The third album from childhood friends San Cisco – Jordi Davieson, Nick Gardner, Scarlett Stevens and Josh Biondillo – has emerged from the ocean, and she’s a shiny pop beauty. We spoke to Davieson about why it doesn’t matter what he thinks the songs are about, going mad with vocal effects, and the weird and wonderful influence of producer Steve Schram.
San Cisco’s third album, The Water, jitterbugs all across all the best kinds of pop: it’s like funk-dance-disco, with lots of smart and cute details, far more synth than we’ve previously heard, and that Vampire Weekend kind of agility.
Frontman and primary songwriter Jordi Davieson identifies the sprightly honkytonk keyboard line on stand-out That Boy as “possibly the most poppy thing on the record,” amongst quite a lot of poppiness. “That keyboard riff that Josh [Biondillo] did… I describe it as an ice-cream truck,” Davieson says. “It’s so sweet. He was like ‘I’m not sure, I think it’s a bit much,’ and I said ‘Nup, leave it. We need the ice-cream truck.’” There are so many touch-points throughout the track: you might hear Split Enz, or The Love Cats, or any slightly robo-manic allusion, but Davieson reveals the group’s concentrated effort to relate these tracks to their previous work when he says it was intended as the equivalent to Too Much Time Together, San Cisco’s first single from 2015’s Gracetown.
In a little nod which harkens all the way back to the group’s break-out 2012 hit, Sunrise references “awkward conversations” amongst some textural vocal effects. Davieson says co-producer Steve Schram had much to do with those decisions during the recording of The Water, but it was more a case of his holding Davieson back than slathering anything on. “They’ll leave me alone in a room for half a day and I’ll do all the vocals, but then if they leave me there for too long, I’ll just go nuts,” he says. “Put weird autotune things on, and then weird harmonies, and at one point I had 20 of me singing this part, which I knew we were never going to use but I really wanted to do it. I like vocal effects and weird, electric, robotic things. I find it really interesting and really fun to play with. Steven’ll come in, like ‘No, stop it, stop it.’ And he’ll Schramify it.”
Steve Schram has been with the four-piece for years, and Davieson relishes attempting to define “this character that [they] get locked in a room with for months at a time.” He seems like something of a maestro hydra. “He’s kind of like our father, and our friend, and our worst enemy, and an evil villain. He’s like a coach… I don’t know how else we could do it, because he pushes us so hard, and we kind of need it,” he explains. “Then other times, when he sees that we’re on a roll and getting the idea, he’ll just slowly drift back into a dark corner of the room and let us do our thing.”
The bandmember whose ‘thing’ has most noticeably developed with this album is drummer Scarlett Stevens, who again lends her voice to harmonies, call-and-response and back-up vocals, and her rhythmic instrumental chops are improving with every record – check out closer Did You Get What You Came For for all the evidence you’ll need. But Davieson’s lyrics have also noticeably matured into subtle reflections, all the while still full of the wry YA observations he’s known for. Sometimes you might not be able to tell which is which, but Davieson believes that doesn’t matter; in The Distance there’s a lyric that feels James Murphy-like in its poignancy – “You stay you, and I change me” – but Davieson reveals that the track is actually about The Lego Movie (“I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to ruin the movie, it’s a great movie!”). Likewise Hey, Did I Do You Wrong isn’t about a romantic relationship at all, but a friendship – “a good friend not hanging out with you because they’ve fallen in love with a girl.” “And that’s what’s so sick about pop music,” Davieson enthuses, “is that it doesn’t matter what I think it’s about at all! People grab it and they relate it to their life, which is just awesome. It’s almost like a multi-tool. Really, you can change any songs into whatever you’re needing in your life at that point in time.”
The Water is out May 5 on vinyl and CD via MGM.