SONIC REDUCER I used to think of myself as the ultimate freak magnet, fending off moist-haired gents with a fetish for girl bands. Damp palms. Foam bubbling at the corners of the mouth. Barely discernable vertigo spirals in their bloodshot eyes. Cute, huh?
But the Court and Spark have me beat. We were sitting around the high-ceilinged kitchen of their Alabama Street Station studio/flat and talking about making their new album, Hearts (Absolutely Kosher), when vocalist-guitarist MC Taylor and guitarist Scott Hirsch suddenly leapt to their feet and started pawing through a drawer by the stove. Drummer James Kim bolted down the hallway. Was it something I said or … ate?
No, they all simply hit on their most memorable piece of fan mail, which Kim pulled from his shadow files. "This is classic," Taylor said, forking the letter over. "This explains to you what the Court and Spark journey is all about."
The script on the wide-rule binder paper was large, loopy, and ever so shaky, and its author told of hearing a song from the band’s last EP, Dead Diamond River, then embarking on his own river of no return: "My life is rough. In May my mom died after having colon cancer surgery. I lost my dad months earlier to lymphoma. For 41 years I’ve been struggling since a child living with severe type 1 diabetes. Not having any health insurance is difficult. My yearly medical expenses are now over $5,000, not including doctor and lab costs. I do without. I hope you will seriously consider sending me a promo copy of your new amazing CD to brighten my life at this difficult time." The missive closed with a San Jose address and came with a checklist of meds.
Of course, the soft hearts of C and S sent the letter-writer the disc — and never heard from their diabetic sad case in the South Bay again.
Score one crazy diamond for C and S, but what’s the attraction? Are the crazies seeking the healing qualities in the band’s shimmering Cali rock ’n’ soul? Are they looking to levitate alongside the group’s increasingly psychedelic yet still hard-to-quantify sound. Am I asking the wrong people? Not for nothing did Taylor first consider titling the new album I Want to Be a Gallant Rider Like My Father Was before Me, after a line in Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kasper Hauser. Like Herzog, C and S seem to draw, or be drawn to, those blurry border towns between Insanity, Texas, and Epiphany, Mexico.
Despite Hirsch’s disbelief that their audience actually comes to see them perform rather than the other bands on their bills, C and S are 50 times more comfortable in their collective skin than the first time I spoke to them, around 2002, shortly after the release of their lovely 2001 second album, Bless You.
"We’ve always been the lone wolves out there," Taylor ponders. "But we’ve also played on every kind of possible bill you can possibly imagine, and on good nights, actually, we’ve been able to make it work. We’ve played with everyone from Devendra to Bob Weir."
It’s at home, however, that the onetime UC Santa Barbara students found a sense of freedom last year, tinkering with Hearts to their hearts’ content, experimenting with instruments like harp and hammered dulcimer, and falling in love with Farfisa organ and throwing it, along with a wah pedal, over everything — all while also working on Michael Talbott and the Wolfkings’ new album and the beginnings of Willow Willow’s record. They’d rent, say, a really good, $10,000 mic and then cram everyone into their space to share costs. "We’d wake up earlier than anybody else, since we lived here, and we’d set up and drink coffee and do it," says Hirsch, who also teaches recording at Bay Area Video Coalition.
It may sound too pat for these courtly Mission dwellers, but it looks like they got out of their musical comfort zone by digging deeper into their literal one. "It’s like that Steely Dan quote, ‘We used to spend five months just trying to figure out what chair we were going to sit in in the studio,’" Hirsch says with a laugh. "That’s the kind of freedom that we like and that we found for ourselves — and that maybe they had too, because they would also record a million things and pick just one thing from that. That’s why their records sound so good, I guess." SFBG
Court and Spark
With Jason Molina, Black Fiction, and the Finches
Fri/12, 9 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF