Local music spotlight: Kari Lebby and sandcastles.
Alone No More: Kari Lebby on community, catharsis, and overcoming depression
Even if you’ve never met Kari Lebby, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced something he has been involved in over the past several years in Columbia.
From his collegiate joke-rap duo Sweet Vans, to roles at Trustus Theater (where Lebby is now a company member), to this past summer’s well-received Hoechella festival – and now the scattershot balance of indie-pop and introspection that is his current project, sandcastles.
Put them all together, and Lebby is a grinning jack of all trades. But not everything is sunshine and rainbows underneath, as the new “die alone” album from sandcastles. proves.
Upon the new album’s release, Lebby posted a confessional on social media explaining just where he’s coming from.
“I hope that the juxtaposition of the lyrics with the instrumentation can show the difficulties of depression,” he wrote. “Depression doesn’t mean that you just sit around sad, locked in a room alone, listening to Elliott Smith records. A lot of depressed people are social butterflies. everything isn’t black and white.”
The songs bear that out, with the cathartic, angular rock of “Sad Sack” accompanying an apparent cry for companionship in lyrics such as, “I don’t want be alone here, but I don’t want to leave yet.”
For Lebby, the process of making this album, which took the better part of two-and-a-half years, was a reaction to depression.
“We took our time to get everything sounding the way we wanted, and we got to hang out and make music,” he noted. “I just kept making different stuff and choosing what I wanted to keep. If I wrote something guitar-based on a particular day and liked it, I kept it.”
The result is a mashup not just of emotions but sounds, as those guitar songs are book-ended with the slinky synth-pop of “You Know Who You Are” and quieter acoustic fare such as “I Can’t Wait,” which combines a pretty melody with “cry for help” lyrics.
Lebby played everything on the original album demos, but for the final recording enlisted scene veterans such as Garrett Burke on drums and John Vail on guitar. Track production was handled by electro-rock duo We Roll Like Madmen along with Alex McCollum and Lebby himself.
Lebby is a millennial, a self-described consumer and fan of pop culture, some of which pops up in his own work, as in the promotional t-shirts for the new album that riff on Drake’s “Hotline Bling” album cover. Other places, it is much less obvious.
“I know people who wake up and want to write a Beyoncé song, but I don’t know how to do that,” Lebby said. “For me that influence from pop music and culture is a constant thing, not something I think about – it just is there.”
As a company member at Trustus Theatre, Lebby performs in a much different setting than the bars and house parties of his musical endeavors, but he doesn’t see it as two separate things.
“The two are not that different,” he claimed. “I’ve done improv, and I’ve done music – drinking alcohol and performing is kind of the same either way.”
Last summer’s Hoechella festival was started as a reaction to a cultural environment where women, LGBTQ and transgender people were under fire in many areas. Lebby’s network of friends and bands managed to put together a weekend dedicated to music and good, positive vibes.
“It worked out really well, and people seemed to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves,” he said of the experience. “I’m already getting asked about next year, so we’ll see what happens.”
His only regret about hosting the festival? “Maybe with all the election stuff that happened, we should have done it later in the year.”
Whenever and wherever Lebby chooses to make his next move, one thing’s for sure: it will be new, different, and fun – and he won’t be alone.