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Baby Teeth – in half!

| January 30, 2009 | 0 Comments

Baby Teeth
Falling Out

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Examples of rock bands scattering into solo projects abound. Some of them (cough, cough, Kiss, cough) suggest one look for an alternative approach to the marketplace. Often it foretells a breakup, but in the case of a Chicago outfit like Baby Teeth, it’s like seeing what Captain Keith and Lance are up to before Voltron has to go kick some ass.

Appearing: Saturday, January 31st (Baby Teeth) and Wednesday, February 4th at Empty Bottle (All City Affairs)

Lujo Records agreed to this rather unprecedented move before the next Baby Teeth album lands in the spring. In the buildup, the label commissioned Peter Andreadis, Abraham Levitan, and Jim Cooper to indulge their whims. It’s not that crazy, actually. Andreadis has masqueraded under the All City Affairs guise for years; Levitan, until now, has flooded the songwriting channel as Pearly Sweets; and Cooper fronts the venerated Detholz. Baby Teeth is the side project, to paraphrase Obi-Wan, from a certain point of view.

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Levitan was more than happy to stoke this reversed process. “Everything’s kind of ass-backwards because I was doing these songs live three years ago, when the ideas were fresh. Always in the back of my mind was I thinking I should make an album. Now that it’s coming out, I’m not doing the solo shows anymore. As far as a unified PR strategy, it’s a disaster,” he laughs.

As an opportunity for the other two, why not? “We made a decision early on in Baby Teeth that the only songs we were going to work on were songs Abraham wrote,” Andreadis says. “Jim has Detholz, I’ve got All City Affairs, so we said let’s not cross our streams. Abraham writes so many songs, there’s a lot to choose from. Our contributions are in the arrangements.”

“It’s a weird situation having a band with talented songwriters and being the only songwriter,” Levitan admits. “It makes you feel like a spoiled baby.” Baby Teeth have flashed their individual muscles before, on the For The Heathers EP. The instruction was each member had to create a song, in isolation, with “Heather” in the title. But normally it’s Levitan trying to win Andreadis and Cooper’s minds. “My bandmates in Baby Teeth are very tough critics – I end up writing a lot of songs that never get used.”

For their parts, All City Affairs’ Identity Theft and Levitan’s Speak, Memory (Cooper’s reported vampire opera isn’t ready yet) feel like amputated limbs from Baby Teeth’s Frankensteiny oomph rock.

“My tastes, musically, when I was making Bees and the first solo record,” Andreadis explains, “were a little along the lines of straightahead rock and pop: Jeff Buckley, The Beatles. Now it’s more programmed stuff and loops, based on simplistic, really catchy pop patterns that repeated without having as many chord changes as I was writing before. So Identity Theft, as far as songs, I was looking to have things that could exist very simply as far as the harmonic material, how many chord changes are going on. By putting things on top of them, keyboard melodies, I could keep peoples’ interest. There’s a couple songs where the chords are the same from the start to the end. I wanted to see how simple and catchy can I make it, but also obscure that by putting more elements on top.”

Levitan is confronted with a different tack: explaining why Speak, Memory‘s tracks evaded Baby Teeth sessions. “Too weird, that’s the most direct answer I can give,” he laughs. “The working theme was self-absorption. It was my first solo album, so what if I took all of my feelings really, really seriously? Basically, it’s hard to locate the choruses in a lot of these songs. They build on each other a lot instead of having a traditional verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure. Baby Teeth is more of a verse/chorus/verse/chorus band, which is why each of our records has gone platinum. It was more of a chance to be a little bit more adventurous without feeling like I was letting the other guys down by not writing pop tunes.”

Despite being on his own, Levitan made his album “highly collaborative,” boasting contributions from Kelly Hogan, Snokilla, and Bobby Conn, whose thoughts helped convince Levitan to drop the Sweets pseudonym. He also embraced not being at Andreadis and Cooper’s mercy.

He says, “Honestly, I had a lot more fun doing this one. With Baby Teeth or any band, you come into a recording studio and the arrangement is already worked out. You’re trying to lay it down and you’re bumping up against some technical and time limitations. You end up just getting your original idea maybe imperfectly represented due to how the session turned out. There’s often not a lot of time to totally reimagine what the arrangement should be once you’re in the studio. And with this record, I had literally been working on it for four years, maybe. Some of these songs have made such left turns depending on which instrument parts turned out great, which should be buried, that I could really follow the muse than with a rock band. I guess I was working on these tracks thinking they might never come out. Maybe that’s why it was more fun.”

Andreadis submits he missed the instrumental expertise of other musicians, but enjoys lording absolute control over All City Affairs, being the only performing member. “Sometimes I think I can’t play bass to save my life and should get a real bass player,” he jokes. “But the times I get inspired to do All City Affairs tends to be really early in the morning or late at night. I just go in my room and put my headphones on. I think that really is at the focus of why I wanted to do this. I wanted to explore in-the-moment, inspiring, flash ideas I get. Having a band in Chicago with such a heavy music scene, you have to plan months in advance to put a show together. I don’t think I have that kind of patience.”

Even though interviewed separately, Levitan ends up concurring with his bandmate. “It’s that Chicago attitude of ‘put your head down and do the work.’ When I first moved here I thought it was very strange, but now I’ve succumbed to it. Work makes you happy.” Though that doesn’t mean he’s jumping to recreate Speak, Memory live. “Honestly, if I were to play them I would do them the way I used to in the solo shows, which was take whatever tracks were closest to being finished, mute the vocal track, burn it to a CD, show up with a Discman, and do it karaoke-style. That’s how I used to perform it; I’d have a really long microphone cord and crawl on the floor, hide behind the curtains – basically chewing up the scenery. As far as performing them with Baby Teeth, I doubt that would happen unless the album contains a breakout single I’m not aware of.”

Andreadis will be more accommodating, showcasing both solo and band-backed presentations of Identity Theft. “There’s a group of people who want to be identified as a songwriter, but don’t want to go out onstage every night with an acoustic guitar. I thought I could do this as a solo and a songwriting project and have it sound more like a Björk or Kanye West thing: building songs that sound really big and getting the idea across that there’s more to it than being a singer-songwriter.”

Or just a guy in a band.

Steve Forstneger

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