Sweeping Promises may just be the coolest band we’ve found so far all year! If you follow us at @gimmiegimmiegimmiezine you’ll know how much we love their debut album Hunger For A Way Out—we’ve already declared it our favourite release of 2020! Their music is raw, simple, yet spirited and absolutely thrilling. From the bouncy and urgent title track opener with its angular guitars to moody, slower tempo closer “Trust” this record is from go to whoa solid! The vocals alone are so right on that they made our editor cry. Gimmie interviewed Sweeping Promises’ bassist-vocalist Lira Mondal.
How did you and Caufield first meet? Can you tell us about your creative partnership please?
LIRA MONDAL: I met Caufield when we were both undergrads. I was in the basement practice room of the music building playing with some other music majors when I noticed this very tall lanky blond guy peeking in through the tiny window in the door. His first words to me were, “Are you in a band? Can I play in your band?” Soon after that we were writing together exclusively, and have been for over a decade now.
Our creative partnership is rooted in total trust in and respect for one another, something that only comes with having worked together for years. For instance, I used to be very guarded about writing lyrics and would absolutely destroy myself laboring over them for fear that they weren’t good enough to show anyone. But when you’re working with just one other person, there’s no room to be coy or shy. Not if you want to get anything done.
We’ve cobbled together a pretty efficient songwriting method where I’ll play something on bass and he’ll drum along, and then I’ll work out a melody to put on top, and once we’re satisfied, we’ll track it and he’ll put guitar on it while I work on words. We both offer up suggestions to one another – change the riff up here, draw out a vocal part or change some words there. It’s intensely collaborative. Not only is Caufield a hyper-talented multi-instrumentalist, but also a consummate engineer and producer. He’s mixed and mastered everything we’ve worked on, as well as a bunch of other projects. I’m extremely lucky and grateful to have him as a collaborator!
When and how did you first discover music?
LM: It was all around me, constantly. My parents immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh in the late 70s/early 80s, so I heard Lata Mangeshkar mixed in with lots of ABBA and Madonna. I listened to a lot of radio, and as an older Millennial I was one of those kids who would vigilantly post up by my boombox which was always loaded with a blank cassette tape, my finger quivering above the “record” button and ready to strike should the deejay demigods mercifully heed my song requests.
As a solitary kid who was glued to my computer, I spent countless hours trawling through Launch.com, a pre-Pandora/pre-YouTube Internet radio and music video site. Later in high school, I discovered music magazines like Tokion and Under the Radar, which really expanded my horizons. Music magazines were a big source of education and inspiration for me, and I cherished the ones that occasionally came with compilation CDs.
Speaking of compilations, another absolutely vital part of my musical upbringing came in the form of a highly influential mix CD my older brother and sister-in-law made for me when I was 12. It featured a bunch of Mazzy Star and Portishead and Björk, and it changed my life, most notably by curbing my (troubling) Red Hot Chili Peppers habit.
How did Sweeping Promises come into being?
LM: We were jamming one night in this abandoned science lab-turned-art/gallery space that Caufield miraculously had access to through his grad department; it was sometime in late 2019, and we ended up writing “Hunger For a Way Out” in about 20 minutes. It wasn’t like anything we’d written up to that point. Since it didn’t fit into any of our existing projects, we decided on the spot to create a project around that song, because we couldn’t just leave it. The next night we were in the space, we wrote “Blue” and “Out Again”, and then we just kept on writing.
I know that you also have the bands Mini Dresses, Splitting Image and Dee-Parts; what did you want to do differently in Sweeping Promises?
LM: We wanted to capture the exhilaration of writing songs in the moment, of irrepressible energy and things just barely holding together. A lot of our other projects featured very in-depth production efforts; we wanted Sweeping Promises to work fast n’ loose.
The band is from Boston, Massachusetts; what can you tell us about living there?
LM: It’s a compact city, but it’s awfully charming. We miss it already, and the neighboring cities of Somerville and Cambridge where we also lived and worked. I personally happen to love the cold, so the snow and single-digit winters suited me just fine.
As for music, it’s very expensive and increasingly becoming hostile to anyone who isn’t in the tech or finance sectors. That said, there is a passionate population of incredible musicians, artists, organizers and promoters, studio engineers, activists, and scene folks who are trying their best to unify the fractured musical landscape of the city, and we are beyond grateful to call a bunch of those people our friends. There’s formidable talent and creativity in Boston and the surrounding areas, and it’s a shame that no one seems to care or notice beyond the music community itself; with venues shuttering left and right to make way for more and more condos that no one can afford to live in (even pre-COVID), it remains to be seen what the musical landscape’s going to look like there. I have hope, but it’s looking pretty grim now.
Your debut record Hunger For A Way Out was recorded using a “single mic technique”; can you tell us a little about this technique and what made you decide to record this way? You record at home don’t you?
LM: With this project we wanted to capture the action of the space we were in, this cavernous concrete subterranean lab. Because it was so naturally reverberant, we didn’t want to have to sort through the sludgy frequency layering that would’ve occurred if we’d mic’d everything individually. And we were riding high on the spontaneity of the songwriting process and wanted to capture that. So we put our one Shure KSM32 in the middle of the space facing the drums, and then I plugged in my bass amp and had it also facing the mic, and we recorded the basic tracks that way.
There are overdubs, of course! There’s no way we could have done the whole thing live just the two of us. But most of those overdubs are all with that same Shure mic, usually keeping it in the exact same position after tracking the drums and bass. It’s on the guitar amp, it’s on my vocals (with the monitor on, so there’s quite a bit of bleed to make them crunchy and ultra-saturated).
Lyrically what kinds of things were influencing your songwriting for this record? I understand that you usually write from an immediate source of inspiration like books and movies. Was it that way this time? Or did you feel you had something to say yourself?
LM: These songs emerged out of feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, alienation – an acknowledgment that life in late capitalism is harmful and destructive, and a summoning of strength to be defiant in the face of it. Whereas in earlier projects I would tap into some external source like a book or a film for a perspective to write from, these songs are very much my impressions and feelings at the time of writing. I was pulling from everything: my experience in the restaurant industry, the need to “hustle-ify” your creativity, self-care culture.
What do you personally get outta making songs?
LM: I love performing, which for me is the culmination of making music. Songwriting gets me there. One of the hardest parts about quarantine, which I know so many other musicians can relate to, is not being able to perform live and feel the thrill of getting up on a stage and engaging with other people in that immediate and visceral way.
I also love going back to songs we wrote or projects we did years ago, and hearing how much our sensibilities have changed. It’s like a time capsule: I’m immediately transported back in time, and I remember what the recording session was like, where I was at in my life, the mood I was trying to conjure. I cherish that aspect of songwriting – that diaristic, transportive quality.
Hunger For A Way Out’s artwork is by D.H. Strother; can you tell us a little about the symbolism?
LM: David was in complete control of the art for the album, actually! We sent him the record and told him he had free reign, and he came up with these utterly dazzling visuals. They remind me of the experimental visual music films of Mary Ellen Bute and John Whitney with their bold colors and hypnotic, kinetic lines.
I know that you’re very inspired by Ari-Up from The Slits; how did you first come to her music? Why is she an inspiration?
LM: I think it was sometime in high school; I heard “Typical Girls” and “Instant Hit” and fell in love with her vocal delivery, dripping with attitude and playfulness and killer wit. I love how free her singing was, like she was making it all up on the spot, but it’s still very focused and rhythmic and sharp. She, along with Poly Styrene, Exene Cervenka, Vanessa Briscoe Hay, and Cindy Wilson, possessed a kind of no-holds-barred expressivity and confidence that really resonated with me, and still does.
When did you first start singing? How did you feel when you first started doing it? How do you feel now?
LM: Honestly, I don’t remember! I’ve been singing pretty much all my life. I started singing in choirs when I was in grade school, and it definitely became a defining part of my nerdy persona. I loved it. I loved being part of a large group of people, weaving our individual voices together to create a rich, dynamic tapestry of harmony and unity. It’s a precious connection.
In college I studied music with a concentration in vocal performance. I remember bristling at the techniques my instructor employed, feeling extremely self-conscious about the goofy warm-ups and physical exercises meant to strengthen my breath control or develop my whistle register. After I graduated, I enthusiastically unlearned everything I was taught in an effort to bring more instinct and intuitiveness into my singing. Now that I’ve been away from classical repertoire for almost a decade, I’ve noticed a growing urge in me to sing that way again. Funny how that works.
What have you been listening to lately?
LM: Caufield showed me the new Kate NV record the other day. She’s amazing! We admire her other project Glintshake. Earlier in quarantine I came across The Techniques and fell head-over-heels for their song “Travelling Man”. I’m also a huge fan of Erika Elizabeth’s show on MRR called Futures and Pasts, which is a veritable treasure trove of obscure and insanely catchy post-punk from all over the world. Highly recommended listening! Her band Collate also rules.
Outside of doing music, I’ve read that you’re a pastry chef! What interested you about pursuing that line of work? What’s one of your favourite things to make?
LM: It began purely as a hobby/distraction from applying to graduate programs in musicology. Once I realized I was more interested in looking at recipe blogs than theories of music and meaning in Romantic art song, I figured I might as well pursue a career in baking and pastry. It’s one of the most fulfilling and pleasurable ways I can think of spending time. Every small act – measuring ingredients, mixing a batter, kneading dough – is a ritual, imbued with the tantalizing possibility that something sweet lies just within your grasp. It’s tactile and meditative, alchemical. I particularly took to chocolate and spent a glorious year as a chocolatier at a small women-owned chocolate and confectionery shop; now that we’ve moved, I’m learning how to make chocolate from bean to bar, with the goal of starting a modest savory chocolate project. Let me just say, the aroma of cocoa beans roasting in the oven is otherworldly.
How has all the uncertainty in the world due to the pandemic been affecting you?
LM: For the most part I’m able to keep my worries and anxieties at bay, but it’s hard. It’s hard to live in a country where there is no leadership, where our “president” wilfully denies the existence and severity of the pandemic and loses no sleep at night as the death toll climbs above 180,000. It’s hard to see our news cycle portray protesters of racial injustice as “violent mobs” when cops get away with shooting Black people in the back and teenagers can buy automatic assault weapons and shoot activists with impunity. It’s hard to live in a world where millions upon millions of people are living in uncertainty because they’ve lost their livelihoods to the pandemic and are desperate to make sense of a senseless situation. Making music and connecting to other people through music…that helps.
What cheers you up when you’re feeling down?
LM: Writing and recording new music with Caufield. Sharing something I cooked or baked with the people I love. An ice-cold seltzer on a hot day. Watching my sourdough starter grow. Dreaming of a future where shows and traveling and hugs are a thing again.