In 1703, Russia’s Peter the Great completed one of the nation’s most glorious projects-St. Petersburg- a port city of palaces, boulevards, fountains, and statues. The island city is joined to the mainland by drawbridges. When they are raised at night for sailing ships, the city becomes isolated from Russian in the east and Europe in the west.
St. Petersburg was built at the northwest corner of Russia on frequently flooding marshes. Nevertheless, it was a salute to Europe by Peter the Great, who hired French and Italian architects to design the buildings in the city. Peter was unstoppable in making his creation magnanimous.
The second largest city in the country and Russia’s capital for two centuries, St. Petersburg was also the seat of Russian art and culture. It was a frequent home to composers like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky and writers like Fyodor Dostoevsky and Aleksandr Pushkin, Russia’s most celebrated poet.
Philip Dickey, the drummer and songwriter of the Springfield, Mo. band Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin, immersed himself in the literature of Russia and the history of St. Petersburg before he traveled to the city in 2003 for its 300-year anniversary.
“I like the fact that the main celebrity over there [was] Pushkin,” he said. “We’ve got Michael Jordan, Brad Pitt, really stupid actors and stuff. And then the hero in St. Petersburg is the poet … Russia, you know, is kind of backwards, but at the same time all the arts that come out – I think there’s always this struggle between wanting to be Russian and then getting with [the] rest of Europe. It’s fascinating that they should be kind of so isolated and would be making a fast start.”
Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin also immerged out of isolation, created six years ago in the third largest city in Missouri, a part of Americana where the downtown blends with the countryside. Springfield is the international headquarters of Assemblies of God, the world’s largest Pentecostal Protestant Christian denomination, where Philip’s father is a chaplain.
“Religion is too nice of a thing for us to mess up with our dumb rock ‘n roll songs,” Phillip said. His humility is frustrating. Philip thinks the band – John, Will, Jonathan, and him – is nothing special and any good music they make is a result of luck and a conniving perceptiveness about what the audience will like.
“I think we figured a lot of things out now already to really trick people,” he said, laughing. “You can figure out all the tricks. It’s like, you can make people like you. Like our biggest trick is [to] double everything and it just makes it sound cooler.”
Or maybe Philip is merely putting us on. The band’s song “House Fire” is a touching interplay of piano, acoustic guitar and their distinctive Beatles-esque vocals over a tight rhythm of drums and electric guitar. The song was no accident. It took the band three years to write, to figure out the lyrics and melodies for the vocals, some of which read: “We did what we could/To save this house from falling/But it burns because it’s wood/And now you’ll never call me darling … We did what we could/To save this car from crashing/Your pretty face is soaked in blood/You know, I still find you dashing.”
Philip is embarrassed about how seriously everyone takes the song. “It sort of sounds like it’s a metaphor but I think that’s kind of dumb,” he said. “I mean, I really literally think of a house. Like, how that would make you feel. Seeing how all your things end up.”
The songs on SSLYBY’s independently released album Broom are poppy and astoundingly catchy with little tunes dribbled on the piano and polyphonic vocals. However, Philip considered the first CD a phase.
“I almost classify our old songs as songs that were obviously written in someone’s bedroom when they were feeling sad about something. And we’re trying to be less mopey and just get over it and kind of admit that we like going to parties,” he said. “Songs that we can do a dance to, have a party to, that’s what we’re kind of going for now.”
On April 4, SSLYBY started their most recent tour in Springfield where they performed with the band Harry and the Potters. Initially playing shows only in the Midwest, the band will travel out west for the first time where they’ve already made a name for themselves on the Internet. Even as far as Moscow, a graphic artist has started working on a poster for the band, and they’ve spoken with a concert promoter about doing a show there in 2007. Maybe next year, Boris Yeltsin will once again make Russian headlines.
Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin plays at Highdive, 51 Main St., Champaign, Friday, April 9 at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door.