Sweden's Favorite Hammjammers

Still Flyin's reggae-pop swirl

Last summer, San Francisco reggae-slanted indie-pop act Still Flyin' arranged a Scandinavian tour, despite having never released an album, and with less than two weeks of previous road experience. When asked how his band pulled off this neat trick, singer Sean Rawls' response is a perplexed "I don't know."

Apparently, the scarcely 2-year-old band was offered a Stockholm show when several of its members (there are about 15 in the starting lineup) hit Sweden for a friend's wedding. But it's unclear how that good timing led to a series of large festival slots — including one where Still Flyin' headlined the "reggae stage" and played after the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The joyful frenzy of the crowds prompted Swedish promoters to invite the group back last April to play for audiences who screamed when Rawls announced the titles of songs that hadn't even been released yet. At this point Still Flyin' had only the Time Wrinkle EP to its name, a record that wasn't even distributed in Scandinavia.

When Rawls formed Still Flyin', his intention wasn't to create "the perfect band for Sweden," as he jokes, but rather as an outlet for his tongue-in-cheek reggae songs. When Still Flyin's crack rhythm section — including drummer Yoshi Yakamoto, organist Alicia Vanden Heuvel, and bassist/guitarist Drew Cramer — got its hands on his initial efforts, a kind of trans-substantiation occurred. With a core of groove-adept players abetted by a dizzying amount of singers and percussionists "just jamming as hard as [they] possibly can," Still Flyin' cooks up a live experience that could get by on enthusiasm alone. But they made short work of Scandinavia, where indie pop is a valuable commodity, proven by the success of Jens Lekman, Sondre Lerche, and Komeda. Flyin' is largely composed of members from local pop bands the Aislers Set, Masters of the Hemisphere, and Ladybug Transistor — acts whose influence is noticeable with the flick of a Swedish radio dial. And Scandinavian audiences didn't harbor any skepticism for Still Flyin's dub and rock-steady coating; it turns out reggae is also huge there.

"Maybe it's the indie pop mixed with reggae, but [Scandinavian fans] go nuts for us," Rawls says, and jokes that his band may be destined to "tour Sweden ... and nowhere else."

If an exclusively Scandinavian future is in store for Still Flyin', we'll at least have its newly released second extended jam, Za Cloud, to remember it by. The CD is a companion piece to the aforementioned Wrinkle,featuring art by the group's official guru, OJ Hammond — who also coined the term "hammjamm" to describe the varied sounds and humorous sensibility within the record. The music ranges from the fast ska-steady pop of the "Art of Jammin," with its cheery group vocals and professions to smoking "the green for health," to the groovier, almost balladlike "Fuck the Stress." The CD opens on an almost ominous note, with chilly vibraphone arpeggios and shredding sax solos preceding the first verse of "Sticking My Head in Ice Water (Almost for Too Long)." When digested with the heavier dub workouts of Time Wrinkle,you have a more complete sonic picture of a band whose sound has evolved much faster than its recorded output would imply. Live, the guitars reach beyond the rock-steady bag, and the horns and vocals have become more layered and harmonic. Rawls notes that after documenting Still Flyin' first generation of songs, the musicians are now ready to "climb in the time-warp/space-shuttle and go anywhere."

"I guess you could say we're a hammjamm band," Rawls concludes of the group's fusion of the silly and the sprawling, "but if that sounds too stupid: party band."

 
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