AEM115 Bunny's a Swine

“Our sound has been called tweegrunge by some, awkpop by ourselves, and indie rock by others,” explained guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Candace Clement when asked to describe Bunny’s a Swine. While the distinction may be largely semantic, I concur with Clement that awkpop is the most suitable and certainly the most telling classification for this unconventional trio from North Hampton, MA. Those other labels might still apply, but they fail to capture the essence of Bunny’s a Swine. What separates these guys from other indie rockers out there is that they’re so fucking awkward. It hit me the first time I heard A-side “I Should Have Left the Bushes Hours Ago” and numerous spins later, I still can’t get over it. Even if you haven’t heard the music, take one look at the press photo accompanying this review and you’ll probably be nodding enthusiastically in agreement. What could be more awkward than some scruffy hipsters standing in front of a faux-dramatic nautical backdrop striking convoluted poses? Even the name “Bunny’s a Swine” seems pretty awkward. I asked the band for the story behind it and their answer only confirmed my suspicions. “We really liked referring to things using ‘bunny’s a…’,” they explained, “like ‘bunny’s a tour’ or ‘bunny’s a show’ or ‘bunny’s a swingle,’ a reference to a 3 song single CD we made for a weekend tour in Vermont. Its really infectious after a while.” Major-league awkward.

But in case you haven’t noticed, awkward is the new cool. Many musicians nowadays subscribe to the outcast mantra, embracing the embarrassing traits for which they might have gotten their asses kicked and their milk money stolen in elementary school and recasting them as quirky or charming. Bunny’s a Swine simply pushes that mantra to its limits and, I should add, succeeds gloriously in doing so. The untempered awkwardness is irresistible. I adored Bunny’s a Swine after hearing just a few notes. I don’t mean strictly that I adored the music. More precisely, I adored the lovely people behind the music and was struck by an unshakable urge to give each of them a big hug.

In addition to Clement, Bunny’s a Swine features Dustin Ashley Cote on drums and Emerson Stevens on 3-string guitar. The latter instrument is another good indication of just how awkward this band really is. Perhaps you haven’t heard of the 3-string guitar but one needn’t think too hard to imagine the conditions under which this unusual instrument might have been born. The inability to string a guitar, the failure to master anything beyond power chords, and a lack of money to purchase new strings were the primary hypotheses to jump to my mind. As it turns out, there’s a little truth in all of them. Stevens found his first guitar in a dumpster and never bothered to restring it. “My interest never was in being a great guitarist,” he clarifies. “I wanted to write songs and found that pounding out bar chords on some piece of junk with 3 strings was more than enough to do that.” But even Clement, the de-facto virtuoso of the group, plays nothing so technically demanding that somebody who has played guitar for only six months wouldn’t be able to master it. “Much of what we do derives from our beginnings as a band,” explains Cote. “We started out as a two piece, Emerson and I, neither of us really knowing how to play.” Bunny’s a Swine rejects virtuosity in favor of simple might. The lo-fidelity recording techniques employed by the band accentuate this decision, creating the sensation that the music never left the attic in which it was born.

Among the many awkward traits that make Bunny’s a Swine so damn endearing is unabashed sloppiness. The creative process is pretty transparent. Most of the songs originate with Stevens but when he brings them to rehearsal, everybody sings whatever they feel like singing until, eventually, something interesting emerges. Clement explains, “most of the time we have no idea what the others are singing about until months after we’ve finished the song.” A band with multiple lead vocalists who pay little heed to one another will inevitably devolve into chaos. Bunny’s a Swine simply harnesses this chaos and transforms it into an exhilarating tension. Distinct vocal melodies pile sloppily together, vying for the listeners attention, and then converging in brief flashes of harmony. To catch the words is nearly impossible. As soon as you hone in on one lyrical thread, another will butt in over it. And yet, miraculously, Clement observes, “the meanings almost always sync up. Bushes is a great example. It wasn’t until we recorded that track that we knew both people were singing about very similar themes of voyeurism.”

The song Clement refers to is “I Should Have Left the Bushes Hours Ago” Beginning with calm and luxuriously paced instrumental introduction, it kicks into second gear when the whole band starts to sing and shout simultaneously. A punchy melody delivered in sloppy unison by an out-of-tune baritone and screechy tenor is tempered by a delicate and melodic soprano line. Select words cut through the mix but are quickly drowned out, evoking the atmosphere of a crowded house party-incidentally, the kind of event at which I’d most like to see this band perform-in which only fragments of conversation manage to rise above the roar of the room. The music gradually escalates in speed and volume until the climatic moment when vocal melodies finally intersect. “Please do not turn out your inside light,” the band shouts in harmony. This flash of clarity packs a strong punch after such a long buildup. B-side “Fuck Bunny’s a Swine” employs many of the same techniques but is notably more schizophrenic in form. Beginning with a steady instrumental dirge to back Stevens’ deep and unrefined voice that at times channels Johnny Cash, the song unexpectedly jumps into to a doubletime punk feel about halfway through before finally returning to a tranquil refrain with harmonies reminiscent of The Carter Family. Not that such references were premeditated. I get the impression that Bunny’s a Swine was simply having a good time. The common thread linking these sections is a raw energy so earnest it could not have been forced.

After commending Bunny’s a Swine on its sloppiness, awkwardness, lack of instrumental prowess, and other traits not generally deemed praiseworthy, I feel compelled to stress that my appreciation is not in any way ironic. I admit to enjoying certain bands because they’re so bad they’re good but Bunny’s a Swine really isn’t one of those bands. Only when you strip away technical virtuosity and fancy production does it become clear what a band is really made of. Occasionally you’ll find a band that has a heart beneath the superficial gloss but more often, virtuosity and production mask a disappointing inner void. So many bands lack genuine substance, which is precisely what makes Bunny’s a Swine so refreshing and, probably, so awkward. Sincerity can be embarrassing. Ever wonder why rock stars never smile? Bunny’s a Swine is a labor of love. Wait, scratch that! Was labor really involved? This band doesn’t practice, it plays, and the joy of playing shines through every note-wait, scratch that! The joy of playing simply shines because without the gloss, there’s nothing to stand in its way.

I Should Have Left the Bushes Hours Ago I Should Have Left the Bushes Hours Ago.mp3

Fuck Bunnys a Swine Fuck Bunnys a Swine.mp3