Music » Music Features

Sweet Knives



From Lennon and McCartney to Andre 3000 and Big Boi, music history is littered with creative partners who push each other to greater heights.

One such partnership began in 1998, when Alicja Trout and Jay Reatard came together in a Midtown kitchen to form the Lost Sounds. In the tradition of his idols the Oblivians, 18-year-old Jay Lindsey had adopted his moniker from his first band, the Reatards, who had just released their second record on Goner. Trout was an Antenna/Barristers scenester who had gotten into analog synthesizers while playing in the Clears with musical polymath Shelby Bryant, who was the inspiration for DJ Qualls' character in Hustle & Flow. Along with drummer Rich Crook, they had their first show in early 1999 at a downtown loft on Madison called the Parallax Theatre.

Trout and Reatard soon became romantic as well as musical partners. Both were incredibly prolific songwriters, and the sound they created together was unlike anything else in Memphis — or anywhere else. The primitivist, guitar-heavy garage punk the Oblivians pioneered was about to blow up with the White Stripes' seminal album White Blood Cells, which was recorded in Memphis around the same time. Adding synthesizers and calling on influences like Devo and Suicide was heresy.

"We started at the same time as Lucero," Trout recalls. "They invited us to play a show. There were a lot more people there for Lucero than us, but it was super cool to get the two bands to play together, because we were so different. It was very clear to me at that time that the Memphis audience wanted to hear their kind of music more than ours. We had to go to big cities with lots of people to get accepted. There were a lot of stares and jaw drops. But then we sold tons of merch."

Even though the band never entered a studio, they created a string of classic recordings, starting with 2000's Memphis Is Dead.

"Jay was a home-recording genius," Trout says. "I don't use that word much, but that's where his real genius was: making cheap home recordings sound amazing. We were so wrapped up in the sounds. It started getting really, really strange. We were living in our own world. I think people had trouble catching on to it at the time."

In 2001, the Lost Sounds released their masterpiece, the double album Black Wave. With the addition of bassist Jonas Garland and cellist Jonathan Kirkscey, they took their sound to operatic extremes. "We just kept adding layers of synths," Trout says. "It never sounded live like it sounded in the recording. We didn't worry about anything, because we were just going and going. It was like a race."

Crook says at the time of the Black Wave recording sessions, the two songwriters would bring in tapes of their songs to the rest of the band: "Those demos would sound awesome, and then we would work on it to make it 20 times bigger."

Reatard was famous for his confrontational personality, and his and Trout's relationship proved volatile. But for a time, their creativity thrived on the tension. As Trout sang on Black Wave's opener "Reasons To Kill," "You've got me, I've got you."

After two more full albums and a string of singles, demos, and outtakes, Trout and Reatard's relationship ended in late 2004, and after a final European tour, the band broke up in Germany.

"Jay more or less left, and that was the end of the band," Crook says. "We tried to convince him to put feelings aside and keep going, but that wasn't going to happen with Jay. So when he left the band, it was over."

Reatard went on to a solo career that would become hugely influential on the current crop of garage punks before dying of a drug overdose in 2009. Trout channeled her restless creativity by strapping on a guitar for River City Tanlines and making dreamy pop with Mouserocket. As for the Lost Sounds, "The songs were left out there to die," Crook says.

But the band never forgot about them. According to Trout:

"Rich and I were always tossing around the thought that we had all these songs that were just floating in limbo. We had so many good songs and had spent so much time on it. What can we do with them now? How can that be done missing Jay? Who can sing his parts? Then I was like, why are we looking for someone to do Jay's part?"

On Friday, May 15th, Trout, Crook, and Garland will reunite at the Hi-Tone with the addition of guitarist Johnny Valiant under the moniker Sweet Knives to play Trout's Lost Sounds-era songs for the first time in a decade.

"I am so glad I spent so much time on it, because I would never write songs like that any more. I wouldn't have that kind of time or dedication or energy. I was trying so hard to make something new," Trout says.

"We worked so hard on the sound I wanted to create. It wasn't just, 'these chords sound pretty, and these words rhyme.' It was a sound. And I'm very thankful that I did that, and I had a band to hammer it out with."

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.

Add a comment