Imagine being Mike Donovan and Matt Hartman of San Francisco trio Sic Alps. You get home from a long day of work fixing bikes or driving a taxi, and sit down to a cup of tea. You put on a record and browse your e-mails. In your inbox is a joke from your mother, a bunch of spam, a reminder from a friend about a show on Saturday ... and a message from Stephen Malkmus' publicist, asking whether your band would like to open for Pavement's sold-out show in London on May 12.
What most indie-rock fans might only dream about as they play air guitar along with "No Life Singed Her" has become a reality for the members of Sic Alps.
Over the past year, the band has also received invitations to tour with Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, whose members are fellow admirers of the Alps' sound. Mark Ibold, who plays in both Pavement and Sonic Youth, says he's a fan of Sic Alps' music as well as its general aesthetic. "I loved the U.S. EZ LP," he says, adding that he also believes the group's Web site and videos are "bonus artwork" for fans. "I watched the video they made for the song 'Semi Streets' and was totally sold."
"We're the perfect age to get asked to do this stuff," jokes Donovan, the band's boyish, thirtysomething vocalist and guitarist, as he sips a beer in the living room of his bandmates, Hartman and Noel von Harmonson. But Donovan's comically delivered statement isn't without fragments of truth. He later admits the invitations were pretty surprising: "Pavement wants us to open for them? I totally freaked out!" The three members of Sic Alps have paid their dues over the past two decades. Donovan was in the mind-bending noise-rock act the Hospitals, while Hartman was Chan Marshall of Cat Power's guitarist and thrashed alongside John Dwyer in the Coachwhips. Von Harmonson most notably beat the skins in infamous indie-rock act the Lowdown and psych-rock band Comets on Fire.
Each of the three has been a prolific part of the San Francisco underground, but in Sic Alps they have created some of the best music of their careers. The band has released four 7-inches, three tapes, two full-lengths — U.S. EZ on Siltbreeze and Pleasures and Treasures on Animal Disguise Recordings — and a double-disc album, A Long Way Around to a Shortcut, on Drag City. Their records seem to be getting better and better. "I guess you could say this music is a refined product," von Harmonson says. The recordings are confidently eccentric. They draw on the decadence of sticky-sweet pop, psychedelic dalliances, and heavy sludge without letting the taste of one linger long enough to grow sour. Their sophisticated soundscapes have earned them fans all over the world, while also impressing some of the most highly regarded names in indie rock.
But for Hartman, the group's new-found acclaim from icons like Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth is less surprising. "It's not hubris at all; it's just that I think the tunes are great," he says. "It's the best music I've ever done. ... I'm flattered, but at the end of the day, whether I'm playing to six people for no dollars or 5,000 people for $5,000, I'm happy because I'm playing the music that I want to hear."