You may know Sandra Vu as the powerhouse behind the kit for Dum Dum Girls, but that’s just the start of her story. Long before she was recruited by Dee Dee Penny, Vu was hard at work on SISU, the dark and dreamy synth-pop project that carries her to Muddy Waters Café this Thursday, February 28.
With two EPs and a recently wrapped mini-tour with Cat Power under their belt, SISU seems poised for big things in 2013. This spring, the band will reissue their Demon Tapes, Vol. 2 EP via Burger Records/MonoPrism. Just a few months later, they’ll release Blood Tears, their long-awaited full-length debut. In anticipation of SISU’s upcoming Santa Barbara gig, we sat down with Vu to talk about the new album, finding her voice, and getting in touch with her inner fangirl.
How did SISU get started? After my last band, Midnight Movies, ended, I floated for a little while and went through a bit of an identity crisis, to be honest. It sounds so melodramatic now, but it really was something I had to work through. Once I got over that, I actively looked for new people to start music projects with.
I met my now good friend Rebecca Calinsky, who I heard played piano and cello. We started meeting and trying to collaborate, which was in itself quite fun because we were just becoming friends and mainly just hanging out and being weird. It wasn’t particularly so productive because I think we both were afraid to take the reins. We were both overly generous about each other’s ideas and improvised a lot, but not much stuck until I started writing on my own. I developed more of a voice and direction, and I felt bad that I was dominating the project. We mutually decided to just “be friends” and from that was born the first SISU songs.
I gravitated back toward [Midnight Movies bassist] Ryan Wood, but the band really came together once Nathanael Keefer joined on drums. Rebecca eventually joined SISU and played keyboards for a while before [Dum Dum Girls’] Julianna Medeiros joined. I’ve got a revolving cast of some of my most favorite and talented people to play in the band now, including Chris Stevens, David South, and Tito Echevarria.
Were there/are there any artists or albums that you guys consider touchstones for SISU’s sound? Silver Apples, DJ Shadow, Vashti Bunyan, Serge Gainsbourg, My Bloody Valentine are the main ones. That’s quite a range, I know, but I don’t consciously try to sound like any one band, or three.
Where/how did your gig in Dum Dum Girls fit into the equation? I had been plugging away at SISU for maybe two years before Dee Dee asked me to join Dum Dum Girls. It changed my life dramatically, of course. It was pretty refreshing for me at the time. I turned off my brain, shut my mouth, and just drummed my heart out. I got to meet some really great people and go to some crazy places, party hard, and party soft. I have a great passion for playing drums, so it was very fulfilling, and it may never not be fun for me. Obviously it had put SISU on hold for a while. I had to fit it in little pockets of time in between heavy touring with Dum Dums. I probably would have put out a lot more music already if I wasn’t so busy, but I’m not regretful about it.
How do the new songs compare to the stuff off of the Demon Tapes recordings? The full-length has been completed for quite some time now, so Demon Tapes 2 is actually the latest. The full-length record is called Blood Tears, and it was a quite a bit more of a production than the Demon Tapes EP. Our drummer, Nat, played on most of it, where Demon Tapes has mostly drum machines and one song where I’m just tapping a rhythm on a desk. I think the songs on each record are relatable to each other; there might be more range on Blood Tears simply because there are more songs.
Are there any ideas or themes that helped inform the songwriting? Blood Tears is about the anxiety of starting over, the hangover of failure, breaking up, insecurities, self-doubt, finding a voice, finding that you have a voice, speaking up, and singing louder; the discovery that I had to pursue this band against the odds of feeling unconventional and outside. It’s a constant conversation with myself, fighting my own demons and the delusions of satisfaction. It’s loud and quiet at the same time; in the same way, it is about both pain and hope.
You recently got asked to open on a bunch of East Coast Cat Power dates. How did the shows go? Originally, we had only the one show in Santa Ana, California. After we played, she told us we sounded “amazing.” I buckled in disbelief and awe. I’m still starstruck! I still can’t believe that happened! She then asked us to do more shows out East. Even though they came together very last-minute and the audiences had no idea who we were, I didn’t care because it was so surreal to me, like a dream.
SISU plays at Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) on Thursday, February 28, at 8 p.m. with Brainstorm and Trashberries. Call (805) 966-9328 or visit coolsummerrecords.com for tickets and info.