San Francisco's Sic Alps scaling new soundscapes

San Francisco band Sic Alps may have a filmmaker on its hands in lead singer Mike Donovan, who records behind-the-scenes tour footage on his smartphone.

“It’s fun, I feel like I’m making my own movie,” says Donovan, who appears with the band this weekend. “It’s a sketchbook of killing time.”

The films on the band’s website are inventively edited, choppy but entertaining, and capture touring life at its most wacky, whimsical and mundane. Donovan films stray dogs, European architecture, dancing in the streets, goofy tour bus antics and bandmates surfing luggage conveyor belts at airports.

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The group, known for noisy distortion and psychedelia, has toured with Donovan’s “bros,” Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall, and visited Europe twice this year. One show was at a sculpture museum in Florence, Italy.

“It was amazing to play next to a two-story, $8 million sculpture,” Donovan says. “That’s totally our kind of show. It’s nice not to be in a black-box club. The sound was amazing. It was like playing in a reverb tank.”

Sic Alps’ self-titled album being released Tuesday is more song-based than its earlier experimental work, which garnered gigs with the likes of Sonic Youth.

“The first album is really noisy,” Donovan says. “We had lots of reverb and feedback and noise collages. Our roots are in that kind of thing. But this time, we put out four 7-inch records that serve as a collage of sound, an appendix.

All the dirt went there, and the album got all the real songs — fully realized with a string section,” he adds proudly.
“Sic Alps” is more tuneful, and many songs sound as if they could be late-Beatles B-sides. Opening track “Glyphs” begins with a string section and chugs along hypnotically, echoing “I Am the Walrus,” though Donovan cites the Velvet Underground — especially “The Quine Tapes” — as an omnipresent influence.

Many songs on the album dive into deep, Velvets-like dirges with a lazy tambourine sway.

Donovan’s favorite part about music-making is the creative process, when possibilities seem endless.

“When you think you have nothing, and it becomes something, it’s always a revolution,” Donovan says. “Or your band just blows your mind and comes up with something amazing. That’s what I do it for. It’s not for the travel, and the money isn’t there. I keep doing it because you surprise yourself.”

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