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To get to the interior of the roomy (if not dingy) practice space the Siren Six share with a number of struggling LA bands, you must first pass through a series of impediments: locked screen doors, wood doors, metal doors and, finally, an impossibly imposing, felt-covered, big-ass barrier thing on wheels that serves not only to keep people out but also, theoretically, to keep sound in.
The inside walls of this cavernous lockdown are covered with an assortment of free detritus—promotional banners for bands you've never heard of, oversize cardboard leprechauns peeking out at you from behind gigantic two-dimensional beer bottles, posters of hip movies and tube-sock-era Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Gathered in the middle of the room are the four members of the Siren Six, fans of the "hot dork" look (hip clothes, thick glasses) who, two years ago, packed themselves, their equipment, the clothes on their back, two horn players (who are no longer in the band) and a coffeemaker into their van and drove west from Minneapolis to make it big.
"LA was the one place we could go and just do it ourselves, have our own little vision," says singer/guitarist Nate Bott, whose liquid eyes are so preternaturally light that he looks as if he just stepped out of a swimming pool, constantly adjusting, focusing, waiting for the images to come into view. Before the band relocated, Bott, keyboard player Frank Staniszewski and drummer Jeff Conrad tried to lead the lives their parents wished for them by attending the University of Minnesota for a couple of years (they met bass player Jacy MacIntosh at a nearby Minneapolis club).
Asked what his intended major was, Bott squirms. "I didn't [have one],"he says. "Well, I was kind of leaning toward sociology, I guess."
But this sociological emphasis, this perspective, this way of seeing the world is in nearly every anecdote he shares, from feeling that when the band first moved to LA, they were regarded as something of a novelty ("Like, 'Oh, here are these guys who moved from the Midwest to be in LA and be in a band.' People had this whole concept in their heads—that's how I felt.") to his analysis of the way the band operates as a "pack" and how they used to have more of a "pack mentality" (which, he says, made it hard to break in new members and was seen as intimidating and alienating to outsiders) to his contrasting of the Midwestern mindset vs. the SoCal one to his description of a relationship breaking up and "watching it all happen from the outside" to, ultimately, his fears about being an artist.
"You're never quite sure of yourself," he says, clearly more comfortable talking about himself outside himself. "Do I really have the pain, the soul to go through this, to be in a band, to do the band thing?"
"What? Shut up!" says the band's manager from across the room.
"I do wonder," says Bott.
"Recently?" asks MacIntosh.
Is he suggesting there's a certain base line of pain that's necessary for artistic production?
"I just think you have to realize what it is you're experiencing and how you're interpreting what's going on around you. It's not about trying to pretend you're someone else—you have to realize where you stand around everything else, how people are reacting to you, what you think about what's going on. It's not about what other people think you think about what's going on. It's what youthink about it that matters. That's always been kind of hard for me."
You ask whether he's generally happy or unhappy in his daily life, knowing that this mental turbulence —though often necessary for the kind of insight and poetry expected of artists—generally spits out discomfited souls.
"Well, I'd have to say not happy," says Bott.
And then it starts, the levels of self-consciousness and analysis and the other band members' discomfort with the way this could be coming off.
Bott tries to back up and qualify, but each explanation ends up coming back, repeatedly, to his original answer. "I would say for the most part not happy. An innocent unhappiness. I'm always thinking about everyday kind of stuff. I used to be more obsessed with political problems and world issues and homelessness, but lately I've just been thinking that you really have to be comfortable and confident in yourself first before you can really think about any of that. So, yeah, I think I'm not happy."
Bott begins laughing, and then everyone else starts, too, a roiling laughter that builds. "Nervous laughter," says Bott. "What am I saying?" he asks, his head in his hands.
Another puzzle: the Siren Six's music, which used to be more ska-tinged before the departure of the sax and trombone, isn't the dirgeful, melancholic stuff you'd expect from such earnest musicians. It's fairly jubilant, still adhering to ska rhythms and a lively momentum. The live show, too, is akin to an explosion, with each member propelled to and fro by the imaginary backfirings of their instruments.
If there's a certain urgency, a certain intensity about the Siren Six, it's probably because they really have put it all on the line, leaving behind a future—where they'd go to college and then straight into comfortable careers—for one that's so uncertain. And you get the feeling the idea wasn't met with support all around.