The 10 best Sugar songs according to Scott Sorry
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Scott Sorry is best known for being the bassist of The Wildhearts, but he’s also played in Amen and Brides Of Destruction, and has fronted his own band, Sorry And The Sinatras.
This year will see the release of his debut solo album, When We Were Kings. None of that would ever have happened, however, had it not been for Bob Mould’s post-Hüsker Dü outfit, Sugar. While a lot of people talk about the bands that changed their life, listening to how enthusiastically Sorry speaks about Sugar it quickly becomes clear just how big that band’s impact on his life was.
“Sugar was the first real band that I really fell in love with,” says Sorry. “It’s really hard to be blown away by something like that anymore – something that just changes your being and establishes who you want to be.”
We challenged him to pick the definitive 10 tracks by the band. Sweet.
10. MIND IS AN ISLAND (b-side of Your Favorite Thing single, 1994)
This was the b-side to Your Favorite Thing, and I reason I chose this song was that it was one of my favourite songs when I was a kid. It was really fast and had a punk attitude, and listening to it now you can really hear how Bob Mould and Sugar helped change the shape of punk to come. You hear elements of Hot Water Music, and even elements of bands like Rise Against in it. And it didn’t really sound like any other punk music that was going on at the time, but it really helped shape a lot of what came after. And that song is a bit of an embodiment of what Sugar sounded, because to me Sugar had three different sounds – they had the weird, heavy droning sound, they kind of had the pop sound and they had these weird little acoustic songs, and that one kind of embodied their more pop-punk edge.
9. PANAMA CITY MOTEL (File Under: Easy Listening, 1994)
I’m a big fan of Kerouac and William Burroughs, especially the book Junky by William Burroughs, and there’s something about this song and how descriptive he is that reminds me of that kind of storytelling – he’s down and out with $10 to his name in Panama City, in this foreign country, and he doesn’t have a place to stay, and there’s something romantic about that to me. I’m a total vagabond. I have a house and wife and kids and stuff now, but touring really, really suited me. That’s how I live, it’s what I love. I love travelling, and there’s something in the storytelling of this song that I just fell in love with.
**8. THE ACT WE ACT (Copper Blue, 1992)
**This starts Copper Blue and it begins with this drumbeat and this super droney guitar riff over it, and at the time, when I listened to this, everything I was listening to was like Bad Brains and The Descendents and all these albums that were really fast, and nobody ever really slowed anything down. There were bands like Flipper who were a little bit slower, but nobody really slowed anything down, and this song was different to anything I’d ever heard before. It goes from this super heavy verse into this airy pop open chorus that’s super melodic and it has this crazy contrast that I wasn’t used to hearing. It was heavy and super pop and it bridged two different styles of music, like ‘This is a heavy riff, but I’m taking it somewhere you’ve never thought of before’ and that’s really how that record plays out as well.
7. AND YOU TELL ME (b-side of Believe What You’re Saying single, 1994)
This starts off with a bassline that keeps going around itself until it makes sense, but by the time it ends, it doesn’t make sense any more! It was the first song I heard that didn’t have a pattern. Or it had a pattern but you couldn’t put your finger on the pattern at first – it wasn’t like G-A-D-repeat, it was all these crazy notes that you would never expect to go to, and by the time you make sense of it it ends on a weird note, and that was the first time I’d ever heard anything like that. And then it kicks into this almost Jesus And Mary Chain-style bridge and chorus, but that in itself starts wrapping around and going into different places that you don’t expect it to go. I remember by the time I finished listening to it the first time I went and pulled out a guitar and tried learning it and it was just impossible for me. It wasn’t like The Ramones where you’re like, ‘Okay, I’ve got this part, I’ve got this part’ and you just put them together a couple of times and you’re done. Each part was its own thing and it didn’t make sense to me how it went together. But learning shit like that is what made learning Wildhearts songs make sense. Ginger does the same thing. He and Bob Mould don’t hear shit the way that a lot of other people do, and this song really introduced me to that way of thinking.
6. HOOVER DAM (Copper Blue, 1992)
Out of all the songs on Copper Blue there’s one song that’s like ‘Where the fuck did this come from?!’ and it’s Hoover Dam. I mean, it starts off with pipe organs. Who puts pipe organs on a punk record that goes into an acoustic song that’s got like strings and keyboard solos in it that sound like they’re straight out of the 1850s. You almost expect them to be wearing wigs and cummerbunds or something playing this classical harpsichord piece as a solo – and then it’s followed by…I don’t know if he’s playing an e-bow or if he’s recorded his solo and is playing it backwards. Everything about this song is ‘How did you come up with this?!’, especially at that time. Nobody was doing shit like that.
5. JC AUTO (Beaster EP, 1993)
This is another one of those mid-tempo, heavy droning songs, but the bridge in it is this total pop bridge, but it’s a droney pop bridge! There’s no other way of describing it. If The Beach Boys and The Melvins decided to collaborate, they’d come up with JC Auto. It’s a wall of sound that I’ve never heard before. It was heavier than Sonic Youth, but also like an actual song. I love Sonic Youth to death but sometimes they don’t really write songs, they just make noise. Whereas Bob Mould has taken that aesthetic and made a song with it, and it’s at a time when nobody’s putting out shit like this. I love punk rock, but I also love bands like Helmet, and JC Auto kind of bridged the gap between the two.
4. HELPLESS (Copper Blue, 1992)
This is another play on how the dude is king of contrast. The song’s called Helpless and in the song the catchline is ‘I feel so helpless’ – that’s what he’s singing over the chorus. But the music is so uplifting and but I always loved that opening riff. Going back and re-examining it while I was making notes for this, I kind of realised that I’ve ripped that riff off a couple of times without even thinking about it – that riff helped shape the way I play and I write.
**3. TRY AGAIN (b-side of Helpless single, 1992)
**Something about this song reminds me of The Who a little bit, but when I first heard it I thought ‘It’s cool, whatever’ and now that I’m older… it’s just one of those songs I don’t think will resonate with you until you have some road-worn years behind you, because now the lyrics really make sense. Now, I get what he’s talking about – he’s wanting to reinvent himself and just try again, and at this point in my life it’s a song that I’ve really fallen in love with and I find myself going back and replaying it over and over and over again. Something about it now just completely resonates with me, and it’s not a well-known song at all, so I figured it deserved a mention.
**2. FRUSTRATION (b-side of Your Favorite Thing single, 1994)
**This was written by the bassist [David Barbe]. It’s not Bob. The reason I love it is because it sounds like a super-heavy My Bloody Valentine, and when I was a kid you could be in a punk band or you could be in an alt band, but you couldn’t do both. You could be in a band that sounds like Black Flag or you could be in a band that sounds like The Pixies, but it was very rare to be able to pull off both, and Sugar made it seem like you could do whatever you want. It was the b-side to Your Favorite Thing, which was a super poppy Sugar song – so the b-side to this super pop-punk song is just this super heavy, alternative My Bloody Valentine or Sonic Youth style. So they just showed that you could do whatever you want. As long as it’s good, it’ll work. There are no limitations on what you can do. Just fucking do it.
1. TILTED (Beaster EP, 1993)
I have all these notes and shit written down for all these songs, and this is the one song that I don’t need notes for, because I’ve told this story a million times. My favourite song by Sugar, and probably my favourite song in the entire world, is Tilted, off the Beaster EP. The reason this is such an important song to me is when I was a kid…basically it comes down to the night I discovered punk rock. I was in my room listening to the radio and there was nothing I wanted to listen to when I was flicking through. But then I came across this college station in Lehigh Valley, which is where I grew up in Pennsylvania. The first song, I caught the tail end of it and I still to this day don’t know what it was, but when I heard it I was like ‘Holy shit! What is this?!’ So I threw tape in the tape player and just pressed record because I wanted to see what this show was, and the first song that they played was The Clash, Safe European Home, the second song they played was Descendents, Surburban Home – and this is the first time I heard The Clash and the Descendents – and the DJ came on and introduced those songs and then he said, ‘Now here’s Sugar.’ He didn’t say a title or anything._ __Tilted_ started and that song completely changed my life. That song was ‘Holy shit!’ It just kind of woke something that had been lying dormant in my head, because I’d just started getting into music and I’d just started playing guitar and that song was just ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ I’d never heard anything like it before – it’s just this wall of sound and all these crazy harmonies, and just the way it builds, there’s this crazy, chaotic guitar solo that’s super melodic but it wasn’t Slash playing it. It was this completely new style of solo that I’d never heard before, that was all noisy and it just really struck a chord. From that moment on, I knew what I wanted to do and I knew how I wanted to go about it.
Scott Sorry was talking to Mischa Pearlman. His album When We Were Kings is out on March 18 or can be purchased now exclusively on Pledgemusic.