On a recent weeknight, rainy and surprisingly chilly for early September, the four members of Sweet Tooth set up their instruments in the warm red and violet lights of the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar.
The venue’s small stage couldn’t contain Sweet Tooth—there’s a drum kit, a guitar, two amplifiers, four synthesizers, four microphones and a slew of effects pedals between them—and the band’s setup spilled over the edge of the stage and onto the floor, just inches from audience members sipping glasses of red wine and tea from ceramic mugs.
A wash of sound slowly filled the room as the band started to play, layers of guitar and synthesizer and drums melding and separating, ebbing and flowing, shaping and shifting, expanding like a whirling galaxy out through the room and inviting the audience to exist in the newly created sonic space of “The World Is Round,” the first track on the band’s forthcoming EP.
After a few minutes, everyone settled into the sound, and synthesizer player Paige Naylor and guitarist Ryan Maguire began to sing: “The world is round, the sun is round, the moon is round, the stars are round. The world is round, the sun is round, the moon is round, the stars are round. Round and around, round and around, round and around, and not a sound,” they continue.
“The World Is Round” is a song about circles and spheres, both physical and audible. It’s both simple and cosmic, says Maguire, an intentional start to Sweet Tooth’s set that explores a broad palette of sound, space and emotion.
Sweet Tooth is about creating a vibe, says Maguire, “a magic feeling that’s hard to come by,” and thus the band’s songs aren’t bound by traditional arrangements. The songs often devolve into an emotional state rather than a narrative, says bass synth player Kevin Davis, and that’s fine by the band—we’re not talking a three-minute verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus thing.
More often than not, Sweet Tooth’s four members—Maguire, Naylor, Davis and drummer Greg Sloan, who have a broad influence of musical genres among them—ask themselves, “What sound do we need to get this feeling?” as they compose and write together, exploring the capabilities of their instruments. Songs will grow out of something Maguire’s already written, or a Naylor synth riff, or a Sloan vocal melody and lyric or even a textural bass part from Davis.
The resulting music is kind of dream pop, kind of prog, kind of rock, kind of folk, kind of experimental, kind of psychedelic and kind of electronic. The songs are somewhat lengthy—six or seven minutes long—with texture and atmosphere that’s neither jammy nor gratuitous. Sweet Tooth asks listeners to exist in the space of the song and be content with not moving around much, says Naylor.
A Sweet Tooth song can also travel time, as with “Red Sun” (or “Forest Floor”…Maguire waffles on the title), another track on the forthcoming EP. Maguire first wrote the song on a 1960s Gibson guitar that he inherited from his late aunt, a musician herself. Maguire grieved his aunt’s death by spending an entire summer writing songs on her guitar, including a folksy guitar-and-voice version of “Red Sun”/“Forest Floor.” After forming Sweet Tooth, Maguire thought the song would be well-suited to the band, because it’s largely about a feeling—one that comes from a compound memory of Maguire’s childhood.
When Maguire was young, his aunt and uncle lived on several acres of land in the woods of Wisconsin, and Maguire and his cousins would spend summers playing in the forests and the meadows while the adults convened on the deck, talking and cooking meals. When it was time to eat, they’d ring a big bell and the kids would come running. At night, they’d have bonfires. Maguire says the song is about that memory, about “remembering that feeling of that place and the magic of it, and realizing that these adults…had set up this space for us to have this really beautiful, free experience.
“And we didn’t appreciate it…didn’t even realize until later” how special that experience was, Maguire says.
Originally, Maguire says the song was almost emo, but in Sweet Tooth form, it becomes more complex in its exploration of nostalgia, appreciation, loss and anger.
“It’s a very funny emotional combination that powers that song,” Davis says, and that emotional quotient is what Sweet Tooth is really all about. “Music can evoke a lot of emotion on the part of the listener,” says Davis. He hates to use the word nostalgia to describe it, but by engaging certain sounds, tambours, timbres and tropes, he says, music is a powerful force that’ll pull you into its boundless orbit.