Sic Tic has one of the most innovative rock sounds in the Brooklyn scene, pairing the raw rip of grunge with the precision of jazz musicians. I have had the pleasure of seeing them evolve over the past five years to form their current line up; their sound went to a whole new level when guitarist Frank Rathbone asked bassist Jenna Nelson and drummer John Swanson to join the band several years back. They have also been active members and proponents of the Brooklyn-based DIY label GP Stripes.
Frank, Jenna, and John are the type of people whose connection you feel through their stage performance—not only in the sense of creative back-and-forth, but of friendship. There is a warmth about the band’s vibe that you can feel, and I think that is a testament to their closeness as individuals as well as artists. Knowing that Frank and Jenna also co-parent some fur babies together, I was interested in hearing how the process of being partners in so many facets of life crossed over into various channels.
AF: When did you each start playing music, and what were your first instruments?
JN: Viola was my first instrument, which I began playing in fifth grade. I was good friends with my neighbor who was a year older, and she played the viola when orchestra club began in fifth grade, so I wanted to as well. She stopped after that first year, but I really liked it and continued playing. I spent a lot of time hiding out in my closet (I’d kill for a closet this size in NY) when I was growing up, especially in middle school because I was socially awkward and got teased a lot. Sometimes I would sneak my dad’s old acoustic Ovation guitar out and pretend to play “Wild Thing” and imagine a different life for myself, which, in retrospect, seems a lot like my life now. I got my own guitar in high school and wrote dozens of awful sappy emo songs. I was also very active in my youth group and sang in the band. I sort of played the bass, too, but I was just borrowing it and didn’t really know what I was doing with an electric instrument yet. I finally got my very own bass when Sic Tic formed!
FR: I learned the trumpet from my grandpa when I was 8. When I was 12 my uncle gave me a guitar and I started a band with my friends in my basement. We would write a ton of songs, record them to tape, then never play them again. I still have all those tapes.
AF: Was there a particular band, song, or genre that drove you each respectively into the music sphere?
JN: I was really into Rickie Lee Jones when I was in preschool. I would carry this ragged record cover around with me, even to the grocery store. It’s a picture of her wearing a beret and smoking a cigarette. Pretty sure I knew all the words to this album. I remember being afraid the first time I heard music with screaming in it – but the kind of glittering fear that drives you toward the thing. It unlocked something inside me that had been bottled up for a long time, or started to at least. I wanted to learn how to evoke this feeling, to feel powerful.
FR: When I was in 3rd grade the high school band, orchestra, and drum line came to our school. I remember feeling moved by the drum line.
AF: How did Sic Tic form?
FR: I had a few other groups that played under the name Sic Tic, but they were disbanded when I met Jenna. When we first started dating I wanted to show her my music so I wrote some songs and booked some recording sessions. Jenna started learning the songs and we decided to start up a group. I had been sending songs to my old friend John in Texas, so I called him up and asked if he wanted to come to NY.
JN: Yeah, we started dating in mid-2013. I hadn’t been involved with any music for a long time and wanted to get back into it. I’d been living in Brooklyn for about seven months. Mutual friends kept telling me what a great musician Frank was, but he didn’t play anything for me for the first several weeks. When he finally did I was like “damn, they weren’t kidding!” He recorded that solo album to impress me, which obviously worked. I encouraged him to keep the name Sic Tic. The following summer we were ready to get serious, and at the same time, a room opened up in our apartment. Frank called John, who had been living in Austin for two years, and was like, “Dude! We need a drummer and we have a room, get up here!” I think that was a Tuesday and he showed up with a backpack and a guitar on Friday. Gigawatts Fest 2014 was that weekend and we all went out and got stoked to be a band together. We had our first show that September at Palisades.
AF: How did you two meet?
FR: We smiled at each other a few times at Little Skips. Then one night at an art opening there our friend Linda introduced us. I told Jenna I always thought she was cute.
JN: We sort of instantly hit it off. We went to a couple shows that night, at the Silent Barn and Fitness, which used to be in our basement, and then he said he had to go walk his dog… I basically never left.
FR: Pretty sure Shorty sealed the deal.
AF: How does the writing process work within your band?
JN: Frank writes most of our material. Usually he gets a rough idea of a song done and then brings it to me and John. We’ll work out the arrangement, drums, bass, and vocal parts together from there. Then maybe we’ll make a demo and see how it all sits, rework it, etc. We all live, practice, and record together. John’s been putting a lot of work into our home recording setup lately, so that’s been more accessible to us.
AF: Have you ever written a song about animals?
JN: Just human animals!
AF: Can you introduce your fur babies to us please?
FR: Shorty is a little biscuit colored pit bull.
JN: With white paws and chest, nine-and-a-half-ish-years-old. Very affectionate, cat enthusiast, hater of the doorbell, the most personality of any dog I’ve met. She’s basically my therapy dog. We also have a cockatiel, Joey, who is endearingly obnoxious. We’re frenemies. Frank found him at Little Skips, too, trapped in the gate.
AF: What’s Shorty’s backstory?
FR: 7 or 8 years ago my friend Maggie was working at a vet clinic. Someone brought in a pit bull they had found abandoned in Prospect Park, tied to a fence with a big bag of food. They named her Honey. Maggie sent her my way and I took her in and called her Shorty.
AF: Did you have pets growing up?
JN: My family almost always had a big dog and an indoor/outdoor cat. There was also a smattering of Betta fish and various small rodents. For a year or so when I was in fifth grade, we had to rent a house that was furnished and the owners left some of their pets behind! This included a pretty generic fish tank and a hedgehog that lived in a big box in the carport that we had to feed cat food. In college I had a chinchilla, and later a ball python which I would bring around to parties.
FR: Yeah, we had a lot of animals in the house too. Dogs, cats, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, snakes, lizards, fish, frogs. We had a parrot named Picasso that escaped. I drew a picture of him and put posters up around town. The next few months we would get calls. He was hanging out with a flock of crows.
AF: What were your first experiences with animals? first pets?
JN: My first pet was a Siamese cat named Jasmine that had been my mom’s before she married my dad. At one point they lived on a lake and she caught fish. She died perfectly healthy at 17, bitten by a coral snake. Up until the year we moved into that hedgehog house, my family had lived in these dense woods in central Florida, bordering a nature preserve, near Rattlesnake Lake, off of Rattlesnake road. This is the land that was an island before the rest of Florida emerged from the ocean. You could find ancient shark teeth in the white sands of the woods, between 200–year-old oak trees and towering pines. There were herds of wild boar that would come through our yard, flocks of wild turkeys, our neighbors pair of peacocks, beautiful iridescent Indigo snakes, bald eagles, owls, the rare panther… Nearly all of our neighbors had horses, but I was allergic and my parents were too hippy to give me allergy medicine, so no horses for us, although I did take riding lessons. We also had chickens, and a turkey once which I was very sad to find out was not actually supposed to be my pet.
FR: I don’t remember. They were just always around.
AF: If your pet had a band, what band or genre would it be for? What instrument would they play?
FR: Shorty really likes soft finger picky folk songs. She would be the singer.
AF: If your pet could be the mascot for any food item, sports team, musical gear company, etc – what would it be?
JN: We joke sometimes that she would run a junk yard called “Shorty’s Trash Mountain.”
AF: Did you meet any cute or interesting animals on tour?
JN: Yes! We did our first tour in the fall with Haybaby which was completely a dream come true. Leslie graciously put us up in Richmond – we played a lot of places near there, so we were able to stay in their beautiful house for like 5 nights – and we got to hang with the two cats a lot. There were also got some nice fish and their downstairs neighbors have a couple of very friendly dogs. Sic Tic played our first show with Haybaby and personally, they are one of my absolute favorite bands on the planet, ever, and they are wonderful people. I get kinda overwhelmed with happiness thinking about that tour, and when it was over I honestly missed seeing them perform every night.
AF: What are Sic Tic’s plans for 2018 (and beyond)?
JN: We’ll be releasing a lot of music and more music videos. Still working on the timeline for everything, but we are very excited about the new material. Hopefully we will be hitting the road again soon! I’ve got the tour bug. There’s so much of this country I have not yet seen and I want meet everyone and share sounds. Touring overseas or out of the States is also a huge goal! Iceland, Germany, Japan, Norway!
AF: Do you have a favorite song about animals?
JN: The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”? That’s the first thing that comes to mind. I really like that one for karaoke.