It's readily apparent from the minute you slide Significant Other's CD, "House Of Cards," into the player that this is a significantly tight outfit. The band's slick layering and cooperation leaves its beloved bluesy influences augmented to the point of being more than just the bar band its members claim it to be.
This sweet seven-piece swings mightily with a mighty pedigree. Violinist Perrin Yang (also the fourth seat violinist with the RPO), guitarist Brother Wilson (who has played with Sly Stone, Chaka Khan, and Teddy Pendergrass), singer Jennifer Snyder, keyboardist Stephen Siegel, drummer Joe Lana, saxophonist Zac Walker, and bassist and founder Glenn William all create a unified strain that is smooth with just the right amount of edge.
This is centermost in Snyder's gutsy singing style. She brings the soul with a voice that wails with just a hint of raggedy blue at the top end. But what really gives Significant Other its significantly other status is Yang's violin, played more like a slide guitar than a bowed instrument.
The band tackles covers as well, with the original versions a mere suggestion as to what might come out the other side. SO's versions of The Band's "The Weight" or Van Morrison's "Domino" have precious little to do with the originals except for the lyrics left to clue the listener in.
William and Yang stopped by to clue City in and discuss it all. Here's what went down. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
City: How and when did the band get its start?
Perrin Yang: It's Glenn's brainchild.
Glenn William: Well, I began playing bass about four and a half years ago when I met Brother Wilson. And then Jennifer joined the band. Then Perrin came on. My background, my interest, has always been blues, kind of founded in The Allman Brothers — not Southern rock, but blues rock with some history behind it, with some of the people that wrote music in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1920's and 30's. We basically started out doing covers of blues artists until we could introduce some originals.
Made by the whole band?
William: I come to the band with lyrics and melody, and we play with it a while. Brother Wilson is kind of our musical director and Jennifer, who is a fantastic producer in her own right, will construct some ideas. Everybody makes a contribution.
Jen had written a lot of music when she was playing in New York City. I've written poetry my whole life and came to realize that blues 1-4-5 is nothing more than sonnets set to music. I wrote everything originally on the bass, then I took it to the band and they would take it apart, put it back together, and make it something that appealed to all of us.
Does the band sound like what you set out to do?
William: This has gone beyond our wildest dreams initially. We have 11 original tunes, now. The covers we do are really adaptive.
Yang: They're totally transformed. You don't recognize some until halfway through the tune. We have different intros, different outros, and just take the music and have fun with it.
Did you feel like you were heading in uncharted territory with the violin?
Yang: Well, you have Jean Luc Ponty and Stephane Grappelli. I'm sort of new to this, so I'm not up to their skill level.
William: We had two guitar players, one left, and Perrin had a string quartet that had been playing for me at Midtown for years for happy hour. I approached Perrin and said, "Can you play a violin like a slide guitar?" And he said, "I'm not sure." So I gave him a CD of "Statesboro Blues." He came to rehearsal a few weeks later and we, had to stop because we were laughing so hard at how much it sounded like slide guitar.
Yang: We have whole gig book full of rock, pop, opera, dance music ... all sorts of stuff. I've always enjoyed different types of music. I had been playing in another band, Right Turn Racer and that was pop and rock, so I had been getting my feet wet.
Moving from classical to pop, did you need to dumb it down?
Yang: I had to totally unlearn how to read the dots. It's not dumbing down; it's just a completely different skill set. There's more freedom.
Do you prefer the studio or performing live?
Yang: We definitely feed off a crowd's energy.
Do you ever butt heads during the process?
William: A lot. We butt heads, but with respect.
So there's no name-calling.
William: Yes, there is, but it's not personal. We all just have emotions and opinions ensuring that every song comes out sounding better than when it came in.