Note: All this month Second Stage is featuring artists from the RPM Challenge, 'The Wire' magazine's annual open invitation for musicians to produce an entire album in just one month. All songs featured are from CDs written and recorded in Feb.
The Licks are a rock trio with unusually defined roles. Frontman Matt Berger says he provides the songs while Grace McLean sings harmony and Marian Kelly offers "thoughts." "I work with Marian, and we talk about music a lot," says Berger. "She doesn't play any instruments, or sing, but I thought we could operate like the postpunk group Scritti Politti, wherein I would write the music under her guidance (and excellent musical taste) and then record it."
Berger wrote 20 songs for the RPM Challenge in February and pieced them together for an album he calls These Savages. "Marian listened to my demos and would say things like, 'I hear doo-wop here; make it more doo-wop,' or, 'this is very grunge; add some folk to the break down.'"
Berger's favorite cut is "Salazar," a thrilling, rock romp which borrows a riff from Beck's "Devil's Haircut."
"Salazar is about a man committing a horrible act in a strange new land, and then wandering that alien landscape for years, reminded each night that his time is nearing," says Berger.
"The music is very happy and victorious, so I wanted to make the lyrics about something strange and dark. I went to Wikipedia and typed in Salazar (the nonsense demo title for the song) and found the history of Don Juan de Onate Salazar, which is so strange and bloody that I had to write something about it. Onate was the 'last conquistador' and claimed New Mexico for the Spanish. His troops camped among the Pueblo Indians and, when the Pueblo refused to give him their winter supplies, he killed 800 of them, enslaved 500 more, and cut off the left foot of every man over 25. Years later they put up a statue of him in New Mexico. One night someone sawed off the foot and left a note that read, 'Fair is fair'."