Silver Synthetic singer-guitarist Chris Lyons and guitarist Kunal Prakash have a long history with hissy, fuzzy, noisy rock. Lyons led the NOLA garage-psych crew Bottomfeeders, while Prakash officially joined Nashville's JEFF the Brotherhood in 2018 after a long run as a touring member and general consiglieri. (JEFF’s singer-guitarist Jake Orrall recently made a move to New Orleans, where he and Prakash launched an indie label called Earthbound Sound that handled the digital release of the latest JEFF single.)
However, Silver Synthetic is a different beast, fueled by talkative dual-guitar interplay, steady motorik grooves (from Pete Campanelli on bass and Bottomfeeders’ Lucas Bogner on drums) and cool, calm introspection. The foursome’s eponymous 2021 album, released via Third Man Records, as well as their 2020 EP Out of the Darkness, are both tightly composed yet loosely executed with an era-nonspecific fusion of influences. They range from the T. Rex slink-and-shuffle of “Unchain Your Heart” to Prakash’s dazzling Steely Dan-style solo on “Making Time” to my personal fave “Chasm Killer,” an energetic marriage of CSN&Y harmonies and Chicago post-rock headiness. Lyons’ earthy falsetto is a dead ringer for that of The Sea and Cake’s Sam Prekop.
I caught up with Lyons via phone from the Crescent City just after Silver Synthetic’s appearance at Gonerfest 18 in Memphis, and just before a Halloween weekend jaunt out to Austin, Texas, for The Black Angels’ Levitation festival. Coming up next is a two-week tour that kicks off Friday, Nov. 5, at TMR’s Nashville venue The Blue Room. The show at Third Man’s HQ is a long time coming, given that the LP's been finished for two years.
Take a listen to Silver Synthetic in the above embed and snag an advance ticket for the show — which locals Ornament and Rayon City will open — via Third Man’s Site. Read my Q&A with Lyons below.
Are you glad you didn't put Silver Synthetic out mid-pandemic?
Yeah. It would’ve felt weird to tour it now if we’d released it a year prior. Less relevant, for sure.
How did Silver Synthetic come to be?
I wrote this set of songs in late ’18 and felt conflicted about whether I’d use them for Bottomfeeders or not. But once one of the guitar players moved away, it made more sense just to start a new project.
Do you think stressful times like these call for mellower music?
Definitely. [laughs] There was already anxiety in the air when I was writing Silver Synthetic. Personally, I needed to slow down and chill out. I’d been living in the fast lane. I’d go home late at night and [garage-rock] was the last thing I wanted to hear. I needed something to calm me down. A record I discovered at that time was Coney Island Baby by Lou Reed. The Velvet Underground & Nico was a big influence on Bottomfeeders, but I hadn’t listened to much of Lou’s solo work outside of Transformer. Coney Island Baby hit me at the exact right moment.
Did you grow up with classic rock records in the house?
Yeah, my dad was a man of the ’70s and late ’60s. He taught me how to play guitar, and every Friday he’d take me down to the record store and let me pick out a record. We didn’t always agree on everything, but he seemed to get what I was into. “Well, I hate Captain Beefheart, but you might like it.” [laughs] And he was right. Safe as Milk ended up being a big one for me. Dissonant but bluesy, which I loved.
Is Silver Synthetic your parents’ favorite band that you’ve done?
[laughs] Yes. They’ve always been supportive, but it’s funny to hear them say they actually like my music.
How was Gonerfest?
Such a fun time. When the record came out in April, we did a generator show in a park in New Orleans, in the Bywater. That was great, but Goner felt more real. We played Saturday, daytime. It was one of the mellower bands that weekend, which I think people actually appreciated.
What were some other standout sets from Gonerfest?
The Spits were insane. Sick Thoughts from New Orleans — they’re always awesome. When Wreckless Eric played “Whole Wide World” solo, that was a pretty intense moment for me. After not seeing live music for so long, it was a tearjerker. Definitely a good way to start it up again.
What’s your creative community in New Orleans like? Is it centered in the Bywater?
It can feel that way, because a lot of the bars and clubs we play are in that same pocket, the Ninth and Seventh Wards. A lot of us used to live down there, but five years ago I moved to a neighborhood called Gentilly up the road towards Lake Pontchartrain, where it’s easier to play loud music and not have it be a problem. We recorded Silver Synthetic there over 10 days in the spring of 2019, and mixed it that summer.
How did you connect with Third Man?
We knew the record was good and were proud of it, but had no clue what to do with it. In November 2019 we played Memphis and Nashville and that’s when we met [Third Man’s] Ben Swank. He was at the show, and was into it. We were lucky. I really believe nothing would’ve happened with it otherwise.