They're your friends from high school, or your roommates from college, or maybe even a little bit like you--playing music for fun, not really expecting to get anywhere with it, recording songs for your friends and family. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (SSLYBY for short) are just three kids (the oldest is 22) from Springfield, Mo., who have been playing music together since high school.
"We all have this mutual ex-girlfriend, so that might be kind of interesting," said Philip Dickey, drummer, singer and main songwriter for SSLYBY. "She has no idea what she's done, how she's changed the course of our lives. She's put us on a real collision course or something."
Or something is right. Like the familiar nature of SSLYBY's origins, there is something refreshingly elemental about SSLYBY's music. It's rock in the indie-pop vein of The Shins, Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes, sans the pretension. The whole reason Broom, the band's first full-length record, sounds even remotely Elliott Smith-like is because Dickey wrote most of the songs for a now ex-girlfriend who was a big Elliott Smith fan--and SSLYBY didn't expect anyone outside of their circle to even hear the record.
"We had a couple friends who liked us, so ... we wanted to give them a CD that they could really listen to in the car, rather than a crappy tape that we recorded on a Radio Shack recorder," explained Dickey.
The for-friends-only aspect is part of what makes Broom enticing--just by listening to it, you've entered the friendly, familiar and comfortable secret club of SSLYBY.
"We can't do real art, like painting and drawing and stuff like that, so this is the kind of thing we can all do together," continued Dickey. "Some of it is about just making something, so that we don't feel like we're totally wasting our lives."
Broom has all the required parts of an artistic pop record: harmonizing vocals, sparkling guitar melodies, understated tambourines and handclaps, heartfelt and metaphoric lyrics. In "I Am Warm and Powerful," when the melodic arsenal gives way to just an acoustic guitar, and in "House Fire," when the guitar and organ shift from weepy to jazzy, SSLYBY becomes more than your average band.
The band's Web site proclaims they are the third-best band on Weller Street, where they live in Springfield, but, said Dickey, that's kind of a joke, poking fun at the "secret competitions" among local bands.
"We're not one of those bands that feels really entitled to any success or anything like that," he said. "The first three years we played music, we hardly played any shows; we just played up in the attic, and then about halfway into it, we decided to try to trick people into thinking we're a real band."
The trick is working. In October of last year, Spin named them the Best Unsigned Band of the Month. Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie is a member of their Tape Club ($25 gets you six months of handmade cassette tapes), and they've been popping up all over the blogosphere.
"When we made our CD, we really weren't expecting any of this to happen," Dickey explained. "But then we got a review in the S.F. Weekly, and we started getting orders from all over the country, people started writing about it on blogs, and there really wasn't a solid story on us; no one really knew where we came from, so we all kind of feel detached from the CD in a weird way, like we move wherever it goes."
But even with their long, strange name, SSLYBY is just way too down-to-earth to be another Clap Your Hands Say Yeah phenomenon.
"It's embarrassing, especially now that a lot of indie bands have long names, and it kind of looks like we're just part of that scene," said Dickey.
Nonetheless, Broom is making its way into hard drives and CD players around the country. So far, it's been without the help of a label or a publicist, but SSLYBY is looking to change all that, so they can focus on writing even better songs.
"It used to be we were so obscure, there'd be no point in a music journalist writing a bad review about a band you've never heard of. Now, all of a sudden, people have heard of us, and we're like, oh, crap, now people can say bad things about us."
As long as SSLYBY keeps doing what they're doing, they shouldn't have to worry.