[Photo cred: Maryam Hassan]
Chicago punks Two Houses are making their way through the Midwest one beer at a time. While in Dayton, Ohio the dudes heard a line via James Brown out of the stereo: “I Feel so good I can’t stand myself.” It could have been any of the Godfather’s enigmatic ad libs that punctured their cocktail hour and named their record before it was written, but that one captured the kind of ambivalent, blissed-out misery known only to true soldiers of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. I Feel So Good I Can’t Stand Myself is an examination of what it means to look around, realize that you’re living your childhood dream of touring the country in a blaze of guitar glory, and find that it’s not enough. You’re still a sad bastard with the fear gaining in the rearview. What do you do? You keep driving, that’s what—as fast as you can.
We caught up with the band (Mike Boren, Dave Satterwhite, Ryan Smith) a couple weeks after their first tour to see what happened on the road, what their new record is about, and we discuss their love for Chicago, too.
SUBSTREAM: How was your first tour?
Smith: Our first tour was jam-packed into a PT Cruiser, so things were very tight. You could even argue it shaped our sound to some degree because we had to make certain calls with how big our amps were and what drums to bring, etc. We were so eager for the new experience that I don’t think it even bothered us that much at first, though. We started off regionally, mostly calling favors from other bands we had helped play in Chicago. We still tour under this model for the most part. It tends to be the most reliable way, but not always and sometimes you just got to play a place you’ve never been before where you don’t know anyone.
Boren: We started touring [around 2013]. I’m not sure what our first tour was; it’s kind of blurry. But, I remember one night in a basement in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin where we played—maybe for the first time—totally locked in with each other and the audience, who were this sweaty, drunk mess of college kids. It kind of blew my mind. A packed-ass basement of strangers who just wanted to rock out and party as hard as they could. We played at 1 in the morning and stayed up partying with them until dawn. You don’t get those kind of nights every night. You only get a handful. They’re unreal.
Was it weird at all? I guess maybe “new” is the right word?
Boren: Touring is great. It’s addictive. I don’t like routine in normal life, but the routine of tour is really easy to get lost in for me.
Tell me a little bit about your record, I Feel So Good I Can’t Stand Myself. Mike’s vocals are a lot different than they were on Disappointer.
Satterwhite: This record is an attempt to capture a feeling that’s perhaps better repressed than examined head-on, but we grew obsessed with it as soon as we came up with the title. You know when you’re at a party and you feel really fun and attractive and charming and you step into the bathroom to take a piss, put your beer down on the sink and check your hair in the mirror and you look like terrifying, human trash? I’m not talking about several days in the van “garbage person” good times—I mean your face is gross and vacant. You look maybe psychotic, like you’ve partied your way into demonhood. The album is about taking a good, hard look at the life you’ve confidently and single-mindedly built over the years, chasing and maybe even achieving a dream, then realizing it’s kind of a sham. I’m in a touring punk band doing what I love with my friends but, when the party dies down, I’m still a miserable turd. How do you cope with that feeling? I don’t know. We made a record.
Boren: My vocals sound different because I didn’t know how to sing on Disappointer. Norman Marston (our engineer) is the most patient person in the entire world. I spent so, so, so long recording those vocals. By the time we got to I Feel So Good I Can’t Stand Myself I had a much better idea of what I was doing. I also figured out what keys I can sing in, which is helpful. Dave always knew how to sing, so he doesn’t sound all that different by comparison.
Tell me a little bit about what some of the songs are about, like “Never Come Down” and “My Back is Broken.”
Satterwhite: “My Back Is Broken” is about how my bedroom morphed into a recycling bin for empty fifths of New Amsterdam gin and Sarpino’s pizza boxes in a stinking blizzard of depersonalization. I’m sober now, but still super fun!
Boren: “Never Come Down” is about how I don’t return people’s calls. Just kidding; that’s what “Labor Day” is about. “Never Come Down” is about how I didn’t got to a friend’s funeral and instead got really drunk and felt sorry about myself for a week. Just kidding; songs have no objective meaning and the author doesn’t own interpretation of their work. Just kidding; it’s about getting high.
Did you find it any more difficult to write this record than you did Disappointer?
Satterwhite: No. I think the subject matter on this one is a lot darker, but it’s a lot easier for me to write about demons and self-hatred than literally anything else. I suppose that stuff’s there in the EP as well, but we went further down the rabbit hole with this one. We had a concept before half the album was even written, so the only hard part was not coloring outside the lines. I’d never felt more confident in a project in my life and that intoxication rendered every decision an easy one, at least for me.
Smith: It was difficult in the sense that we had to get a larger group of songs together that fit into the rubric that we had laid out for I Feel So Good I Can’t Stand Myself. I don’t think the actual songwriting itself became more difficult, though.
Boren: This album wrote itself. The song titles were the hard part.
Tell me a little about your past experiences that brought you to this point. You guys have obviously worked very hard to get here. You’re all so busy.
Satterwhite: I am not busy. I am in one band and I’m a pizza cook. And my girlfriend lives in Brooklyn. Wanna hang out?
Smith: We’ve all been in bands before, but more importantly, ones that played original songs and embodied a DIY ethos in terms of booking and playing shows. We all moved to Chicago to attend college and start “the next chapter” of our lives, but we also had aspirations of becoming involved in the music scene there. We moved into a house together where we started throwing shows in our basement. We did that for a year, and during that time we started working on songs that became our first unofficial Two Houses demo which we recorded that spring.
You’re starting to go on tour, you’re starting to get some recognition press-wise. Do you think you’ll make this your full-time job soon? And are you willing to?
Satterwhite: I used to daydream about being a full-time musician when I was younger—maybe even a few years ago—but I’m over it. What, am I gonna write about being in a band? There’s only one band that ever wrote a good song about rock ‘n’ roll, and they haven’t been great since Bon Scott died. That being said, another year spent feeding and cleaning up after our leviathan yuppie population will actually kill me.
Smith: As a band, we’ve never really been in a position where we were making enough money to pay ourselves any kind of living wage. Even though touring has become a lot easier in a lot of ways with things like smartphones, GPS, social media, etc., these type of shows are starting to become more niche. People are less and less interested in going out to see shows. So, as long as we keep doing self-booked and independently released music, I don’t foresee us having the luxury of doing Two Houses as a full-time job.
Boren: I don’t think that’s a thing anymore. Is that a thing anymore?
Who are some of your influences as musicians?
Satterwhite: Ol’ Dirty Bastard and my dad.
Boren: Dave and I saw Lenguas Largas at Township in 2012 and it blew my mind around the time we started to get serious as a band. I like to cite that show as the reason I got more serious about the band. We got to play with them on their next tour and I got way too drunk and blew the show.
Any outside influences like your job, your friends, your relationships?
Satterwhite: Those are my only influences! My carnival life is bursting at the seams!
Boren: We all have awesome, supportive families and significant others. My mother was visiting Chicago (my folks live in Virginia) and came to our show at the Mutiny. The Mutiny! She had a good time. I bought her one of those really big beers and she didn’t finish it. I’m always looking for a new job. Anyone out there hiring? My resume is terrible and I am not a hard worker.
How has Chicago influenced you as musicians?
Satterwhite: We talk about this quite a bit, but I’m happy to reiterate because I think everyone who makes shit in this city should be a lot more proud of their environment. You’re allowed to be weird here. I can’t speak for every scene, but most of the artists and musicians I know don’t expect to make a living off their work and their art reflects that. Chicago has the highest number of mind-blowing, exciting, yet commercially useless bands of any city in America if you ask me, and everyone is better off because of it.
I eavesdropped on a couple of dudes sitting outside a venue last night after this really dope local comedian performed—she does this insane, gross-out spectacular shit that’s really original—and all they could talk about was how she’s too good for Chicago, how she should move to L.A. or New York or somewhere that could “reciprocate” her talent. What a pair of self-loathing dopes! Maybe she wants to make art in a community that’s excited to share and enjoy art instead of clenching its collective anus about branding or whose [going] to tickle to get airtime.
People in Chicago like music because it’s good, not because it makes money. I think that’s allowed us to write music that we’ll probably never earn a living wage off of, but we can pack up our gear at the end of the night feeling like we got our rocks off and get on with our lives.
What’s next for Two Houses?
Satterwhite: A scalding sitz bath.
‘I Feel So Good I Can’t Stand Myself’ is out on Rad Girlfriend Records on orange and black vinyl. You can grab a pre-order here.