Sounds May Swell finds hope amid a challenging year

The band will headline a release show for its new three-song EP at Big Room Bar this Saturday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Sounds May Swell

Different Shades for Sunlight, the new EP from soul-rich math-rock quintet Sounds May Swell, opens with a wide lens on “Fabricated,” singer Jordan Sandidge taking stock of a pandemic-plagued world filled with people living paycheck to paycheck. Just one song later, however, Sandidge plunges inward for “Focus,” a warm, weightless number on which he unpacks the heaviness of a romantic breakup.

“These songs are really like the world, us and then me,” Sandidge said of the sharpening lyrical perspective that unfolds over the course of the three songs, which are informed by the musician's own experiences throughout a COVID-marred 2020. This included a stretch where Sandidge worked myriad service industry jobs to try and get by financially (hence the lines about living paycheck to paycheck), as well as a breakup accelerated by the weight of living together under quarantine.

“Pressure makes pipes burst, I guess," Sandidge said. "COVID, if you were living with someone, it was an incubation. It was like going through three years in one. And if you weren’t strong going into that… Some people got stronger, and some people realized the faults that were there, and maybe that things weren’t meant to be.”

More:Sounds May Swell unlocks Jordan Sandidge's soul

Rather than wallowing, Sandidge, who described himself as “a sad boy” songwriter prone to taking a more downcast view, uncovers a sense of hope amid the EP's three songs, not only for himself (“Focus” centers on the idea of escaping a stifling situation and again placing his energies toward the things that can propel him forward) but for society at-large.

“Part of the point of [‘Fabricated’] … is that, at the end of the day, we at least have to govern ourselves, and take ownership over the way that we feel within ourselves so that we can at least exist,” said Sandidge, who will join his bandmates for an EP release show at Big Room Bar on Saturday, July 17. “We’re all drowning in debt. We have this archaic public education system that hasn’t equipped enough of us to overcome the things that this society and this government have put on us. We have all of these things against us. But, as bad as they are, we still need to function, and live, and have that pursuit of happiness, I think.”

Sandidge traced this slightly more optimistic turn, in part, to a personal upswing, which included landing a new job complete with health insurance. “Even having that card in my wallet makes me a little more positive,” he said, and laughed.

Sonically, Sounds May Swell songs are filled with unexpected left turns, with some, like “Fabricated,” folding in complex time changes and jazzier flourishes, and others taking a more subdued approach. Sandidge said the instrumental bedrock for “Focus,” for one, came from a sound file labeled “SMS Chill.” “And I was like, hmm, I wonder what a chill song sounds like from our band,” he said.

In comparison, the songs tend to be more lyrically straightforward, owing to Sandidge’s tendency to favor narratives as a songwriter. “Even when it comes to movies, I’m listening to the dialogue, I’m listening to how the words are delivered to get a sense of what this thing is about, what it could provide me,” Sandidge said. 

Sandidge traced his infatuation with language to childhood, recalling how beginning at age 8 he used to pen his own mythologies for comic book superheroes like Spider-Man and Batman. Not long after, he discovered the Alex Rider series of spy novels by British writer Anthony Horowitz, which further unlocked the sense of potential in the craft.

“That series really lit a fire under me, in a way, because it was like, ‘This writing isn’t that complex. This is a book made for me, and a story made for me, and I feel like I could have written it,’” Sandidge said. “And that’s not a knock on Horowitz, who is an amazing writer and storyteller, but reading those, in my little kid brain, it was like, ‘These aren’t words I don’t know. These aren’t words I couldn’t put together myself.’”

As he was making this discovery, Sandidge was simultaneously immersing himself in R&B, writing out the lyrics to songs by artists such as Usher and Dru Hill. These early R&B roots have surfaced at times both in Sounds May Swell (note the falsetto Sandidge deploys on "Focus") and in currently on-hiatus act the Turbos, but form the backbone of a new, in-progress solo project dubbed Jordidge, for which the musician is releasing two songs a month for seven months, with the next batch arriving the same day as Different Shades for Sunlight.

“I’m working on figuring out what Jordan sounds like,” Sandidge said of the new venture, which he compared with the more cosmic R&B currently being created by the likes of Moses Sumney. “I’m just trying to be as open as I can be with myself, and in the way I see things and create.”