Scoville Unit is a 4 piece indie pop band, with members in NY, NJ and Philly. The band has quietly amassed an impressive catalogue of distinctive songs over its long on-and-off existence.
The band is led by Gandhar Savur, whose sturdy, catchy songwriting guarantees that you'll still be humming choruses long after each track is over. Savur is a specialist in the sort of tight, crunchy, '60s-influenced pop-rock that bands like the Smithereens used to make – songs with big, baited hooks and alternately jangling and fuzz-drenched six-strings. He's always had ace accomplices, too: many of the songs on their latest album Scoville Unit (released September 6, 2019 on Ernest Jenning Record Co.) were developed with the assistance of Greg Gonzalez of the acclaimed dream-pop outfit Cigarettes After Sex. In this latest incarnation of the band, Savur and bassist/singer Drew Isleib join forces with guitarist Kevin Shelbourne and drummer Rob Hunsicker, to add muscle and punk urgency to the arrangements. Scoville Unit has never sounded better.
The band started many moons ago under fortuitous circumstances, when Savur sought out the assistance of longtime music collaborators Isleib and Tony Senes. Intending to meet up for a weekend to demo a few of Savur's song sketches at Senes' basement studio in New Haven CT, a severe blizzard trapped the group of musicians in the studio for over a week, and they exited with the basis of a full album recorded on 1/4 inch analog tape. What resulted was Everybody Knows, heralded as a lo-fi masterpiece first by the band's peers, and then also gaining high praise from the press and college radio community (hitting #1 at many college stations throughout the country). A significant pivot from his punk rock roots, the album showcases Savur's classic pop songwriting heavily influenced by Elvis Costello, Buddy Holly and The Beach Boys, an ode to all things classic pop. Said Ira Robbins of Trouser Press, “homey, sweet, understated, brief and cheerful Everybody Knows carries the torch of late '70s twee romantic-boy power pop into the After Green Day era.” With a finished album in their hands, the newly born band set out to make its mark.
After supporting the album with multiple tours of the US and an impactful tour of the U.K, where they quickly gained a reputation as an exciting and unpredictable live act, the trio quickly began work on recording a follow up album. Closed Universe displayed a bigger and more dynamic side of the band, with a delivery colored by rock-meets-pop bands like the Cars and the Pixies. Savur's songwriting, and the production of the tracks that comprised the album, had expanded significantly; the lo-fi twee infused pop that Scoville Unit had become known for with their debut album had given way to big guitars and elements of prog and classic rock.
Years later, Before It Began was released; the LP is a collection of songs which were actually written and recorded in 2002, prior to the release of the debut Scoville Unit record and before the actual formation of the band. Largely a collaboration between Savur and Drew Isleib, recording engineer Brian Buccellato (who previously played with Savur and Shelbourne in the noise punk band El Secondhand), and Savur's then-girlfriend (now wife) Maria Lourido, Before It Began showcases a more intimate side to Savur's songwriting. Due to a flood in Buccellato’s basement studio which halted production, the nearly completed album was never finished. Buried in the archives, the unmixed tracks were unearthed, finalized and mixed 15 years after the original sessions had taken place. The album was subsequently released by Ernest Jenning Record Co. to memorialize another collection of Savur's songs representing an important chapter (or epilogue) of the Scoville Unit story. While stylistically different from the two previous albums, the songs display Savur’s characteristic songwriting.
All of which now brings us to the present, where Scoville Unit has come out of hiding to release its new, self-titled opus. One listen to Scoville Unit, and it’s clear that the band have not only picked up where they left off with Closed Universe, but are also bringing to the table both a refined sound and a newfound maturity. The album’s 13 songs shimmer with an excited energy that reveals just how passionate four guys can be about making music. And what they’ve created here is a significant record, that coolly and masterfully recalls a different time in music, one before the distractions of technology and social media created an increasingly disposable culture, when what mattered most was a great melody and a meaningful song. It’s the perfect blend of catchy punk rock and infectious power-pop – plus the occasional tender almost-ballad. Whether it’s the jittery romanticism of infatuation-themed “Song Without A Name”, the rambunctious anthemic melancholy of “Back Of My Mind”, or the delightfully fuzzy existential jangle of “Weight Of Misunderstanding”, there’s a purity to these songs – a rush of real emotion that’s buoyed by a youthful exuberance. Elsewhere, with the dingy CBGBs-esque punkness of “Stuck In”, the lighthearted teenage festival rock of “Sidewalk”, and the wistful classic sincerity of album closer “Beach Song”, the album manages to hit endless corners of youthful punk and indie-pop energy, but with a style that is mature, commanding, and distinctly their own. That youthful energy, however, is tempered by a simultaneous awareness of their adulthood – and the wisdom and knowledge that comes with the decisions you end up making in life. And embedded in each song is a story that couldn’t be told without this age and experience.
“Different Name Same Place” details a couple’s transition of moving from the city out to the suburbs and the related challenges they encounter, but somehow tackles the adult topic with both an adolescent playfulness and a serene sense of calm. It’s a thoughtful reflection within a bubblegum pop setting. Other songs, such as “Pieces”, confront head-on other unavoidable truths of adulthood such as losing a loved one. “There was a tragic loss in our family that ended up being very difficult for me to deal with,” Savur says. “I was coping in ways that weren’t healthy. I had to figure out how to move forward and find stability again after that. It wasn’t easy. ‘Pieces’ was the first song I wrote for the album, and it’s about that struggle to make sense of these things. It was an important part of the healing process.”
The idea of dealing with a disaster pops its head up in numerous other songs throughout the album, such as the heartfelt “Every Single Day”, which reads like a letter to a loved one recapping years of a relationship, but questioning the next step post-tragedy. But these references to loss never show up in an overwhelming or overly melancholic way. Rather, they make brief and meaningful cameos within songs that still flow with a sense of hope, as well as the magic and beauty of life… not to mention the pure power of a simple pop song.
Gracefully, Scoville Unit continues to win over new fans every day on the strength of their songs and musicianship, captured within an album that has been described as “pure pop rock genius”, “winsome and infectious”, and having “unquestionable pop rock shine”; drawing numerous comparisons to bands such as the Replacements, the Lemonheads and Guided By Voices along the way, and earning its rightful place on NPR’s All Songs Considered “Essential New Music”. The band has been supporting the album with shows all over the northeast, shocking lucky and unsuspecting audiences with their loud and heavy presentation of these “earnest and classic pop gems”, as bystanders anxiously wait on the sidelines to find out what will be the exciting next chapter for this irrepressible group of music lifers.