There’s always going to be a darkness lingering on the edge of town, isn’t there? The future; the unknown – the stuff you can’t see yet, ominously waiting just out of view. Joey Sweeney & The Neon Grease’s “Black Ice” is one part suburb, one part city, and an altogether warm, rock-fueled cautionary tale of a life lived.
Dark little roads
To empty homes
Warmed by nothing but the glow
Of old television shows
“Black Ice” – Joey Sweeney & The Neon Grease
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering “Black Ice,” the sophomore single from Philadelphia-based Joey Sweeney & The Neon Grease and featuring Renée LoBue. Previously of the band The Trouble with Sweeney, Joey Sweeney has been writing songs since the 1980s, and it shows: His rock style is more Tom Petty than it is The Killers or Goo Goo Dolls. His seasoned storytelling comes through vividly in his latest offering: His colorful lyrics grow with the song, winding us through a field of troubles, anxieties and nerves until we come out the other side, unscathed but wary.
I waited outside your house
I never saw you come in or go out
Darling, you must know
Can’t be traveled alone.
So beware of the black ice, darling
It could burn your heart
Beware of the black ice, darling
Tonight it’s got me falling apart
“Twice in my life, I’ve “quit” music for a few years,” reflects Sweeney, “- which is to say, stopping playing shows, writing songs and making records being the only extent to which I could ever “quit.” And both times, it paid off — both for my life and for my enjoyment of when I eventually, inevitably picked up a guitar again. “Black Ice” was one of the very things I wrote, almost ten years ago, and it was one of those things that appeared in a day, fully formed. It feels like a narrative or storytelling song — even though I’m still not sure what exactly is happening in there — but what I know [is] that it is, in some way, about these tropes of the latent menace of the suburbs and spooky teen movie stuff.”
Written a decade ago, “Black Ice” still feels as relevant today as it would have felt back then. Instability is a basic phenomenon: Change, pressure, doubt – humans will always relate to these base concepts. “Black Ice” is thick with the idea of tomorrow’s haunts; that black ice is a theme which will always make sense.
Of the recording, Sweeney notes: “When we got to record it, the first overdub we did was of the 12-string guitar, and that opened it all up for me and put it in a musical spot that I’d never articulated but apparently what was the huge influence to me: spooky 12-string guitar, vaguely goth mystery love songs from the very late 1980s — stuff like “Under The Milky Way” by the Church or “All In My Mind” by Love & Rockets. So Ray Ketchem (who engineered) and Jared Styles (bass player) went in really hard on that – crazy 80s gates on the drums, all kinds of chorus on the bass and guitars, and then of course Kevin (Bohannon)’s sax, which put it over into this whole other Quarterflash zone. Ray kept on being like, “Whoaaaaa, are you sure?” And we were like, ‘This is the kind of song this is. It’s the kind of song where the lo mein turns into worms and then back into lo mein again.'”
Of additional note is the addition of Renée LoBue, “the singer in the great band Elk City – Ray is in Elk City as well – and I’ve had the pleasure of knowing them for years now,” Sweeney shares. “Most of the recording of Black Ice and all of these songs we’re releasing now were done at Ray’s Magic Door studio in Montclair, NJ, and Renée lives right around the corner — she’d offered to sing backups, which she did on a lot of the new tunes, but as soon as she started singing this one, it just felt like she had a part to play, literally. It felt like there could be a space for a duet in there somewhere, that there was this theatricality lurking in the song. So we did it and now, like once a week, I try to figure out how we could get her in the band full-time.”
“Black Ice” becomes so much more than one individual’s gripes with regret, insecurity, uncertainty, etc. Dressed in full garments by a band that knows how to do it justice, the song becomes a message of Perseverance, Safety, and Strength. Joey Sweeney & The Neon Grease may be a fresh face, but they’ve got staying power with potent, passionate music.
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photo © Marie Alyse Rodriguez