The new EP from the Brooklyn band—the last with this lineup— is their most personal work yet (and FYI it rocks)
One of the last shows I saw this year was approximately one week before the shutdown at tricked out/tripped out Bushwick funhouse Rubulad with a total dream team of a local lineup: Colatura / Ashjesus / Jelly Kelly—and, of course, Sharkswimmer.
While all of the artists appeared to be the appropriate amount of stoked to play, for Sharkswimmer, this evening was exciting in a very particular way. This show marked a new beginning of sorts for the Brooklyn band: the debut of their new lineup—featuring a new guitarist, Jacob Hamrick—and their first time playing some new songs live.
But because like a box of chocolates… and this year, ~70% are filled with razor blades… you never know what you’re gonna get. And rather than a new beginning for the band, it was—unbeknownst to anyone, including the artists themselves—far more of a finale: Sharkswimmer’s last show of 2020.
It would also turn out to be the group’s final live appearance with Steph Buschardt, the bassist, before her departure from the band some months later.
The next time we see Sharkswimmer, it’ll be a new lineup and probably new music, But as they close this particular chapter and move onto yet another new beginning, the band is leaving us with an extremely sweet parting gift: their excellent new EP A Universal Blank—which I’m thrilled (and honored!) to premiere here.
A Universal Blank hits hard, digs deep and, in just three tracks, manages to cover an incredible amount of emotional ground, as both Justin and Steph sing (and shout) about fantasies, fever dreams and faking it—plus the confusing clusterfuck of feelings surrounding all of the above. The band members recorded the EP with the knowledge that it would be their last all together, and the result is a record that feels like catharsis and a group of artists leaving it all out there. A collection of songs that sound like they were just as satisfying to make as they are to listen to.
Ahead of the release, I sent Sharkswimmer’s Justin Buschardt some questions about the EP over email, to which he responded—in length and in depth. Read on for (a slightly condensed version of) his answers to learn more about A Universal Blank.
Preferably while you listen to it.
About the [blank]:
“A Universal Blank was something that popped into my head maybe a week before the pandemic hit… The meaning has maybe evolved a bit after the fact. I originally thought of it as Blank, holds many different meanings [and] when used as a verb could mean to cover up or obscure something. I thought about how we all have our own ways of doing this, hiding, pushing aside weaknesses and fears as a means to protect ourselves and others. I like the title because it can be interchangeable and hold different meanings to different people.
The word Blank is also something (obviously) used as a placeholder for a word of your choice, therefore A Universal Blank could be A Universal Pandemic, A Universal Anxiety, A Universal Awakening… etc. Just felt right when accompanied with the title track as well as the rest of the songs on the EP.”
“At first, writing was pretty slow coming as far as lyrics go. We had these two new songs we were psyched on which would become ‘A Universal Blank’ and ‘Tiny Flowers’—both of which we had the music written, but no words for a while. Looking back, I feel I was having a block because I was afraid to be honest with myself about some of the personal things that were happening, so much so that I’d just freestyle words at practice or make shit up that I wasn’t really attached to. Eventually, I just sort of leaned into it and wrote truthfully. I’d share what I had with Steph at home and she’d write a few lines to accompany my thoughts. This in turn started putting a whole new spin on what the songs were trying to say.
The last song, ‘Folding,’ the only one written during quarantine, all came together in one sitting… I honestly sort of had no intention of turning this one into a Sharkswimmer song because it not only sounded so different in the version I made at home, but because it just felt too personal. Around this time, Jesse [Reed, Sharkswimmer’s drummer] and I decided we felt comfortable enough to get back into the rehearsal space we’d been paying for without using it and were itching to get loud and just play our set. He encouraged me to share the song I’d been working on. I was hesitant at first as I worried he’d think it was just too different or too much of a downer for us to play. Immediately he started tapping in with what would become his drum parts, then we could just both see each other smiling under our masks as things just started to click and we knew we had something. I let go of my worries and just began to feel excited about writing music again. Thank you, Jesse! After so many dark months, we absolutely needed it at that time.”
“Eventually we came to the conclusion to finally take our friend/producer/ recording engineer wizard, Garret DeBlock, up on his offer to have us come lay down a few songs at Strange Weather Studios. After quite a few talks about our comfort levels, the four of us FINALLY agreed on dates and managed to get in and rehearse the two songs we wanted to record. Last minute, after some thought we decided to record ‘Folding’ as our third song. These were also going to be the last songs Steph would be playing with us as she had made the decision to step away from the band.
The knowledge of this sort of added a whole new layer to the experience. None of us really talked about it that much I think because of the overall dynamic. Looking back, I feel we all just wanted to keep cool and be present and try and enjoy the last bits of what we made together and move on from there…
All in all, we made it happen, played our very best and came out with what we believe are maybe some of the best songs we’ve written as Sharkswimmer.”
TRACK BY TRACK:
“‘A Universal Blank’ is sort of a sarcastic song about a person who is basically telling the listener that they’re totally fine, everything is under control, secure and dandy. Meanwhile they’re absolutely imploding. We also tied in some of the social pressures that exist within our society and how in turn they can sort of create resentment over time…
I really love the juxtaposition of dark lyrics against such a driving, poppy and breezy musical backdrop. Also, the addition of Jacob’s heavy shoegazey guitar lines added SO much.”
“Tiny Flowers’ is definitely a big push and pull of a song as Steph and I are literally yelling over each other to be heard. We dug into some of our more hardcore, call and response along with more ‘90s sort of influences for this one. Without giving too much detail, the song is basically about discussing fantasy within a relationship and an attempt to make compromises to make one another feel comfortable with these thoughts.
The third and final song, ‘Folding’ was written during what I could easily say was one of the most difficult periods of time I’ve ever had to go through… in the pandemic, and just in general…
While this was a hard time, a few important bursts of joy and much needed moments of self discovery managed to come from it… I finally felt inspired to write every little thing down. When I sat with the initial opening line for this song, instead of shutting down any parts or ideas, I just let it pour out and kept it all as is…
As hard as it used to be to listen to, I’m happy we were able to capture this song. That maybe sounds a little masochistic, but I guess I’m just thankful we managed to rise to the occasion in spite of what was happening inside of us. In some ways, I feel like it’s another thing that has helped to put a close to this chapter within our band as well as maybe provide some closure to be able to continue moving forward as individuals.”
Justin’s hope for the ep:
“At the risk of sounding like corn covered in cheese, I hope people can maybe find some sort of comfort in knowing that they’re not alone in their own struggles, whether it be relational or within themselves. As heavy as some of these songs are, I like to think that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to allowing this sort of internal release. I also hope people just feel something in general when they listen. What’s the point otherwise?”
A Universal Blank is out everywhere tomorrow. Listen, love, share—and go on and feel it all.
Feature image (provided by the band): Michelle Lobianco