On a sweaty Sunday evening at the Common Market in Plaza Midwood, Jimmy Turner looks down at a small tape recorder and frowns. He and his It Looks Sad bandmates — Justin Brown, Alex Ruiz and Josh Wilson — have gone off on a tangent, steering an interview question toward the relative merits of horror film Paranormal Activity 4.
"Dude, this tape's been running for, like, 10 minutes," Turner laments, "and we haven't talked about anything. I feel bad you have sift through all this shit we're talking about."
As the sun sets, the detours become more frequent, the frequent flights of fancy ranging from Dungeons & Dragons edition 3.5, the upcoming Legend of Zelda video game, puking at The Diamond, Missy Elliott's greatest hits, John Fogerty's baseball bat-shaped guitar and repeated digressions on Brown's dog, Mo.
It's not that the band is actively dodging questions. On the contrary, they're just four excitable early-20s dudes unused to the rigmarole of interviews. And lately the band's excitement is justified: It Looks Sad celebrates the release of its self-titled EP, issued by Charlotte-based label Tiny Engines, on Friday with a Snug Harbor show that marks the first date of the band's second East Coast tour. Three of the EP's four tracks have been featured on prominent online music clearinghouses: Consequence of Sound premiered the bouncy "Raccoon" and Stereogum debuted the languid "Ocean." The lunging "Radical" even won praise from Pitchfork, the éminence grise of taste-making music websites.
But the song, Turner says, was only supposed to be filler; it was hastily written in a practice to fill time for a 25-minute opening set for Cursive's Tim Kasher last November.
"It's weird seeing that song on Pitchfork," Wilson says, "because we thought we were going to play it once."
It Looks Sad is one of a handful of Charlotte bands to draw national attention in 2014. But where many of those bands — Matrimony, for instance — are steady ensembles with a host of releases, It Looks Sad is still a relatively nascent outfit. The band originally began playing shows in 2012 under the much more unwieldy name It Looks Sad, That's Why I Said It's You, but only Justin Brown remains from the inaugural lineup. Drummer Alex Ruiz has only been with the band for three months. When Josh Wilson joined up last January, It Looks Sad scrapped all of its songs, shortened its name — usually written as It Looks Sad — and started fresh.
"It became a new band," Wilson says. "All the music was different."
It's tempting to cynically attribute the attention It Looks Sad, a new-ish band in a smaller market, is receiving to its affiliation with a hot label. Tiny Engines, a boutique vinyl-and-digital-only imprint, is seemingly locked into the larger zeitgeist of the resurgence of emotionally loaded, guitar-driven music. The label is home to buzz bands The Hotelier, Cayetana and Dikembe, and its releases regularly draw high marks from critics.
The attention It Looks Sad's been receiving, says Tiny Engines' Will Miller, is "maybe a bit more than expected, considering how unknown the band was outside of the Carolinas. But, I felt like once we put the songs out there at the places we did, that more people would gravitate to the band."
Indeed, It Looks Sad's EP is a confident and assured debut — one certainly worthy of the consideration it has been given — for a band that's undergone exhaustive lineup shifts in its short lifespan. "Radical" injects its shimmering, beach-ready pop with the vigorous thrust of punk as it builds toward a coruscating climax. "Ocean" works a similar build-and-explode pattern, but it crashes in tides and drifts: Turner and Wilson's pinging guitars froth like flung spume and blown spray; Brown's melodic bass pulls with the magnetic power of an undertow. When the song finally hits its crescendo, it hits like a tidal wave.
With the critical attention, though, comes the weight of expectation — especially heavy for a band that until recently went under the radar in its hometown. Getting signed to Tiny Engines and getting praised by Pitchfork, Wilson says, caused more pressure than excitement. But the push, he says, drives the band to explore new creative avenues in the writing for its first full-length, which Tiny Engines plans to release next summer.
"Our stuff that we're writing now is way better, and we're getting way better as a band," says Wilson. "The EP we have coming out, I feel pretty good about it ... but our new stuff's going to be way different."
Though the band isn't changing its songwriting practices at all. "If we have to take three practices with a song and we don't play it live," Turner says, "we ditch it."
"All of our best songs are the ones that we don't try real hard on," Brown adds.
"I think," Wilson concludes, "we've figured out trying is the wrong thing to do."