Siberian Traps from Fort Worth TX
By: Caleb Stanislaw
I’ve been a Siberian Traps fan for a few years now. I’ve also had the honor of sharing a stage with the Traps and their various members on a dozen occasions. Every time I listen to their recent albums Stray Dogs and Indicator, I’m rewarded with new insights, questions, and happy discoveries. The slightly psychotic joy of “Lemon Balm” and the near-perfect pop of songs like “She Came to Me” and “New Friend in Town” have soundtracked themselves into my life. Every song has gathered meaning for me, and I dig this music because it’s deep, mysterious, and captivating. Knowing that, imagine my delight (and nervousness) at the prospect of interviewing Seth Reeves, one of the masterminds behind this band I’ve grown to love.
Seth Reeves and I met over beers on the Republic Street Bar patio. Reeves looked sharp and well groomed, his small round glasses lending his visage a scholarly timelessness. I can imagine him sipping tea in a Victorian conservatory, or piloting a spacecraft, or suturing a wound in a Man-o-War, or discussing galactic philosophy with an extra-terrestrial. Reeves is certainly an artist, but he’s a philosopher and literary critic too. Even his presentation of his person and style of diction is carefully measured in a humbly intelligent way.
Reeves is a modern gentleman-scholar. He’s a teacher by trade, a father and husband, and the genius behind Fort Worth’s Siberian Traps. The responsibility of songwriting, handling frontman duties, and writing lyrics and musical arrangements demands a lot of attention. To manage this, Reeves has surrounded himself with some of Fort Worth’s finest musicians–Stratocaster-master Ben Hance (Secret Ghost Champion, Igneous Grimm, The Cush), bassist Mike Best (Madrás, Skeleton Coast), and drummer Peter Wierenga (Jake Paleschic)–has given Reeves the latitude to craft and create music that is a response to both contemporary and classic art. The Traps spent last weekend in the studio, laying groundwork for the next album due out sometime in late 2019. Last year’s release Indicator (2017) marked the full-time addition of “wacky in a good way” Hance, and the sky seems to be the limit, or perhaps the boundary, for the future of Siberian Traps.
Reeves says they’re taking their time with this new record: “We did everything [for Indicator] in fifty-one weeks…That was fun, but I’m never doing a record that quickly again.” For Reeves, there is a calculation here. “The thesis of what I’m working on now is based on Harold Bloom’s theory that every strong poet becomes a strong poet by creatively misreading his or her inspirational forbearers.” Bloom says a “creative swerve” occurs when an artist deviates from the tradition that they have studied. Reeves applies this concept to songwriting. In the song “Ophelia,” he attempts to offer a new perspective of Hamlet from the eyes of a female character. In Shakespeare’s play, Ophelia is “dominated by the male characters. What if she had an authoritative voice like Hamlet?” Reeves adopts personas, imagines alternate realities, and crafts careful responses to his own literary influences. “To sing from the vantage point” of a developed character “is like a whole new world–it’s so liberating.” Reeves is committed to “writing songs from the perspectives of different literary characters” in lieu of continuing to write “really personal songs.”
For this new record the songwriting is evolving. Reeves intones, “The first song I wrote post-Indicator is a song called ‘Daedalus.’ It became the genesis of this new idea for the record.” In Greek myth, Daedalus built wax wings to help his son Icarus escape their island imprisonment. He cautioned his son to “keep a middle course over the sea,” and urged him to fly neither too low or too high. Intoxicated on the feeling of liberty in flight, Icarus flew too high, wherein his wings melted and he plunged to his death. Like the ocean. For me, the songs and tones simulate a shoreline where the bass and drums are the beating waves
This myth is important to Reeves, and the cautionary tale of “what elders say, youth disregards” informs his new direction for the Traps. And Reeves subscribes to Bloom’s aforementioned creative swerve, the misreading and reaction to the art that has come before. All of this is tied together by this big, oceanic sound of Siberian Traps. What a gift, to have music that can be unpacked, unfurled, explored, and understood through so many lenses.
This music is special because it requires the listener to engage in the meaning concealed within. Reeves and his band manage to create gigantic musical seascapes that are both meditative and exciting. The brighter, peppier moments betray multitudinous influence–an assimilation through osmosis–of far flung forbearers, from 80’s and 90’s pop bands to seminal literary works. Listening to a Siberian Traps song feels like a Shakespearean monologue whispered into Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. The self-reflective anguish and modern-times befuddlement of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe is there, just behind the Traps’ own crashing waves of Best and Wieringa, and the whole thing is dunked in reverb. The guitars are Sirens luring you in, and your brain is laced with epic lyric sung in an Odyssian falsetto.
And yet, Reeves insists that “we’re not overthinking it” this time around. From my perspective, I love it when Reeves and Siberian Traps do their thing, overthinking be damned. This is music crafted from a place of intelligence and love and good intention. They embody an empty space that’s simultaneously a place of wonder and adventure and beauty. There’s care in tone and style, songwriting and musicianship. Every bass note, guitar strum, and tom-tom bump feels so intentional, an “indicator” of efforts and intentions focused in the right direction. I’m thrilled to know there’s more coming from Siberian Traps, and I feel lucky to be privy to what they’ve created thus far. Keep an ear to the conch shell and your eye on the horizon and don’t miss the next effort from this incredible band.