by Adam McGrath
Brett Sova is a guy who loves to shred. Based in Chicago, the 34-year-old musician has turned his infatuation with blistering guitar solos and lo-fi recording methods into a successful musical project known as Axis: Sova. Originally a solo act, Sova has now added guitar player Tim Kaiser and bassist Tyson Torstensen, and the trio hits the road in early April to support Axis: Sova’s second full-length release, Early Surf, which was put out through Ty Segall’s God? imprint on Drag City February 17. The boys play Everybody Hits Saturday, April 4.
I was able to catch up with Sova about a week ago as he drove to band practice, having just picked up his custom black-on-black ’73 Telecaster from the tuning shop. We talked Early Surf, recording techniques, and connections to the Philly scene.
On how his music has progressed over two LPs, Sova says, “When I made the first record, Weight of the Color, it was more like, ‘I’ve got X amount of songs and X amount of minutes of music, so that equals an LP. Cool, I’m done.’ With Early Surf, I was a little more conscious of what I wanted to put out there. Definitely went for a more aggressive sound. I think the previous record is more spaced out, which was cool, but I wanted to do something different this time.”
Sova seems to enjoy the engineering side of music almost as much as performing, and it makes for a unique song-building process. While he is most interested in capturing sounds in spontaneous first takes, he then manipulates and layers those takes to piece together the finished song.
“I try to capture that really fresh feeling that comes with spontaneity, where the original source of inspiration is,” Sova explains. “When you’re jamming, working on a riff, it often sounds best when you first discover it, when you’ve got that energy and excitement for it. If I labor over a song for too long, doing multiple takes trying to get it right, usually I’m not super satisfied with the end result.”
Once Sova bottles that initial excitement, he can then take his time creating layered, nuanced songs with intentionally unsophisticated equipment.
“I’ve always been attracted to home recordings,” he says. “Personally, I love to work freely without the time constraints of a studio. That allows me to get in a particular headspace where I feel like more is developing from the perspective of an engineer than if I was performing in a studio with limited time.
“Making Early Surf, I’d been recording at home, doing all the recording myself to an 8-track cassette tape. That gave me the ability to work on things for long periods of time, come back to them, scrap certain things and bring in other things. At a certain point, I felt like I had finished it, and I put it down for a month or two, but then coming back to it realized that half the songs were exceptionally better than the other half, so I decided to scrap the half I didn’t feel was up to par and started writing new things.”
The result of all this tinkering is an album that elicits both cerebral and emotional reactions from the listener. One can get lost trying to identify the different cuts and layers of a song, or just lay back and turn up the volume. Sova constrains himself through the technology he uses, but he explores every possible permutation within those self-imposed parameters.
I ask Sova how Ty Segall came into the picture with the Early Surf release, as the fuzzed-out, guitar-laden sound fits perfectly into the family of music on the prolific musician’s God? imprint.
“I’ve known Ty for a while,” Sova answers, “met him back when he was on tour with Sic Alps. He was asking about hearing some music, and I gave him the Richie [Records] 7-inch, and he was super stoked about it. So when I finished this LP, I sent it to him, and he wanted to put it out. It worked out really well.”
Speaking of Philadelphia’s Richie Records, Sova has also made some close connections with the local music scene.
“I’m a big fan of what’s happening in Philly,” Sova effuses. “I met all the guys from Richie Records when I booked a Chicago show for Birds of Maya, and the first Axis: Sova tour that was longer than a weekend was opening for Purling Hiss in 2013.”
Sova has even played the Girard Ave. venue Everybody Hits before, where he will be Saturday night.
“We got to play there last time we were through town in September with Birds of Maya. We had a blast. Such a cool place to do a show. We were hoping that they would turn the ball machines on and have things flying around while we were playing or something, but that’s not really allowed I guess.”
There you go, folks, a glimpse into the process and inspiration for Brett Sova’s music as Axis: Sova. Check out the brand-new official video for title track “Early Surf” below, and come out to Everybody Hits Saturday night!