Part haunted house, half honky-tonk and a lot of freak funk, the sounds emitted via San Francisco band Birds & Batteries -- playing Fri/28 at Rickshaw Stop-- is a mixed bag of awesome that seems to come from a questionable place. Drug trade, mental instability and disturbing sadness inhabited the streets below band member Mike Sempert's former apartment in the Tenderloin and crept into his songwriting with dark undertones. Now that he's officially transplanted to greener grass in Oakland, the only thing creepin' into the band's new tunes is a little sunshine.
Sempert and his band of three, Jill Heinke, Christoper Walsh and Brian Michelson, have been playing as Birds and Batteries since 2005, but last year's killer EP, Up To No Good (Eightmaps, 2009) was especially stocked with magic and spook. Electronic elements churn beneath salty guitars and rusty keys, and even the song titles, "The Villain" and "Out of the Woods" give hints of shadows in the night and goosebumps. A group of hipsters with a dark side?
"A lot of things were happening at the same time...The financial upheaval. World events. And living in the Tenderloin with my girlfriend-- I was confronted on a daily basis with scary, sad things. It definitely influenced the sound a bit," Sempert says, explaining the band's minor feel.
Touring, writing more songs, keeping spirits high and transporting life to a less depressing neighborhood, Sempert reports Birds and Batteries new album, to be released this summer, is more on the "dancey-quirky side."
"It's a more open sound with more major keys. More folk-Americana," he says to my disbelief, and I'm worried he's been getting too many rays in Oakland. "It will be more uplifting."
Like a moody teenager, Birds and Batteries feels emotions in waves-- currently it's a tidal wave of happy...with a nice bronze glow.
"The sunshine...ahh, ya. It's much better than the fog...and heroin addiction."
Birds & Batteries
Fri/28, 10pm, $12
155 Fell, SF