Family Affair

We usually drink a lot." So says Sad Like Crazy's Trey Pool of the band's gig preparations. "For the jitters thing, thinking it would make us play better. It doesn't."

For Pool and his bandmates, playing live can be stressful, especially since they write and record songs so quickly and in such a piecemeal fashion that they frequently don't have a chance to really learn how to play them.

"We're hardly ever good live," he goes on. "It surprises us when we play a good live show."

Pool, along with wife Mari and longtime friend Thane Matcek, make up Sad Like Crazy, a band that was built on loose collaboration. It's a sort of recording collective: Each member writes his or her own material and contributes where appropriate to the others' songs. They don't even have set instruments -- one might play drums on one song and guitar on the next, a constant rotation that further complicates playing the songs live as a traditional band. "It's like math, figuring out a set," says Mari.

They have to arrange things just so or everything will fall apart, and fall apart they do, with more regularity than they would like. "We're a pretty vulnerable little band," says Trey. "It's not a band where we can knock your socks off live all the time. We seem to feed off of bad vibes and suck accordingly."

That's not to say that they suck all the time, but that they're their own worst critics. "Actually we usually disagree with people when they come up and say we played a good show," says Mari. Don't listen to her. The shows aren't as bad as they make them out to be. In fact, at KTRU's annual outdoor show in April, Sad Like Crazy was downright tight.

The band is the product of the long-defunct Club Safe Parking, which was less a club than it was the downtown home (and later, studio) of Gram Lebron and sometimes Trey Pool. Lebron and Pool would often invite friends over for musical experimentation. Eventually Lebron acquired some recording equipment, and he started documenting the near-constant living room performances. This was the genesis of several bands, including All Transistor, Matcek's other project. It was also where Trey met Mari.

"Mari just happened to be at a party over there, where we ended up playing, and I invited her to come over and play," says Trey. Soon she was recording with Gram and Trey. To fill out their sound, the trio auditioned bass players, but it was their friend Matcek who was most interested. "He was the only person who bothered to learn the songs," says Trey. The band eventually grew to include Piam Oskoui as the regular drummer. By this time, they were recording in other locations, but never a proper studio, where cost discourages experimentation. To Sad Like Crazy, experimentation is key.

Love Songs to Death, the 2001 CD that resulted from three years of these sessions, is a sprawling mess. Its 22 songs clock in at over 72 minutes -- just shy of the maximum a CD can handle. Beyond the number of songs, there is no clear style and sometimes not much structure. But that's not really the point. This is a band that enjoys playing music, and their albums are a celebration of that. It's not supposed to impress you. "There are way too many songs," admits Trey, who doesn't care much if you agree with that assessment or not. "We make this music for ourselves, and if somebody else likes it, that's good."

But every musician makes music for himself, right? Sad Like Crazy's members are really making music for each other. In the time since that first CD came out, Trey and Mari got married and bought a house, and Matcek moved into the garage apartment behind it. Of course, they installed recording equipment in the spare bedroom. They're like a family that happens to produces CDs -- the musical equivalent of drawings and photos stuck to a refrigerator. Listening to these CDs is like being invited in to share in the family fun.

It's been a little over a year since that first album, and Sad Like Crazy is already back with a follow-up. The three (Lebron has since left Houston for San Francisco) spent most of their free time recording songs in the bedroom. "We probably recorded 50 over the course of the year," says Trey. From that, they picked 16 to make Populist Octopus, another stylistic hodgepodge.

Fewer people, fewer songs and a centralized recording venue have made Octopus a more cohesive album than Love Songs, but it's still beautifully unfocused. Some of its songs are also much more personal, with less of the worked-over sound of an entire band. Mari's brilliant album-ender, "Millionaires," is obviously the work of one person. But other songs are still band-oriented. "Up the Academy's Ass" starts off as if we were overhearing a discussion about music: "I like it when they just rock out," someone says. "Duh nuh nuh, duh nuh nuh." And then the band kicks in with the actual cheesy Scorpions-style rock-out riff. Duh nuh nuh, duh nuh nuh. It's the band's way of winking, their way of saying, "Hey, we know this is a dumb rock song," and asking you to enjoy it with them.

Matcek and the Pools are saying Octopus's CD release party at Rudyard's will be Sad Like Crazy's last show. Mari is expecting, and she and Trey know that a baby will mean less time for recording and definitely less chance of rehearsal. But that's later. For now, the bandmates are entertaining themselves by finally learning the new album's songs for the show. Despite their being more familiar with the material, things still might fall apart on stage and they might cut the set short. Or then again it could be their best show yet. Whatever happens, they won't be too discouraged. "We're always going to play music -- if not together, we'll always play music," Matcek says.

"Yeah," continues Trey, "time is made to be wasted."

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Justin Crane