Premiere: Outer Spaces Get Bittersweet on “Heavy Stone Poem”
Outer Spaces is a Baltimore, Maryland-based trio comprised of guitarist/vocalist Cara Beth Satalino, drummer Rob Dowler (Tides, Nuclear Power Plants) and electric pianist Chester Gwazda, who is also the band’s producer.
The three had been students during the same time at SUNY Purchase in New York, where Gwazda had produced Satalino’s solo recordings (he has since lent his talents to albums by Future Islands and Dan Deacon), and formed the group when Satalino relocated to Baltimore from Athens, Georgia in 2013.
Following a 7” on Matador Records and an EP titled “Garbage Beach” on Salinas Records in 2014, the trio will make its full-length debut with the release of A Shedding Snake through Don Giovanni Records this spring. Comprised of material written before and after Satalino relocated to Baltimore, the record explores life’s transitions through a blend of mellow folk rock and catchy indie ballads that recall the Southern “college rock” of generations past.
She Shreds: A Shedding Snake is Outer Spaces’ debut full-length, but also your first completed LP since you moved to Baltimore (and of course, even the title suggests freshness and new beginnings). Can you tell us a little about your journey up to this point and what the “shedding snake” signifies to you?
Cara Beth Satalino: I moved to Baltimore in 2013 from Athens, Georgia, where I spent most of my adult life. I lived there for seven years. I moved to Athens sort of on a whim, but I really liked it there so I stuck around. I played in a band there called Witches, and after we split up I started writing more solo material, which then became Outer Spaces. I was sort of feeling like I was treading water in Athens. I knew I needed a change, so I moved north to Baltimore. Chester was probably the only person I knew there, so it was a clean slate for me, which is sort of what I was looking for.
That said, the album contains a mix of material written from before and after your move. How do these two different time periods come together into one artistic statement?
Transformation is definitely a theme of the record. It’s like how people tend to cut their hair when they are feeling stagnant or restless. They need a change so they cut their hair, and it makes them feel like they are starting fresh in some way. It’s definitely psychological. Changing cities was like my “haircut.” It was a catalyst for all sorts of other changes I wanted to make in my personal life. The half of the album that was written in Athens feels like it’s looking for something, while the other half is dealing with trying to hold on to what’s been found.
Where does “Heavy Stone Poem” fit into it all? Can you tell us the story behind the song?
Usually, I write melody and lyrics at the same time, but this song started with words first. I wanted to write a song that could be read as a poem, and could stand alone without music. It’s probably the least personal song on the record, and also the most recent. I wanted to create the feeling of slowing down time to sort of magnify insignificant things that are constantly happening. I like how visual the lyrics are. I wanted the song to feel like a nice Sunday afternoon, and I wrote it on a nice Sunday afternoon. It’s meant to be bittersweet. Sundays are the nicest days but you can never fully enjoy them because Monday morning is just around the bend.
Before Outer Spaces, Chester Gwazda had produced your solo records. How did you come to work together in a band?
Chester and I met at SUNY Purchase where we both we studying music. Actually, Rob was also a student there. He and Chester were friends but I didn’t know him at the time. After I moved to Athens in 2006, Chester came down with his recording rig and we recorded my solo EP, “The Good Ones,” in my living room. We finished it a year later. It’s actually one of my favorite recordings. We met up again in Athens while Chester was on tour with his solo project in 2011 and we started dating. He was living in Baltimore, but came down to Athens for a month or so, and we started working on some recordings. We recorded the first Outer Spaces 7,” which came out on Matador Records in 2013. When I moved to Baltimore later that year, it was only natural that he join Outer Spaces. He and Rob were roommates so it all just came together.
In making a record, what sort of flexibility or other freedoms come with having a producer who is also a member of the group, at least for Outer Spaces?
Chester has a modest home studio, so we were able to do all the mixing and tracking in our apartment. There was no limit to how much time we could spend since there was no real budget or deadline, which was great, but it also made it hard to keep the end in sight. Having Chester in the band is invaluable, though. We do strive to make sure that in a live setting every instrument has it’s space. We want to give the songs room to breathe. Being a producer, Chester has really great input for arrangement and tone, and i think we work really well together.
Your catalog contains a mix of acoustic and electric guitars. How do you determine which instrument to use for a particular song?
I don’t really play acoustic anymore, but we did use it on a few songs on the record to add some texture. Usually layered underneath electric guitar tracks. I find in general that acoustic guitar is less suitable for my style of playing than electric, though I’d never rule it out. I’ve tried it out on a few solo tours, but I was always a lot happier with the way it feels to play electric.
Also, can we ask you the makes and models of your instruments these days?
Right now my guitar of choice is a 1980’s Peavy T-60. Until the 90’s, Peaveys were made in the USA. The T-60s were made to be very affordable, but they are actually great guitars with a lot of versatility. Chester had one and I loved it so much that I bought my own. I play it through a Fender Deville. I use a minimal amount of effects pedals. I have a tremolo pedal, an Ibanez Tubescreamer, and a Digital Dimension pedal, which is a Japanese Boss pedal made in the 1980s. It’s a chorus pedal with a more ethereal, spacey sound.