Sweet Apple is the power-pop supergroup featuring vocalist John Petkovic and guitarist Tim Parnin of Cobra Verde, and bassist Dave Sweetapple and drummer J. Mascis of Witch. (You may also know the latter from another band.) To mark the release of their second album, Sing the Night in Sorrow, Petkovic created this special Dowsers playlist featuring songs from the record, and the classic tracks that directly inspired them. Here, he breaks down the album’s key influences on a song-by-song basis.
SONG: “(My Head is Stuck in the) Traffic”
INSPIRATION: “Girl U Want” by Devo
“(My Head is Stuck in the) Traffic”—the opening track on our album, Sing the Night in Sorrow—features this driving, jagged riff on the verse. The obvious thing would have been to pair it with straight-ahead drums, but it wouldn’t have provided the kind of tension we were shooting for. Devo are one of the pioneers of the “herky-jerky” rhythm with songs like “Girl U Want,” “Mongoloid” or even “Whip It.” Devo popped into my head right away because they embraced the tension between guitar and drums. As a whole, none of those Devo songs sound all that much “Traffic,” but if you listen to the hi-hat and where it fits, and the loopiness of the rhythm, they owe a debt to Devo.
SONG: “World I’m Gonna Leave You”
INSPIRATION: The theme song from Get Smart
I was flipping through the TV late at night and was stopped by the theme song to the 1960s secret-agent spoof Get Smart. The riff just sounded so bad-ass—these boisterous horns blaring out this punchy melody with this incessant rhythm underneath it. Right away, I hit pause and picked up a guitar and started playing along until that riff turned into something very different—which became the basis for “World I’m Gonna Leave You.”
SONG: “You Don’t Belong to Me”
INSPIRATION: “Tubular Bells – Pt. 1” by Mike Oldfield
On the surface or in any other way, “Tubular Bells” sounds nothing like the Sweet Apple song. But the opening to Oldfield’s song, made popular by The Exorcist, always resonated with me because it features a circular note pattern played with layers of instruments. The strategy matched what we were trying to do with a note pattern played by Tim on acoustic and electric guitars on the intro and outro of what is otherwise a power-pop song.
SONG: “A Girl and a Gun”
INSPIRATIONS: The soundtrack to Duck You Sucker, and “Man With Harmonica” from the soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in the West
Both of these Ennio Morricone soundtracks roll out sprawling themes. They also boast so many stellar details: A plucked banjo that acts more as an uneasy marker of time than an instrument; a detuned note played in unison with another to create a warbled melody; an incidental sound; those warped harmonicas; those haunting, weird vocals. “A Girl and a Gun” features all sorts of sounds that might not specifically sound like Morricone’s soundtracks, but there’s a similar strategy at work with the strummed autoharp, the layered vocals, the out-of-tune synth lead, and the warped toy piano. Meanwhile, the plucked banjo is straight out of these soundtracks.
SONG: “She Wants to Run”
INSPIRATION: The soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums
I like some Wes Anderson films, but the sheer amount of whimsy in the scores borders on empty signifiers. I wanted to capture that kind of whimsy in the acoustic opening to “She Wants to Run,” only to follow it by having a rock ‘n’ roll band bust down the door and smash their acoustics and turn up the amps. So we recorded the sound of a cord being plugged into an electric guitar jack and then having a loud rock band blowing the acoustic troupe away.
SONG: “Candles in the Sun”
INSPIRATIONS: “Cocaine and Camcorders,” by UNKLE and South from the Sexy Beast soundtrack + “Hey Bulldog” by The Beatles
The UNKLE contributions to the Sexy Beast soundtrack boast these pulsating drones that make the songs mesmerizing, because they keep throbbing along even as other parts come in and out and change. The notes and instruments are different, but the guitar riff provides a similar function, pushing along even as chords modulate. As for the guitar tone, check out George Harrison on later-period Beatles songs, like “Hey Bulldog” or “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
SONG: “Summer’s Gone”
INSPIRATION: “The Great Dominions” by The Teardrop Explodes
The idea of doing some sunny ode to the end of summer in a place where the sun doesn’t shine often was the basis for the song. It features sunny back-up vocals, but there is also a drone throughout the song. A song that incorporated the drone to moody effect so well is “The Great Dominions,” by Julian Cope’s early band The Teardrop Explodes. The drones continue throughout and in many ways glue the song together with this deep, hypnotic underpinning that gives it a sense of foreboding menace.
SONG: “Thank You”
INSPIRATION: “Saturday Night Special” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
The perception of Lynyrd Skynyd as some “southern-rock” band overshadows just how great and timeless the production is on the band’s records—from the guitar and bass sounds to the deep snap of the snare. When we went into this one, I was imagining that snare run recorded really hot—ditto for the guitars.
SONG: “Crying in the Clouds”
INSPIRATION: “Morning Sun Rays,” by Popol Vuh
The German group created a number of stellar soundtracks for Werner Herzog and so few groups managed to make the acoustic guitar so evocative and otherworldly—especially when combined with other string and wind instruments. The Sweet Apple song features six- and 12-string acoustics paired with a droning harmonica and a toy accordion, as well as a collage of various instruments in the middle part. While it doesn’t sound like anything Popol Vuh, it embraced the group’s expansive view of acoustic music.
SONG: “Everybody’s Leaving”
INSPIRATION: “By the TIme I Get to Phoenix,” Glen Campbell
Songs about leaving are bound to be moody and full of longing and loss, but how do you convey that without being melodramatic? Glen Campbell hit it with the string arrangements on the Jimmy Webb-penned classic “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” It’s accentuated with the breezy pacing of his vocals and the space to breathe in the music—which makes it all the more evocative. “Everybody’s Leaving” might be a very different-sounding song, but there was a general strategy at work—and we hoped these little layers, like the echo-y electric piano on the bridge, accentuated a similar atmosphere.