Bands to Watch: The Sidekicks push past trials on breakout album

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

Much of the Sidekicks' breakout album, the just-released Runners in the Nerved World (Epitaph), centers on the concept of spinning in place - or, more appropriately, how to avoid this fate.

"A lot of the songs are about the inertia [that settles in] once you reach a certain point in your life," said singer/guitarist Steve Ciolek, who joined his bandmates for a December interview at an Old North diner. "And it's about trying to simulate that sense of movement in different ways, whether that's physically moving (the head-rush of "Blissfield, MI," for one, builds around an evening joyride) … or even just being out with different people."

As time passes, a similar sense of stagnation can start to exhibit itself within bands, which is part of the reason the indie-rock quartet, which currently includes Ciolek (who also moonlights in Saintseneca), drummer Matt Climer, guitarist Toby Reif and bassist Ryan Starinsky, opted to decamp to Seattle to record its latest alongside famed producer Phil Ek (Built to Spill, Fleet Foxes).

"I thought it would be cool to see what a Sidekicks record would sound like if we worked with an outside producer," said Ciolek, who launched the group alongside Climer nearly a decade ago when the two were freshman at Cleveland's Padua Franciscan High School (the band has called Columbus home since around 2012). "And it made us work way harder … than we ever had."

The sessions, which ran from early May to mid-June in 2014, weren't always pleasurable, and there were occasions the bandmates questioned if they were in over their heads.

"Everyone's first day was rough," Climer said. "I remember calling my girlfriend and being like, 'This is bad. I fucking suck. I'm not going to get this done.'"

Ciolek experienced a similar sensation when he stepped into the vocal booth for the first time, a tense episode that resulted in a long, sleepless night.

"We got everything rolling ... and I was like, 'Man, I'm singing so well right now!' Then I got done and [Ek] was like, 'Are you feeling OK? It just seems like you're not really getting it,'" the frontman said. "He had been telling us stories about how he'd sent people home or halted recordings for them to get voice lessons, including Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes, so I was like, 'Man, if [Pecknold] had to get voice lessons then they're just going to bring in some studio person to sing all my parts.' That hurt, and it was a wakeup call."

Rather than retreating, the musicians rededicated themselves, taking a more serious-minded approach to the sessions, which, aside from these initial hiccups, the four universally described as laid-back and even playful.

"I was just nervous at first, I think, and nerves can knock you out of your comfort zone," Climer said, which, truth be told, is precisely what the Sidekicks hoped would occur.

Columbus Alive's Bands To Watch 2015

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