There is life after for Divorcee

by Mark Baumgarten

Between bites of his breakfast burrito at the Bryant Lake Bowl, Ryan Seitz, lead singer and chief songwriter for Twin Cities popsters Divorcee, tries to explain the story behind the band’s name.

And the truth is, it’s not that interesting.

He says his mother was getting divorced when he was forming the band and the word “divorcee” just kind of sounded cool.

It takes a little prodding, but soon the band members admit they recognize the significance of their name in light of recent events.

“Yeah, if you think about it, we’re all divorcees of all the bands we were from,” says guitarist Chris Pavlich.

That’s putting it lightly. In the last couple years, the guys of Divorcee have been left behind by former bands, pushed to the side in studio and essentially booted to the doorsteps with their suitcases and the new-found freedom that comes with separation.

Divorcee began to take form two winters ago when Seitz headed to St. Cloud to watch his friend John Schrei play with Pavlich in the Spring Collection.

“I just went along with those guys, saw some of the inner workings and saw that there was a band for the taking,” says Seitz.

By this, Seitz means he saw that Spring Collection lead man Matty Schindler was forming a vision for a band and that Schrei and Pavlich didn’t fit into it.

“It wasn’t a breaking up,” says Pavlich. “It was (Schindler) saying, I have a vision, I want to wear makeup and paint my fingernails and be very self-absorbed and you guys don’t fit into that.”

Soon after the St. Cloud gig, the Spring Collection was no more. Schindler, who also happens to be Pavlich’s brother-in-law, began working on his new project, which would soon become local band-of-the-moment Faux Jean, and Pavlich and Schrei were out of the picture.

Seitz and Schrei had been working on some songs and picked up Pavlich on guitar and Spring Collection drummer Shawn “Grinder” Grider. Divorcee was born.

After losing Schrei to band burnout, Divorcee picked up Sean Hoffman, formerly of American Paint, and three days later had studio time booked at Seedy Underbelly Studios in Minneapolis with noted producer Brad Kern.

“It was kind of a weird situation, because they were on deadline with [Semisonic’s] Chemistry sessions,” says Pavlich. “Brad said, ‘Yeah, I’ll record you guys, we’ll do it for fun and see what happens, and I’ll do as much as I can.'”

After a few sessions Kern left to tour Europe with Semisonic, and the band was left to finish recording the album on their own without anyone to mix it. After sitting around scratching their heads for a while, Seitz and company went to engineer Bryan Hanna at The Terrarium recording studio in Minneapolis.

“It was interesting for him, I thought, to have something fall in his lap where he had no idea of what was there,” says Pavlich.

A spirited mixing session ensued, complete with Hanna berating the band and, at one point, banning them from entering the studio. Also emerging from the session is a memorable tale involving Hanna, a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and the mixing of “Come down to the water.”

At the end of it all, Divorcee left The Terrarium with Lovesick, their recently self-released 40-minute album full of pop that may be a little different from what Twin Citians expect from their bands.

“The thing about pop is that you’ve got three minutes,” says Schrei. “Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, and then you’ve got to be creative and do something new and interesting in that framework, which is very hard I think.”

What Divorcee does with this structure is create sweet pop songs that lace edgy power pop choruses into Britpop-influenced melancholy verses. Seitz’s throaty vocals throughout and Pavlich’s winding guitar riff on “Carousel” are testament to the band’s heavy intake of British acts from Oasis to the Stone Roses to Travis. And while the influence is somewhat overpowering on “Carousel” and “Jennifer,” the dichotomy between the lush verses and guitar-pounding choruses on tracks like “Writer” and “This is where it ends,” along with the low-down gritty feel of “Careful,” guarantees a style that is Divorcee’s own.

“The songs are really easy to get excited about and just totally sink your teeth into,” says Pavlich.

The band has high hopes that the local music scene that would have turned its back on their sound just a few years ago will agree.

“In the last five years no one doing anything different got any recognition, because everybody was so hung up on that late-’80s scene,” says Seitz. “The great thing is, if a band comes out and sounds like that now, people don’t want to hear them anymore.”

Since finishing the album, the band has gone through a few more changes: Grider left Divorcee after the album was finished to concentrate on his family and drumming in Faux Jean. Hoffman moved to drums and Schrei came back as bassist.

But even after all of the breakups and “familial” strife, Seitz, Pavlich, Hoffman and Schrei are ready to move on and show what Divorcee can do.

“When we started the band, we decided that we were going to make this kick ass record before we play any show, because shows are a distraction from the ultimate goal of making a record,” says Pavlich. “Now we’ve got this great record and no one knows who we are. It’s time to turn all that around.”