When the band Eva Lawitts had played with since grade school met its demise after an ill-fated U.S. tour, the New York-based bassist-vocalist (and tour manager) was left to sift through the remnants of a band that had followed from junior high camaraderie through her mid-20s.
“Sister Helen was my ride-or-die band,” she tells Billboard, reminiscing on formitive friendships, “basically from the age I was old enough to conceive what a ‘friend’ is.”
Lawitts recalls the beginning of the end of the end for the inventive rock quartet, which lasted from 2003 to 2017: “Two years ago last week, our van broke down in Nashville. We got stuck there for four days. Everybody got the flu. We had to cancel the rest of our tour and when we got back to New York, we didn’t for a couple weeks. Then the singer [Nathan J. Campbell] came to me and said, ‘Let’s finish the album we were making, do one more tour, and we’re done.’”
What she was left with was more music. Since Sister Helen’s breakup, Lawitts took five unfinished songs and turned them into the debut EP from her brand new project, Stimmerman (taken from her maternal grandmother’s original family name). Along with drummer Russell Holzman (who’s toured with NYC dream pop outfit Beach Fossils), Lawitts emerged with a powerful new sound.
Below, we present “Good Answer,” a ferocious, sludgey punk song inspired by Lawitts’ love of brutal noisemakers like Converge, Daughters, and Kylesa, alongside the alt-country songwriting of Jason Isbell and Gillian Welch. It’s the opening track off Stimmerman’s debut EP, Pleasant Vistas In a Somber Place, which Lawitts plans to release soon. And there’s much more to her than that: An accomplished session musician, her credits include playing some bass guitar on Vagabon‘s acclaimed 2017 debut Infinite Worlds. She also plays with numerous other New York City bands (including the free-jazz-inspired Three Body Problem and melodic alt-rockers Citris) and is half of the production team behind Wonderpark Studios, alongside fellow ex-Sister Helen-er Chris Krasnow.
Wonderpark was one of numerous institutions displaced by the imminent closing of the beloved New York DIY space Silent Barn. Below, Lawitts discusses her pummeling new track, as well as how her DIY comrades can move forward following the venue’s demise.
Since this is the first Stimmerman song you’re sharing, tell me a little about how the project came to be.
I started using the Stimmerman moniker only recently. Going backwards a little bit, you could say this project sort of came out of the breakup of the old band I had with Chris from Wonderpark, which was called Sister Helen. These five songs, the first versions of them were written to be for that band. At the beginning of 2017, we totally disbanded and I was sitting on a lot of unfinished stuff, including these five songs. I adopted the Stimmernan name and set out to finish them on my own.
How did “Good Answer” come together?
All of these songs started as demos in 2016. “Good Answer” is one of the ones that just burst forth the fastest. I just sat down with a guitar and started playing. I was probably really depressed, so depressing words came out of me; it happened sort of in a flash.
I had written this whole EP totally instrumental, or as songs with just a couple lyrics. The period of time that unfolded afterwards was pretty depressing. This band I had for 14 years broke up really quickly, sort of at the height of us doing well with touring and stuff… I was also that band’s tour manager; it was really my whole life. It sort of crumbled and fell through my fingers, and I had a lot of time sitting around in my room being really depressed. I’m sort of naturally inclined towards having anxious and depressed tendencies, but it was definitely exacerbated by that happening.
“Good Answer” started with a smaller dynamic range because of the original instrumentation. So I expanded it, thought about the drum and bass parts, and added all those little weird lead lines… The drummer who plays on this, Russell Holtzman, ended up dictating a lot of the ebb and flow. I gave him some direction of course, but I think a lot of the songs were really brought out by his playing.
Does it feel cathartic to take these songs that were left from the old band and make them your own?
Definitely. It sounds clichéd to say, but if I didn’t finish these and experience that catharsis, I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to write anything new. Whether or not I write anything good having completed these remains to be seen [Laughs].
You have so many musical projects going on; is there anything else you’d like to shout out?
I also teach with this non-profit that was based out of Silent Barn, called Educated Little Monsters. They’re actually doing a fundraiser because they’re trying to open an all ages space that’s centered around the black and brown community that they serve. They’re doing great things.
So many people are disappointed about Silent Barn going away — what do you think people can do to keep its spirit alive?
Getting the funding for Educated Little Monsters would be a big step. The thing that was so unique about Silent Barn was that it was more than a venue — it was a multi-purpose community space that also offered housing, a recording studio, education programs… it’s something that it would be prudent of New Yorkers to want to fund. We have plenty venues that have stages, soundsystems and drinks, but they don’t really do anything to help bands besides give them a stage to play on. That’s one thing New York is in short supply of: open community spaces to foster creativity.
I’ve been living [in New York] my whole life. There’s no way I’d be doing what I am today if there weren’t places having all-ages shows when I was a teenager.