By Erin Christie
While in a creative rut after years of moving at sonic speed, Boston-bred musical duo, Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug, stumbled upon an empty warehouse, which later became the birthplace of much of their debut record as Sweeping Promises, Hunger for a Way Out (released August 14 on Feel It Records).
Described as "a debut album custom-built for jangly lo-fi apologists with angular discord and indie-pop fizz" by NME, Hunger for a Way Out combines harsh, head-bobbing melodies with retro, fuzzed-out bass lines and cacophonous instrumentation, crossing between post-punk-adjacent and alt-pop excellence in the same breath. Generally, it darts back and forth from genre to genre, never showing hesitance in regard to experimentation while still retaining a general DIY ethos. For that reason, it's a mixed bag, and a pleasing one at that.
Shortly after the record's release, the pair promptly moved to Austin, TX, where they have been holed up since, creating when they can, and otherwise attempting to stay level-headed during such a hectic time. Despite the chaos they've endured recently, I had the chance to speak with Lira and Caufield over Zoom to learn more about Sweeping Promises as a project, their creative influences, how it felt to release a debut during a pandemic, and much more.
So, I guess to start, if anybody doesn't know who you guys are, how would you describe Sweeping Promises, and just you guys in general?
Lira: Well, yeah, so sweeping promises is Caufield and Lira; that’s us. We have played in a bunch of bands in Boston, including Mini Dresses, Dee-Parts, Splitting Image, Blau Blau, and a bunch of others. And we lived in Boston for eight years, and then we're, you know, displaced because of the pandemic.
But, um, Sweeping Promises kind of emerged somewhat out of the blue. We were just playing in this kind of concrete laboratory that Caufield kind of miraculously had access [to] through his graduate school. And we had set up, you know, our drum kit and some amps and stuff, and nobody was there; it was abandoned. And so, we were just kind of playing around one night, and we wrote what turned out to be “Hunger for a Way Out” the song. And it didn't really fit into any of our existing projects at the time [but] we really liked it so, we thought, let's kind of, like, pull this string and see what comes. And so it just, like, kept, I don't know, we'll pull some strings, you know, see what it brings us.
Anyway, and so we just kind of, like, wrote the first half of the album in a matter of like- I don't know, an hour or so. And that's kind of how it began —very modest, and unthought out; very instinctual, and primitive. So, we've been playing music together for about 12 years, since we met in college, and I feel like this project is kind of all of our influences and experience, like, coalesce into something that is, I guess, our most direct artist's statement to date. I don't know, I think it's just like- it's a coherent statement, I think, of all of our experience together, writing music over the past decade plus.
Well, that's pretty cool. At the time, were you guys still working on Mini Dresses stuff? Because that's how I came across your music—I saw you guys play at this Record Store Day thing at Run For Cover.
Lira: Yeah! We played with Alexander! I remember. There was, like, really good food. Not [from] life alive, [but] there was some other place that catered…. it was Whole Heart –they catered it and it was very good.
Caufield: Yeah, we had signed to Joy Void, which is a subsidiary of Run For Cover. That's why we were there. It was fun.
Lira: Yeah. But no, we had been, I guess, more invested in Dee-Parts [at that time]. And we were also kind of in the throes of, like, figuring out what we wanted to do with our kind of Splitting Image tendencies – which was kind of a more punk-facing project. But Travis and Carrie — who are also stalwarts of the music scene — had just recently moved to New York. So, I guess we kind of had some ideas for music that we were kicking around, but just didn't have an outlet.
Caufield: And we were working with Travis, which is probably pertinent.
Lira: Yeah, we actually kind of demoed “Cross Me Out” with them. I remember we were trying to collaborate.
Caufield: A good summation of this is, like, we kind of felt like we were falling off a cliff, music-wise, at that time….not to sound melodramatic. And, in a good way, we have played a million shows with Mini Dresses — it’s been like six years, just too long.
Lira: It’s also pertinent to say that, like, in March of last year — which seems like a million years ago — we had released our second album as Mini Dresses and we'd also put out a Dee-Parts thing. So, yeah, we were writing songs; we just didn't really know what to do with them. But we had never stopped writing, is the thing. It's like, I feel like we write music at least once a week. It's just practice. And if it's honest, even if it doesn't, like, bear fruit in the form of a song, it's at least, you know, ideas or just jamming. But we're always working on something.
Caufield: But I will say that it was, like, a period of overwork combined with, like, everyone was moving venues are closing down and our bands were kind of not as well known….Every three years in Boston, the population turns over and forgets who you are, in our experience.
Like, with the college turnaround?
Caufield: Yeah, exactly. Which can be wonderful, but also crazy. And, so, I think we were fighting that, and then COVID happened and it was like, “Okay, what are we doing here?”
Lira: But even before COVID, we wrote most of these songs in, like, I think October [or] November of last year and we were on a roll. And we were really excited. We recruited our friend Spenser, who is in that band Creaturos, which is a huge psych band in Boston — they're, like, really great guys and Spenser's one of our really close friends who also records and produces, too. And it kind of got a little band together! We were really excited to play shows, and we played one show, and then lockdown happened. So, that is the story of Sweeping Promises.
Was that show the Cowboy Initiative one?
Yeah, ‘cause I know those guys and I was supposed to go!
Lira: Love Veronica and Joey!
And, on another note, I know you said a lot of the record was finished before the pandemic, but how much else was there left to do once you had to move and everything?
Lira: Yeah, so I feel like the bulk of it was written and finished by around February. But then, we were still kind of writing for the album through April and I think that's when we had finished completely recording and mixing and mastering. And that's when we sent it off to Feel It. But, yeah, we were pretty much pushing it right up until we didn't have access to that space anymore.
Caufield: They locked it down with our gear in there.
Lira: They did. Yeah, we had to like go back in….It was rough. Yeah, I remember, [we got] an Uber XL to get everything out.
Caufield: Well, it was nice to have an external institution tell you your album’s finished because [they’d] locked your gear away.
Lira: It’s a good way to wrap it up [laughs], like, being banished from the premises.
Oh, gosh. Well, I'm glad you did.
Lira: I’m glad we did, too! But they were just following the proper safety procedures. But there was just an evil part of me that was thinking, you know, nobody's in here. We could just stay here and nobody would know.
And you guys probably also moved shortly thereafter, right?
Lira: Yeah, so I think we picked all of our gear up in the beginning of July and then we headed out of Boston for good at the very, very end of July.
Obviously, the Sweeping Promises debut recently came out, so how did it feel to be reintroducing yourselves in this way? How did you guys approach thinking about that?
Lira: Well, we definitely didn't want to think of Sweeping Promises as related to the other projects of ours; every time we start a new project, it is its own concrete entity and, so, there are, of course, overlaps and kind of influence. And that's just because it's the two of us, it's the same people, so that's inevitable. But, I guess I would like to think that, with each project that we start, there is somewhat of a through line, and that connects but also allows each feeling or genre or whatever we're trying to communicate to exist in its own space and sphere.
And so, with Sweeping Promises, we weren't really necessarily concerned with reintroducing ourselves as people who already exist. We wanted it to be a whole new project with its own attitude and its own message and its own sound. And I guess that's one of the reasons why we appreciate the kind of cyclical nature of the Boston underground music community. For that one show that we played, we definitely got to take advantage of that being a very new thing. We didn't want to tie it to stuff that we had done before.
Caufield: I think it was nice to be in the punk matrix, too. We made punk music, like, explicitly 10 years ago and I think that we relate, I mean, we identify this way; we make music in a very handmade way. I think it was nice to exit the indie pop rotation, which I think has a lot of generic codifications and, I don't know, institutional expectations? I sound, like, super abstract here, but it's not it! It was nice to enter into a different type of discourse. I think that's what was happening a little bit. That felt amazing.
Lira: Yeah. And, I guess, just for me, personally, as someone who very much is like- I sing, and so, it's a very physical embodiment of like, what I'm trying to do is singing and so, being able to be a little bit louder just felt good and natural, and like, I didn't have to suppress or try to over-stylize my delivery, or I could just just let it flow. Which sounds really silly, but especially with Sweeping Promises, what we were so excited about with writing these songs is that it just felt like it was really fluid, and it just happened almost automatically. And that was something that we really tried to capture in the recordings and with the recording process, which is why we used one mic to record every like that — well, not everything, but the drums and the bass — to like, hang on to that just kind of bubbly, energetic, spontaneous feeling. And because, with a lot of the stuff that we've worked on before, we just spent a lot of time writing and producing it, so, it feels gratifying to be able to be a little more direct in our process.
Gotcha. That makes total sense. And like, were you guys completely done with the recording part two, when you got literally kicked out? Or did you have to kind of, like, scramble to get it all together?
Lira: I think at that point, we were finished. Yeah, we had wrapped up completely in April, I think. And then we picked our gear up in July.
Okay, because regarding the recording and even writing and producing processes, a lot of artists faced setbacks, especially with people being separated and everything. I know it's mostly just the two of you, but did anyone else contribute to this at all, aside from who you’ve mentioned?
Lira: Yeah, Spenser played drums on one of the songs, on “Hunger for a Way Out.” And then, before we moved, we actually were able to get into his practice space in Somerville, which nobody was using at the time, and we wrote a couple of songs with him there and were able to record the bones of those, which is like five, six [songs].
Caufield: Yeah, album 2, 2.5…something like that. We’re not sure what it's gonna be.
Lira: So, we have those songs and then we have, like, the 11 that we recorded here. So we’re basically sitting on a lot of songs right now.
Caufield: We deleted quite a few from the initial album.
Lira: Yeah, we did. There were something like five songs that we just didn't even- they didn't make it onto Hunger for a Way Out.
Caufield: It's been the machinic period, huh?
And I guess I'm also curious, like, I know you guys kind of have you spoke a little bit about how this sonic transition felt kind of relieving in a way. Was it also inspired at all by any you guys have been listening to recently or anything? Or was it more organic than that?
Lira: Um, I don't know, because we always carry our influences close to our chest. And, so, I guess you, Caufield, were listening to a bunch of, like, Japanese post-punk at the time. And what else were you into to translate?
Caufield: I think that's the thing. I don't know how directly what we were listening to kind of translated. I feel like it was more just on an intuitive level. We were writing these and we were trying to be more wacky. Yeah, that's the adjective we used a lot.
Lira: Be a little more absurd about it, yeah.
Caufield: But yeah, I mean, we are big music fans. For years and years, we listened to global post punk and minimal wave; I think people are right to point this out. And new wave and solo influences, I think. [It’s] definitely there in the songwriting, but I think we try to not listen to stuff when we're writing and recording because sometimes it can kind of overly color what you do.
Lira: Yeah, we had gone down the rabbit hole before of trying to start a project that sounded like what we really loved or genres that we were very interested in and it almost never was successful for us because we were too focused on making it sound right. And, so, if these songs are reminiscent of, like, we get, like a lot of comparisons to early Rough Trade bands, or like some people have cited like B52s, or Blondie — which, you know, we both have a lot of love for them — but it wasn't an explicit thing where we set out to do that. It was incidental, and just osmotic.
Caufield: I also listened to house and country. I don't know, sometimes, I feel like there’s a lot of gatekeeping. I mix and master the music and, like, I think that sometimes punk music can kind of have, like, codified ways of doing things. I think we were, like, I don't know…. it was a mixed bag in terms of, like, “What should we sound like?” The adjectives we used- I think some mixture of, like, coldness and wackiness.
That's interesting. I like wacky. And, also, taking it back to the fact that you guys only really got to test out material in front of an audience literally once, did you guys do any livestreaming at all during this period?
Lira: We did one.
Caufield: End of story [laughs].
Lira: Yeah, we did one for, um, was it Cowboy Initiative? Or was it Artificial Contact? I think, actually, it was the both of them combined? I forget who it was; it was one of those. And they put on a benefit to raise money for Black and Pink and The Loveland Foundation. So, we were able to join in on that and it was really nerve wracking! Because, I don't know, with technical difficulties- they just kind of unnerve you in a way that being on stage in front of people doesn't make you as nervous.
Caufield: The show is really good. [But] we were, like, extremely nervous, which is funny. We’ve played, like, hundreds of shows, and now…
Lira: That one was just really unnerving for some reason.
Caufield: I think it had something to do with the screen…
Yeah, no, I feel like that's a huge part of it. It's like I think of YouTubers who, like, just talk to a camera and I feel like that would just make me over analyze everything and just look at myself.
Lira: Oh no, we were definitely doing that! We put the laptop up on, like, a precarious beam so that it would tilt down on us and it would, you know, accentuate all the right angles [laughs]. We rearranged the lamp in the space. We try to backlight it a little so that it wasn't just a dark orange screen. Yeah, and Spenser did a really fucking great.
Caufield: And we looked fucking great [laughs].
Nervous as hell, but we looked good.
Lira: Yeah, that's all that matters. Do for the ‘gram.
So, livestreaming probably isn’t in the cards for you guys anytime soon, perhaps?
Lira: So, Spenser is splitting his time between Maine and Somerville still, because his partner got a job at a museum up there. So, he's, like, going back and forth and then, you know, we're here...
Are you guys ever plan on migrating back over here at some point or like, or is everything mostly uncertain?
Lira: [sigh] No, no.
Caufield: Yeah. It's just impossible.
Lira: It's just too expensive. And yeah, just thinking about starting back up...
Caufield: We have no money [laughs].
Lira: Yeah, we spent all of our money to, you know, move back here. And it's just not a dire situation [to get back]. Our whole goal right now is just working on music and seeing what happens in the next year.
Caufield: We'll really miss Boston. We loved our time, but it is not sustainable. Well, not a sustainable situation for us. For many.
Yeah, no, that makes total sense, especially since you guys had been here for so long. It's kind of, like, maybe your time there had run its course, at that point.
Lira: Well, we were going to leave- you know, it was inevitable that we would leave anyway, it was just not under these circumstances. Because Caufield’s in graduate school so, ideally, we would have left on our own terms with, you know, job prospects.
Caufield: Yeah. Yeah.
Lira: But that just doesn't really exist for academia right now. So, we're just biding our time. And again, yeah, we did love playing in the Boston scene. And making all of our friends and it was a good time.
I'm just curious, like, if anybody wants to know how to best support you guys right now, is there anything you would want to plug? Besides, like, what you're working on?
Caufield: A new album will come. [It] will come sooner than you think; strategically, soon.
Lira: Oh, sure. Like, lifecycles for an album?
Caufield: Yeah, we will not be obeying the lifecycle rules.
Lira: I don't think anyone is.
Caufield: Yeah, ‘cause it’s stupid.
Lira: And, apparently, Win Butler wrote like, three albums for Arcade Fire [in quarantine].
Caufield: And just because, you know, writing is good. Now's a great time to write. So, stay tuned. The next one will be out on Feel It, which is the same label; which is our dream team.
Lira: We LOVE Feel It; we love Sam.
Caufield: And we hope that people continue to support their local shops, and record labels, and distros by purchasing material products when they can, you know, if the means allow. Otherwise, our pay what you can rule will still abide. And if that's zero dollars, that’s where we’re at, too; that's, that's fine.
Lira: Yeah. As long as people listen and like it, what more could you ask for?
Make sure to keep up with Sweeping Promises to learn more about their archival material and what they're currently up to. For now, though, take a listen to Hunger for a Way Out on any of your favorite streaming platforms!