Sex on the brain
Singer/songwriter Jerry DeCicca conducts his own sociology experiment with the Black Swans
A month ago Jerry DeCicca, singer/songwriter for the Black Swans, walked down a busy Columbus, Ohio, street on his way to a movie and came across a raccoon chasing another raccoon. The male ran and ran, at the peril of his life, trying to pin the female. Sex was on his mind.
The scene was a perfect metaphor for the songs DeCicca wrote for the Black Swans’ latest record, Sex Brain.
“It’s exactly what I was trying to do with these songs—people doing things and then taking a breath and reflecting,” DeCicca said.
The five-song EP is a sexual smorgasbord of songs about spooning, masturbation and other topics of the flesh, articulated bluntly in songs like “My Lips": “My lips on your lips / After cunnilingus / Nothing is nothing / Bliss is bliss.”
The Black Swans, wh0 began in 1999, are singer/guitarist DeCicca and violinist Noel Sayre (who lives in West Virginia). There are also a handful of friends who play in the band when they have time. Josh Housh, who plays a bowed upright bass, will drive from Oakland to meet the band in Colorado to play during the rest of “The Ford Taurus Rocky Mountain High Tour.”
“It’s pretty comfortable driving around with a couple friends and playing music,” said DeCicca, who will actually make the West Coast trip in his 1995 Ford Taurus. “It should never be a hassle to play music.”
Though the Black Swans’ style has been described by some music critics as “freak folk,” it’s is a term DeCicca dismisses.
“If we fit into anything we would sell a lot more records.”
The title track on 2004’s Who Will Walk in the Darkness With You? sets the pace for the rest of the album, moving no faster than a beat-per-second with subtle twinges of country, blues and folk. DeCicca’s baritone voice is unmistakable. And while his delivery is forceful at points, the brooding undulation of his lyrics makes it sound like his voice could fail him at any second.
“It was a conscious decision to make a record that sounds different and melodically moves different and has this feeling that things are barely moving forward,” DiCicca said. “Everyone’s playing together but everything is falling apart at the same time.”
The sparse instrumentation gives the songs a vacant, hollow feeling, and DeCicca’s nearly-whispered lyrics sound more like a Catholic during confessional than a moody folk singer.
“Slowness is associated with depression, but it’s really just a different pace of walking through the world,” he said.
DeCicca purposefully writes songs that are not easily categorized, drawing influence from singer/songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt.
Although Van Zandt’s music often was interpreted as depressing due to his years of battling alcoholism, DeCicca explained that his songs are simply about life.
“I find that refreshing,” he said. “It has the gray in life. I like music like that.”
DeCicca’s songs are beautifully honest and confront the contradictions of life often ignored. “I.D.W.2F.,” the first song on Sex Brain, is about a man dealing with casual sex with a new partner. Overwhelmed by his partner’s body and troubled because she doesn’t know his middle name, he thinks of another woman while she’s in his bed before deciding that he simply wants to spoon.
In fact, the entire EP plays out as if DeCicca could be conducting his own little experiment.
“I don’t find sociology in general interesting,” DeCicca said, “but I find how the human mind works very interesting.”