Trivia, mental processes and anti-anxiety whiskey with Teddy Briggs of Appetite
Sacramento, CA 95814
I feel like I’m tripping out on this crazy-ass Appetite trivia fact, which I’ll share with you right now. Or wait, not right now, because it’s not that crazy, like, “Back in college, singer Teddy Briggs used to be this really hot, sumptuous woman” or anything like that. So don’t get all worked up. But this little fact puts everything about the band (especially Briggs) into perspective. For me, at least.
Here we go:
The song “Tussy,” on Appetite’s August release Scattered Smothered Covered, is Briggs’ white boy, indie-rock version of a Bone Thugs-n-Harmony track. This makes sense: dense, layered vocals, heavy drums, sparse instrumentation. And the vocals are melodic, but tricky. Read some lyrics:
“The minnowy mind keeps swimming three-hundred-and-seventy-five / forever chattering and blathering on and over and on and on and / aware of the marathon in the neighbor’s most treasured lawn and Uncle Jon is sick again / in a whip with friends sick of the cinnamon we’ve been sniffing too stiff again / friends sick again.”
Trip out! It even rhymes like Bone Thugs, which is why, when you watch the video for “Tussy”—directed by Sean Stout, who seems to be directing every underground rock video worth watching these days—with the volume turned down, it looks like Briggs is rapping his ass off. Try it.
Briggs explains his Thugs tribute while we sip beverages at a Midtown Sacramento coffee shop.
“I’m serious,” he says. “I was like, ‘I want to make a Bone Thugs song,’ and I went home … and that’s what happened.”
It turns out Briggs comes from a background of rapping and freestyling, so he writes songs by jotting down whatever pops in his head and then shapes the context afterward. “I like going back knowing that it was random at first, but then it totally takes on a new meaning for me later,” he says. “I get off on that.”
The result of Briggs’ mental process—from the mentally intangible to aurally concrete—is this incredibly lush, electronic music that ends up sounding like Conor Oberst falling asleep and dreaming about a less-self-conscious Conor Oberst.
As a whole, Smothered Covered—while considerably less Bone Thugged out than “Tussy”—is exciting. Take, for instance, the song “Warn Me, Right,” which starts off with a soft, enchanting-but-energetic xylophone that gives way to an unexpectedly welcome melody, courtesy of a well-placed bass line and, of course, Briggs—upon Briggs, upon Briggs. Yes, Briggs likes to loop his voice. In fact, the first time I saw him perform was many years ago at the (long-defunct) venue Fools Foundation.
“That was probably only the third or fourth time I’d ever performed my material,” Briggs says. “I remember not knowing at all how to control my sound.”
I remember it distinctly: the lack of control, watching Briggs sweating through his set while the crowd sat in anticipation in the quiet little basement—bottle of whiskey being passed around like an anti-anxiety serum—fully engaged in the moment.
Briggs says that he started using a loop pedal simply for the fact that he didn’t have a band. But, for this album, he got to work with an all-star cast made up of Jesse Phillips (Ellie Fortune), Carson McWhirter (Everybody, Hella, the Advantage, Ent), Sam Coe (Sea of Bees, Two Sheds) and Addison Quarles (Chelsea Wolfe, Embrace the End). The meticulous, seamless production was handled by Robby Moncrieff, who is the owner of Why Fidelity studio and producer of Ganglians’ Still Living and his own solo album, Watered Lawn, which will be out October 25, under the moniker Raleigh Moncrief on the Anticon label.
Moncrieff explains that, despite Briggs’ penchant for working alone, the band dynamic actually worked quite well. “We mostly just put it all down as we felt it and trusted it was right,” he says. “The only thing that was a bit of a struggle was the album closer, ‘Over Food,’ in which Teddy felt a bit uncomfortable with its nakedness. I had seen him perform the song at Sol Collective exactly like that—super minimal—and I thought it was perfect and really moving.”
The song, as Moncrieff points out, is unsparingly beautiful—metallic, hollow almost, but not in a bad way. It’s this drastic turn from the quirky digi-folk of the rest of the album that shows Briggs as a serious and brilliant songwriter.
And believe me, I know “brilliant” can come off as an empty word, but it’s a word often associated with Briggs, which happened when Crossbill Records founder Michael Leahy caught a glimpse of the musician several years ago.
“He was playing a rare Chief Briggum [Briggs’ former moniker] show at the Delta of Venus in Davis around 2006-ish,” Leahy recalls, “and he played this self-reflective, beautifully honest and vulnerable song that just slayed my heart.” He says this was a different side of Briggs. “And I don’t think I’ve heard him play that song since. It was just one of those rare moments as a listener where you’re moved to that emotional place of attachment, and it was then when I started paying closer attention to what direction Teddy was going in musically.”
The direction is forward, but not in a straight line. Scattered Smothered Covered is an album with varied textures—soft and melodic, yet hard when it needs to be. Songs like “X-File” are weird, quirky and engaging, but never childish or stupid. It’s fun—which I’m pretty sure is what Briggs and the rest of the band were aiming for.
And not to be creepy, dwelling on this trippy-ass fact, but Moncrieff, too, is wowed by Briggs’ sly ode to Bone Thugs, “Tussy.”
“I remember, we were living in Portland and emailing song ideas back and forth … and he sent me that one night,” Moncrieff says. “He’s all, ‘Check out this Bone Thugs shit,’ and it stoked me out. It’s absolutely as brilliant as you think it is. You’re not tripping.”