Poling and Klaers, the other original Suburbs from 1977, agree that Chaney has improved.
“We talked for an hour yesterday,” Poling said two weeks ago. “He’s getting better and better every day.”
“We never know what we’re going to get,” Klaers said over lunch last week with the band’s new guitarist, Steve Brantseg, and bassist, Steve Price. “Hopefully this record will give him that boost he needs to focus on himself and what he has, and not what he lost.”
Reflections on loss
Chaney’s situation isn’t the only question surrounding the Suburbs and “Si Sauvage.”
How does the band function since the death in 2009 of its original guitarist, Bruce Allen, who defined both the band’s rhythm and its look? (He designed their iconic logo and album covers.)
And how is Poling coping with the death of his wife, Eleanor Mondale Poling, in 2011 from brain cancer?
Poling said he didn’t want to write a record about loss or regret. But a few songs clearly address Eleanor. First is the current single, the horn-accented “Turn the Radio On,” on which he sings: “Take my hand, turn the radio on/ Come on, my favorite song, baby/ Let’s dance, turn the radio on.”
“She didn’t like sad songs. She liked to dance,” Poling said. “When you’re a songwriter, you can get so deep into your own head, and you forget people like to dance and people like music for different reasons.”
“You’ve Got to Love Her,” a peppy Poling pop ditty, and the classic love ballad “I Like It Better When You Loved Me” also were inspired by Eleanor. Other songs are aimed at the ’Burbs themselves, such as “Dumb Ass Kids.”
“It’s about me talking to our younger selves,” Poling said. “We had more than one conversation about how lucky we are to be alive still after the way we used to live.”
As for the loss of Allen, Klaers said the band is now “tighter and we’re a little cleaner sounding. I think the old Suburbs were a little more sloppy and dirty. All the energy is there. Bruce had a unique way of playing guitar that nobody could ever duplicate. I think Bruce would be really happy if he heard this record.”
Brantseg, a longtime pal of Allen, said he tries “to capture the essence of Bruce, especially those specific licks that need to be there in the [old] songs. We had a lot of the same influences so there is some crossover between our styles. With the new stuff, it’s more of my own thing [but] I always think about, how would Bruce have approached this rhythmically.”
Chaney’s only song on the album — the slow, spooky ballad “What’s It Like Out There?” — was inspired by Allen’s death.
“Everyone wonders what are we going to do,” Chaney said. “Is there a big gate with Jesus standing there? Or is there going to be infinite outer space and we can fly? So it’s kind of a message to everybody: Are you OK?”
Love is still the law
“Si Sauvage” — French for “so wild” — was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, in which the band raised more than $73,000, including a private concert for $10,000 donors (there were two takers).
“I’m proud everyone still cares,” Chaney said. “Thank you for letting us take a break and get our [act] back together. Because it wasn’t easy. We do have it back together. I think we’re better than ever.”