Summer Cannibals: An Accidental Breakup Record

Vortex Music Magazine

Everything’s coming together for Portland’s Summer Cannibals as they prep to release their third album on May 27, yet some things have to break apart before it all falls into place. Photos by Jason Quigley

From left to right: Devon Shirley, Jessica Boudreaux and Jenny LoganFrom left to right: Devon Shirley, Jessica Boudreaux and Jenny LoganAs the three Summer Cannibals, photographer Jason Quigley and I cozy into a booth at Produce Row on a late March day bursting with sunshine, I pull out the third issue of Vortex from two years ago. In the opening pages of the magazine is a behind-the-scenes spread that Quigley shot of the garage rockers recording their second album inside the iconic, multi-colored confines of Jackpot! Recording Studio. Looking around the table, singer, songwriter and guitar player Jessica Boudreaux is the only face that’s the same.

When we published that photo back in 2014, LP two—Show Us Your Mind—had yet to drop, but the exit of drummer Valerie Brogden and bassist Lynnae Gryffin had already been announced. The amicable departure brought two new faces, now sitting on either side of me.

From my right I hear: “Jessica is just really hard to work with,” bassist Jenny Logan’s words bouncing up and down, tinged with singsongy, mock Valley Girl.

From my left comes: “Incredibly difficult—I’ve quit three times and they just won’t let me leave,” drummer Devon Shirley spouts out in theatrical exasperation as the whole table erupts into laughter.

On the verge of releasing their third full-length via storied PacNW label Kill Rock Stars, Full Of It is the band’s boldest, fieriest and most impassioned record to date. Bursting with estrogen-filled swagger, the effort is hailed by KRS president Portia Sabin as “a return to what KRS has always done best: great rock and roll by strong women!” Coming from the label that helped introduce the world to Bikini Kill, the Gossip and Sleater­-Kinney, that’s no small compliment.

Yet in releasing Full Of It, Sabin broke the cardinal rule in the record industry: Never sign a band with a couple in it. And here we come to the noticeable absence at the table: founding member and guitarist Marc Swart, who left not only the band but also the city after his and Boudreaux’s romantic relationship ended.

Thanks in part to Swart, the band was able to create their most cohesive work to date because they’d been functioning as a single, solid unit. In the past, Boudreaux couldn’t listen to her records for more than a month before she’d “start to hear all of the things I would change—in every aspect: the lyrics, performance, song structures, production,” she lists. “But this one: There’s nothing I would change.”

Then again, the band had already been living and breathing these songs for a year, featuring them in their live sets at festivals like SXSW, Pickathon and Treefort. When Logan and Shirley joined the band, the four immediately started working on new material. So Full Of It was road-tested, refined and grittily perfected before the group headed to producer Chris Woodhouse’s analog studio in Sacramento. (Woodhouse has recorded the likes of Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Wand and Wild Flag.)

“To me, when I listen to the album, I hear it. I hear a band that’s gelling,” Boudreaux says. The band is punchy, tighter, dynamic and more exciting on this new material. And besides Swart’s obvious departure following the record’s completion, “it feels like a band that is lasting, you know, going to last,” Boudreaux says. And that sense of stability catalyzes the band.

“There’s something really cool when you bring people into a band and you show them the song that you wrote and they can make it better,” Boudreaux describes.

“Jenny and I just totally understand what she’s doing and bring our styles to the mix,” Shirley adds.

“They’re also rock people,” Boudreaux underscores. “You know?”

“Rock people?” Shirley pauses to ponder. “Devon Shirley: professional rock person,” he laughs.

“You get rock… you like rock music!” Boudreaux emphasizes as a round of yeahs goes around the table. “And that’s so important. You have to love it.”

Full Of It oozes with fierce female energy and dramatic lyrics that coax you in before forcefully repelling you away, all while questioning life, love and relationships with punk rock bravado.

“It’s a breakup record,” Boudreaux says. “I just didn’t know that when I wrote it.”

So more like an accidental breakup record?

“Yeah. You just write about what you’re experiencing,” she explains. “Sometimes you don’t realize how personal the stuff you’re writing about is until later. Those situations are not just about one person. It’s a general feeling and frustration that literally everyone deals with. It’s a pretty serious record and I’m not that serious.”

When you’re in the thick of emotional times, you often lack perspective. But once you’re clear of it, “then you can look back and get a little bit of clarity on it,” Boudreaux says.

The act of writing, recording and performing is cathartic for Logan too. “It’s more like therapy for me,” she says, and the fact that the music comes naturally to the band bodes well for their future. (In fact, the trio even spontaneously tracked seven new songs with Larry Crane at Jackpot! but they’ll be keeping those under wraps for the time being.)

Early on, Boudreaux received some sage advice from Kathy Foster of The Thermals: Stick with it. Foster told Boudreaux backstage in Seattle: “So many bands don’t make it because they just don’t keep going. Just keep going. Other bands quit, or they change their name. But if you’re the one that just keeps on going and you’re good, things will start to happen.”

And it is happening. From signing with an established indie label (the same one that Logan “grew up with, using the Kill Rock Stars’ catalogue as my bible as a 13-year-old”) to playing this year’s Sasquatch, Summer Cannibals are, as Sabin says, “the total package: They write awesome songs and have an exciting live show.”

“The live part of it is the most important thing to all of us. It’s crucial,” Boudreaux says. And “because the music that we’re playing in this band is so simple, there’s all this space to be performers,” Logan adds.

Playing fast and tight, teeth bared for shouts of passionate angst, hair flying, the band most definitely shines in concert, and now Boudreaux feels like they finally have a record that does “justice to what the band is capable of live.” Tracked live over the course of 10 days, Full Of It is “heavy and intense and [contains] so much energy,” Boudreaux describes.

As the trio (plus additional guitarists Harrison Rapp of Divers or Jem Marie of The Ghost Ease, depending on the dates) embark on a tour with The Thermals, Summer Cannibals take the task seriously. “I’ve looked at the band as a job, and I think that helps with staying motivated and pushing forward,” Boudreaux says.

With the release of a new record as well as from a relationship (which you can decipher for yourself via the album’s lyrics), Boudreaux is more confident than ever. “I feel like a more independent person now and I feel empowered when I listen to these songs,” she says. “I can see myself carving out a space in the music industry. You’re chipping away at it, but the more things that happen, the more you start to feel it. And that feels really good—like growth in a professional way.”

“I’ve always had the mentality with this band that even if it’s not paying like a job, treat it like a job,” Boudreaux explains. “Because what better job could there be than doing what you love every fucking day?”

'Full Of It' drops May 27 via Kill Rock Stars, but catch Summer Cannibals at the Wonder Ballroom on Friday, May 13 with The Thermals—Boudreaux will pull double duty, also playing guitar with the headliners.

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