Despite all the genres and bands out there, music is a surprisingly small community. If you’re in an internationally touring outfit, you’re bound to run into the same people over and over again. Such was the case for Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event (and sometimes Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes) and Marc Sallis of The Duke Spirit. The two had seen each other in many different countries over the years, but it wasn’t until they ran into each other — rather literally (more on that later) — at Coachella that they really connected.
Bonding over a love of ’80s new wave and ’90s shoegaze, the pair formed The Bulls. They released their introductory single, “Come Unwound”, last October, and are now ready to drop their debut EP on August 28th. As a first listen to the effort, they’ve shared the title track, “Small Problems”.
Bursts of guitar reverb over stalking drums that seem to know more than they’re letting on. It all breaks as a second guitar climbs over the previous instrument, pushing it down like a truth trying to crawl free. All the while, Bulbrook sings in a steady coo, adopting the voice of one trying to hide her disdain for a lover who can’t put anything in front of their own desires. “Heart, untried/ City of one, beating for none,” she sings in her nigh-hushed tones. “Sparing you from what you call one of your ‘small problems.'” Take a listen:
In addition, Bulbrook took the time to talk to Consequence of Sound about what it’s like being the driving force in a band instead of a supporting member, playing with Sallis, and the EP’s sound. Check out the short Q&A below.
You both come from sizably larger bands, so what’s it like getting to pare things down and just be a duo? Do the creative energies flow more readily, or do you miss the multi-person input?
Anna Bulbrook: I have so many thoughts about this! The first is that I’m so continually amazed at how vastly different it is to lead a band than to stand on the side and play, that the difference in the number of people involved seems almost minor in comparison. It’s just a different planet; I had no idea. The second is that every band works within its unique set of constraints: this palette of sounds; those songwriting ideas; these unique people; this many sets of hands with these skills and those limitations. With the two of us playing everything on the EP except for the drums, this first group of songs is really defined by us. I mean, I even wrote some of the drum parts verbatim. But now that we have an amazing drummer and bass player playing with us live, it’s been really stimulating to get their feedback on the new songs and arrangements as we keep pushing and growing. Call it the best of both worlds.
As much as The Bulls is its own entity, fans of your other outfits may be looking for something to connect the two (er, three). What are Airborne and Duke Spirit fans going to connect with here? At the same time, what really separates The Bulls from them?
AB: Shit. Well, if you like big rock with strings, we have some of that for you. I love big fuzzy guitars, so I sometimes need to hold back on the fuzz and let the more New Wave sounds take over. And my first instrument is the violin, so we like to use strings like butter: on almost everything. Also, if you like certain bass tones from the Duke Spirit wheelhouse, well, you may find some of that here, too. Nothing is created in a vacuum. But at its heart, the Bulls is a band of instinct. I’m just feeling for a way to knit the sometimes wide-ranging sounds that I love into something that feels of a piece and evokes the stories we are telling and works with the voice that I was born with. And then hoping people like it.
Your PR says that you came together following “a chance meeting in the Mojave Desert.” That’s a phrase that just begs for a bit more detail. How did you two actually first encounter each other?
AB: We knew each other a little bit from seeing each other around a bunch of different countries in the band scene. And then we crashed into each other backstage at Coachella — I mean, I head-butted Marc in the chest by accident, hard — and things unfolded from there.
In “Small Problems”, you say that, “We aren’t what you’d call one of your small problems,” and then suggest, “You’ve gotta change your heart.” To me this sounds like you’re talking about a lover who has projected their dissatisfaction in life onto you, and so you’re telling them, “No, we’re good here, it’s all this other stuff you’ve gotta figure out.” How far from the true meaning am I here? What’s this song really about?
AB: I like that. Ha. My take on it was that the “I” in the song is addressing a stunted or closed-off lover who views love for another — real, romantic love — as some peripheral “small problem.” You know, as something unimportant next to their super-important self. But I like that it’s open to interpretation.
How does “Small Problems” exemplify the rest of the EP? What can listeners expect, thematically and musically, when they pick this up?
AB: “Small Problems” is the most poppy song on the EP, followed maybe by the more new-wavey “Rumors.” But there is some of the super fuzzy, more wall-of-sound dream-pop approach in there, too. With lots of strings. I suppose you could say that the EP looks at the life-cycle of love — potential love, self-love (or lack of it), conflicted love, loneliness, the end of love. Everything except for the “happily ever after” part.