Wetsuit dives right into the mess of life on debut LP “Sugar, I’m Tired”

Author: Jason Lee
Photo: Sydney Tate

One of the first things that grabbed me about Wetsuit’s music is how it sounds like it’s perpetually bursting out of its own skin or trying to anyway with its delicate spun sugar latticeworks of jangly guitar, undulating bass, and propulsive skins and cymbals (the latter played by one Stephen Cadieux) consistently upended by waves of shoegazy guitar squall courtesy of lead ax-man Anders Nils

…and by willful unruliness of guitarist-vocalist Allison Becker’s vocal cords which if you happen to have a laryngoscope on hand likely resembles the view through a kaleidoscope morphing between multiple vibrant hues and geometric shapes to mind-altering effect with vocal tones ranging from throaty to twangy to breathy to belted-out howling at the moon as if Allison’s maybe the lovechild of Regina Spektor and Ronnie Spector as heard on the band’s debut LP Sugar, I’m Tired (engineered, mixed and mastered by Jennica and Digo Best) out now on Substitute Scene Records

…a dynamic that applies to the LP’s lyrics as well which vacillate between being “wrapped…in a neat little bow” (quoting from album-opener “Sugar”) and not-at-all-neat imagery of burst plums and unruly body hair and faded watercolors and spaghetti flung against the wall and of being “turn[ed] into goo” and other messiness (best wear a wetsuit!) the latter image evoking Sugar, I’m Tired‘s cover art with Allison’s curly auburn locks and pensive visage viewed from behind a pane of glass smeared with dripping globs of white icing and miniature candy sprinkles and coagulated blood or maybe that’s strawberry jam it’s hard to tell…

…an image that’s a behind-the-scenes capture from the music video for Wetsuit’s 2022 debut single “Sticky Sweet” (directed by band bassist Paul DeSilva alongside Elizabeth Renstrom) that sees the foursome turned into wet and messy human ice cream sundaes as caramel, whipped cream, and raspberry syrup (best guesses!) pisses down from above and given all the sugarrelated imagery it’s maybe worth noting here how pristine grains of granulated sugar get converted into gloopy energy-supplying yet potentially artery-clogging glucose once absorbed into the human body…

…much as Wetsuit themselves come across as a reasonably well-mannered bunch that is until you notice all the dripping, oozing, and unraveling happening behind the scenes and ditto their more feral instincts peeking out or more like screaming out from behind the otherwise immaculate indie rock interruptus of Sugar, I’m Tired or how this set of songs hardly shies away from the overall messiness of life…

…whether it’s the contradictory societal demands routinely placed upon women or putting up with the casual cruelty of a wannabe hipster boyfriend who’ll never be have an impact outside his North Brooklyn bubble or being a gawky tween turned teen line-dancing to Nelly at your bat mitzvah or the devastating early passing of a close friend or the ecstatic messiness of falling deeply in love and lowering your own defenses long enough to let your partner inside…

…cuz while Wetsuit certainly don’t downplay the anxiety provoked by such situations (peep the angst-ridden repetition and re-inflection of the line you’re gonna swallow me at the conclusion of “Polka Dots” for a perfect example) they seem to be able at the same time to find solace and even strength in the relentless messiness of life seeing as, well, being alive is messy, and to deny it is to deny life itself so best let yourself unwind when needed and much like the way an actual wetsuit works there’s little to be gained in trying to hold back the deluge better instead to let a thin layer of water inside that’ll get warmed by your own body heat and provide a layer of protection cuz even if the water’s fetid or even if you f*cking piss yourself it’ll keep you safe for the time being…


And now for the fun part. Below you’ll find  excerpts from a lovely phone conversation I had with Allison Becker a little while back. Enjoy!

On her musical background…

I grew up in St. Louis and got my start with singing in show choir. We did competitions and stuff. And then I got into musical theater, where I developed the ability to “belt”. Still, I wasn’t allowed to sing like I do now. But I tried. I was at my parents’ house recently going through all my stuff and came across a grading form from a tryout for Missouri All-State choir. I didn’t make it. They said my voice had too many inflections, that it was too poppy. The inflections came from listening to too much Regina Spector and Karen O. It fucked me over. 

On learning to play guitar while living with her parents during peak Covid lockdown…

After moving to New York I got heavily into indie rock and seeing local bands. I’d made a New Year’s resolution the year before the pandemic hit and bought a guitar. But it was moving back to St. Louis that gave me the space to do it—to be myself and to make mistakes in private. 

When you’re first figuring out how to write songs you write a bunch of bad ones. Being alone all the time, being in my parents’ house, gave me a lot of space to write bad songs until a good one popped out. It was always in the back of my head to do it. I just needed that push. 

On the music video for “Clovers” (see above) and how music and knitting are in some ways similar…

When I was heavily into crocheting, everything begins in your bedroom—just like music does—cranking out pieces for my Etsy shop. I sold hats, hand warmers, and was constantly making stock for local  holiday markets. When you go to the market, you’re presenting this private thing to the public. Also, it may sound kinda lame but both are a business, making something and presenting it the best way possible. You start off by creating it in isolation. You put your own spin on it so it’s authentic. But you have to put yourself out there to sell it. 

It’s interesting when you crochet you only need to know a handful of stitches—types of stitches—then you figure out how to combine them, to make fewer stitches in a row or more stitches in a row. Using the four stitches I know, I can make tons of stuff. It’s the same with music. You only need to know four or five chords and then you can play hundreds if not thousands of songs. 

I crocheted the hooded monster in the “Clovers” video. . Like the worms in [Frank Herbert’s] Dune but not on purpose. My version of sand worm, going all the way up over my head. My intention was for everyone to pull it off from me in one take, for it to unravel all at once. It wasn’t fastened off, but somehow the stitches got stuck together. Everyone was pulling on it and it kept snagging. We had to stop and start about 50 times. Every good take got used in the video.

On the song “Local Celebrity” which is about being humiliated by a musician ex-boyfriend when Allison placed a Craigslist ad looking for a ticket to a sold-out show where his band was the opener at Mercury Lounge. On recounting embarrassing memories in song, more generally, and being open to vulnerability…

I studied poetry in college and wrote a lot in poetry. I used to do readings, to get up in front of people and read. You feel really exposed. I would think, “I wish I could just sing this” because reading a poem it didn’t always connect. 

I like when things are coded, woven in imagery, where it’s a little less explicit but also suggestible. As a listener you can apply your own experiences, but you can also connect with my story as well.

My favorite part about playing “Local Celebrity” live is singing the line “I hear you laughing at me” and looking directly into the crowd. I love looking around the crowd, taking this embarrassing moment and owning it, making it into something that feels strong and powerful.

On the music video for “Local Celebrity” which interweaves actual footage filmed at Allison’s bat mitzvah with fake-aged footage of Wetsuit & friends in current times reenacting said bat mitzvah to convincing effect. On the music played at her adolescent bat mitzvah. On dirty dancing…

Everyone doesn’t get it at first. It may be why people watch it multiple times. It’s a puzzle for people to figure out. 

I’m going to make a playlist for the [already passed] Sugar, I’m Tired release show and play it between sets based on the music I had played at my own bat mitzvah. There was a lot of Nelly ‘cause I grew up in St. Louis. And 50 Cent. And unfortunately a lot of R. Kelly. 

At the music video shoot we made everyone do the Cha Cha Slide. And the Cotton Eyed Joe which a lot of people today don’t know. I’d completely forgotten it at first and had to demonstrate if for people. Any song that has a pre-choreographed dance to go with it is a good choice, especially for boys who don’t know what to do with their bodies.

I got in trouble for grinding too much. One time at a bar mitzvah  someone called my mother and said, “Your daughter was dancing so dirty with this boy, I was concerned. You need to talk to your daughter about grinding up against boys in public.”

On the song “Twiggy,” which is dedicated to a close friend who passed away, and in particular the line “you make the city feel so small / girl from Kentucky conquered it all”…

That makes me cry every time I sing it. It’s so true. When you first move to New York it’s a big deal to find people who understand you, who are not using you for anything and not friends out of obligation. When you finally start forging your real community, the city doesn’t feel so scary anymore. That’s how she made me feel. 

On the song “Polka Dots”. On its inspiration and creation. On Wetsuit’s creative process more generally…

We’ve been playing that a long time. It started with a poem, stealing a lyric from one of my poems. It’s a pretty sexy poem! It was about having an experience with someone in bed where we rearranged the polka dots on my bed, if you get my drift. Then it just evolved into this kind of longing, desperate song about something more all encompassing. 

It’s our most shoegazy song. Anders really gets to shine on this one. It builds up to the line where I’m just shouting “you’re gonna swallow me.”

I always write the melody first. It probably comes from listening to so much pop music. I’m drawn to melody first. Then Anders makes up guitar parts based on the chords I wrote to go with the melody. Lyrics come last or nearly last. I pull from different places. This one just happened to be a couple lines from the poem like said. But with what Anders did on guitar it took on this menacing tone. And the rest of the lyrics followed on from that. 

It’s probably the most exciting part for me with songwriting, after I figure out a melody I fall in love with is piecing together the words to go inside of it.. You’re coming up with the rhythms, the lyrical beats. It’s like writing poetry. Or like figuring out the coolest puzzle to solve. 

But you make the puzzle too.

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