Start Sinning, the 32-minute musical blitzkrieg from Philly's most unique song-writing team, John & Brittany, is a record that, at its most basic level, is about the discovery, or perhaps re-discovery, of the power of rock n roll. While the joy of their creation is evident in each of the record's ten varied tracks, the music belies the tragic circumstances which surrounded John Faye and Brittany Rotondo as they embarked on Start Sinning.
On May 2, 2012, just weeks before launching an ambitious Kickstarter campaign to fund the new recording, Faye's mother was struck by a moving vehicle while she was out for a morning walk. She passed away in hospice 6 weeks later, refusing further medical treatment after having survived the accident and initial surgery. "I think watching my life turned upside down in the blink of an eye put our relationship into sharp focus for Brittany," Faye states flatly. Rotondo agrees: "We were in a huge fight with each other just the day before, and when he called me about his mom, that all just evaporated." Faye continues: "The one tiny silver lining in all of the pain and sorrow from my mom's passing is that it just blew away all the bullshit between Britt and me. We are closer than any two people I know and she was there for me in a way that made both of us turn a corner in our friendship."
In spite of having to do some serious compartmentalizing in order to promote the Kickstarter campaign, Faye and Rotondo managed to exceed their goal of $10,000, and were able to commence recording with long-time friend Stephen LaFashia (of the band Jealousy Curve) manning the console. With Faye struggling to come to grips with the reality of losing his mother, it was a record that the duo truly needed to make. The studio was a refuge, a quiet eye in the center of a massive storm of emotions. Faye and Rotondo, along with drummer Jason Miraglia and bassist Michael Vivas plowed through the tracking phase of the record in a mere 6 sessions at Philly Sound Studios. The results are as eclectic as John & Brittany themselves, yet striking a consistently potent balance between Rotondo's Stones-y swagger and Faye's Beatle-esque melodicism.
Those familiar with Faye's stalwart career as a pop craftsman (The Caulfields, IKE), however, will notice a much different, harder rocking side on Start Sinning. "I am pretty sure my emotional state added a lot of edge to my voice and I was also very into the idea of using a lot more vocal effects than I usually do," Faye confesses. For her part, Rotondo, being the duo's primary lyricist, fed her lead singer some pretty intense lines. The title track taps into the primal feeling of being overcome by rock n roll for the first time:
I struck a chord, it didn't sit too well
Every day's a new beginning
I'm sippin' on heaven but I'm goin' to hell
So I think it's time I start sinning
Other tracks yield similarly visceral results. The duo tag-teams several lines on the down-and-sleazy "Dirty Little Magazine," finishing each other's thoughts, much as they do in real life:
I smoked up all my cigarettes
and listened to a saint
I play my cards close to my vest
The son of god I ain't
..So dream me up a fantasy
My secret centerfold
My dirty little magazine
My fuckin' rock n roll
Perhaps no other song on the record hit Faye as hard emotionally as the cathartically desperate "Woe."
Can't no holy man save my soul
Can't no prayin' hands steal this woe
When Start Sinning isn't bringing you directly into John & Brittany's post-Catholic confessional booth, it spins vivid yarns with quirky characters like the strangely philosophical bank robber in "El Gato," or the arms-length "Gas Mask Queen," who is at once a rock goddess and a rock casualty, or the slick southern grifter in "Mississippi Fred," a foot-stomping blues rocker. "Zzzoloft" and "Paper Planes" draw on the duo's joint obsession with 70's New York punk, referencing Ramones and Lou Reed.
Ask John & Brittany how their new record is different from their debut self-titled EP from 2011, and you get knowing, confident smiles from two people who know they have come into their own. "It's night and day," they say in near unison. "It's a record that will always hold huge meaning for us," Faye states. "It's like we saw the light by crossing over to the dark side."