IF SUMMER CANNIBALS feel any sort of pressure—pressure to follow up their acclaimed debut album, No Makeup, after being named one of Portland's best new bands last year—they are not letting on. I ask if they felt any expectations or urgency with the recording and release of their sophomore album, Show Us Your Mind, and they laugh.
"It was really cool and all," singer/guitarist/songwriter Jessica Boudreaux says of being voted a best new band. "But, you know, there are a lot of other things I feel pressure about. But it was fun, and we got to have a photo shoot, so whatever."
Summer Cannibals have seen lineup changes over the last few years, but the four current Cannibals, joking and laughing together around a table in a Southeast Portland coffee shop, have quickly gotten comfortable with each other. After Boudreaux and guitarist Marc Swart met, they released No Makeup in 2013 with the original lineup on their own label, New Moss. No Makeup was a very good rock record and went on to receive deserved praise, but the band's youth showed in the recording.
"We hadn't been playing for very long before we recorded that," Boudreaux explains, "and I was still trying to figure out what the band was going to be. As I got more comfortable, I wanted the songs to be more exciting and more fun to play live."
In choosing a studio and engineer for their second album, the decision came almost immediately. "All of our favorite local records were recorded at Jackpot!," Swart says.
"I knew I wanted to go all analog," Boudreaux adds, "and I couldn't think of a better person than Larry to take on that kind of thing."
That's Larry Crane, the man behind the boards for Elliott Smith, Quasi, Sleater-Kinney, and many others. Summer Cannibals recorded their parts straight to tape with minimal overdubs, and mixed directly to tape. Show Us Your Mind is a rock record, as rock records used to sound: immediate, charged, and a bit dangerous. The songs are not only more exciting, as Boudreaux had intended; they are mutinous. Comparisons to other Northwest rock bands Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney come easily (especially in the Tucker-and-Brownstein-like interplay between Boudreaux and Swart's fuzzed-out guitars), but the energy on Show Us Your Mind rivals the halcyon days of bands like the Dead Boys or Raw Power-era Stooges.
The most recent members of the band, Jenny Logan and Devon Shirley—on bass guitar and drums, respectively—joined after the recording of Show Us Your Mind. The addition of Shirley makes what was once a predominantly female rock band evenly split between male and female —but it was never their desire or intention to be a girl band. "We've never called ourselves a girl rock band," Boudreaux says, "or even a mostly girl rock band. We're just a rock band."
"It feels like we all want the same thing," Shirley says. "We have a common goal, which is hard to find in a band."
"There's a level of excitement with this group I haven't felt with anybody else," Swart says.
I ask about the title of the album and its relation to the title song. "Show Us Your Mind," the song, is directed specifically toward one person ("a fake piece of shit," explains Boudreaux), but as an album title, paired with the black-and-white photograph of a woman's face with multiple fingers pointed at her, Show Us Your Mind carries different implications—open, apparently, to interpretation.
"It's about people trying to get things out of you," Boudreaux says. "People thinking they deserve something from you."
Swart mentions something about zombies. "You know, because of our name."
"I had a totally different interpretation," Logan says. "I thought it was more of a women's empowerment kind of thing, like a play off of 'show us your tits.'"
"Oh, that's a good one, too," Swart says.
Boudreaux laughs. "Oh, yeah, that's what I meant."