everybody like you,” he said. “If the Beatles and Nirvana would have kept playing smaller rooms, they would’ve been a lot happier.”

These considerations are new for the band. When Broom was initially released in 2005, few people outside of its hometown of Springfield, Missouri, had heard of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. But in 2006, the group had its song “Oregon Girl” featured on The O.C., and was the first band featured on Daytrotter — which records near the aforementioned pizza parlor and has since attracted the likes of Spoon, Andrew Bird, Throwing Muses’ Kristin Hersh, ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Tapes ‘n Tapes, and Vampire Weekend. (“That was one of the few things that we got to be part of at the beginning,” Dickey said.) The band got picked up by Polyvinyl, which re-released Broom.

All of that led the quartet to boost its performance schedule from about 20 shows a year to roughly 100. “We kind of became a more typical rock band,” Dickey said. “We had a 45-minute set, we had a set list. Part of it was just getting better as a band.”

Dickey emphasized that Boris Yeltsin retains its core identity. “This is still the same band we’ve all been in since 2000 ... ,” he said. “Life has changed, but it’s not changed enough that we’ve let go of our high-school band.”

Still, Dickey expects Pershing to be divisive. The first song to see the light of day, “Glue Girls,” is bright and sunny, but it’s wispy. A number of critics have noted the influence of Elliott Smith on Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, but this song at least lacks the naked heft of the late singer/songwriter.

Dickey has a healthy attitude about the inevitably split reactions, and despite a youthfully caffeinated, digressive, and nervous speaking style — everybody in the band is in his mid-20s — he seems mature when it comes to the music business and fickle audiences.

The band did a set at South by Southwest last year, and Dickey said it was “motivating and depressing at the same time.”

He compared the annual industry showcase to high school, with insecurity, crowded hallways, and strained efforts to get noticed: “You see people you kinda want to be like, but also people you don’t want to be like,” he said. “You could spot a band from a mile away. ... The whole goal is to kind of stick out from everybody. ... Do we really have to dress like a band to do that? I don’t know. It’s so confusing.”

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin returned to to South by Southwest again this year, with “no business goals, really,” Dickey said. “Just play a good show and not suck.

“I’d like to think we can win people over just being ourselves.”

Dickey is already thinking about a third record. “Part of me wants to do it now,” he said. “I feel like we’ve made an album that was totally planned. And the new CD is half-planned, and half-spontaneous. And I kind of want the next one to be completely spontaneous.”

He said he’d like to get it out by the end of the year, but “that’s where our laziness comes into play. ... We hold ourselves back all the time. ... I never really think of us as being too professional.”

For more information on the band, visit (http://www.morawk.com/boris/) or (http://www.myspace.com/boris).

(This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, in the River Cities’ Reader.)

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