- Makenna Williams
While the name of SLC band Sculpture Club's newest album is Worth, it represents growth—both emotionally, on the part of frontman Chaz Costello, and size-wise with the addition of two new important members to the lineup. Time and experience make most everything better, or at least richer, and such is the case for Sculpture Club and Worth, out May 14 on Funeral Party Records.
Centered for most of its existence around Chaz Costello and Madison Donnelly, Sculpture Club worked their way from party punk to punchy post punk that was filed to an edge with the later addition of bassist Chris Copelin. As a trio, they released A Place to Stand in 2016. Worth's opener, "Chains and Faith," sounds like it could be at home on that last album, kicking off with a siren-like guitar line and urgent drums, but with Costello's deep vocals markedly softer and now backed up by the soft voice of someone new.
That someone is Halee Jean, who—along with her partner Bret Meisenbach—recently joined the group to affect a complex change. Their addition comes after a pause of sorts in Sculpture Club's timeline, during which Copelin had moved, Donnelly was temporarily in Sweden focusing on her sculpture studies and Costello was recording and touring with his other band, Choir Boy.
"When I came back with all the new songs, I was like, 'might as well just pick the good musicians that I like,'" says Costello of approaching Meisenbach and Jean.
Meisenbach and Costello have played together in many bands before, including Choir Boy and Baby Ghosts. For her part, Jean's time in Jazz Jags and Hoofless—where she drums and plays cello, alongside Meisenbach in the latter band—undoubtedly helps build Worth's measured and deliberate tone. Even if Copelin had stayed in the band and Donnelly returned for good (which she remains welcome to do), Costello says he still would have asked Meisenbach and Jean to join.
"My dream would be to have, like, two guitars and maybe just have Halee play cello—just have a big Cursive-ass, Ugly Organ-ass band," he continues with a laugh.
Sculpture Club in its new form, though, is less aligned with bands like Cursive than they are with The Cure, specifically around their Wish era. Inspired by Choir Boy bandmate Adam Klopp's penchant for romantic string arrangements, Costello decided to make use of strings and acoustic guitars for Worth, softening the edge that was so often the catching point of Sculpture Club's past work. Songs like "Fluttering"—besides being a cathartic release near the midpoint of the album—is a good example of those acoustics at work.
In the past, ideas came second to what the band could do with what and who they had to work with. But with more multi-instrumentalists, inspiration became less limited for Worth's songs. That's good, because Costello's lyrical inspirations have changed, too. If Worth feels like a less-edgy version of Sculpture Club—filled with sun-dappled tracks like the blissful "Just One More" and "Gifts of Life," as well as the light and dark sides of delicacy on "Twirl for Me" and "Shed to Salt"—that's because it is.
"I can definitely see the mood from the last album to this one [going from] ... a complex emotion like anger and just kind of letting it out, whereas now it feels more purposed and nuanced," Meisenbach says of the tonal shift, which Costello reiterates.
"I feel like anger is very clear to me. I feel like I had a lot of anger issues after the falling out with my family, and I felt like I really loved it because when I get angry, I get really focused, it's easy and you feel so right," Costello explains. "But I always felt like it left me feeling burned out, and then I still had a lot of shit to process after that."
Costello says he recognizes that he's now too tired to be angry, at least how he used to be. And that has opened the door to other emotions.
"There's a couple songs that I wrote from more of a happy place," he says "[On] 'Gifts of Light,' I'm feeling very empowered and proud of myself. 'Clean It Up' is from a place of positivity. There are other songs dealing with grief."
Jean sums it up well, remarking, "The word I think of for those songs is just kind of 'hopeful.' Positive and hopeful."
On top of finally putting out this patchwork of shimmering new songs, the band is now considering how to navigate playing the album live.
"The first thing I want to do is drum-solo my way out of the house, but maybe the first thing we should do is walk out to the street, then walk back to the house, walk around the park a few times," Meisenbach says with a laugh, translating the band's understandable nervousness about starting to tour and play shows again after being accustomed to a year indoors.
Besides some tentative show dates on option in neighboring states, Sculpture Club does intend to have a release show, albeit a secret-ish one on May 14. Details be found on Instagram at @sculptureclub and Worth, of course, hits streamers Friday. Buy it at sculptureclub.bandcamp.com.