Local music: The Black Swans

  • Photo by Eric Wagner
From the July 26, 2012 edition

On July 1, 2008, Noel Sayre almost drowned in a Portsmouth swimming pool accident. Two days later, Sayre was taken off life support, ending his life at age 37.

A violinist, Sayre’s playing helped define The Black Swans, the band he started with singer-songwriter Jerry DeCicca in 1994. Even in death, Sayre has loomed, appearing posthumously on “Words Are Stupid” and “Don’t Blame the Stars.”

Now DeCicca faces his bandmate’s specter directly on “Occasion for Song,” to be released Tuesday on Misra Records.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s about him,” DeCicca said. “I’d say that it’s more a record about grief, absence and memory. And for me, a lot of that’s about him.”

At Sayre’s funeral, DeCicca began spinning quatrains in his brain to cope. As months passed, more songs emerged — songs about friendship (“Basket of Light”) and depression (“Bound to Be”) and how we invest our time (“Work Song”).

On “Portsmouth, Ohio,” he directly addresses Sayre’s story: “As the teenager lifeguards went on break/ Flirting by the green metal gate/ Nobody saw God close his eyes.” Even amidst deep mourning, DeCicca finds comic relief via self-effacement: “He played a mean violin/ In the orchestra in Huntington/ And somewhere else he played in some weird band.”

DeCicca wonders whether people will want to be transported to scenes he can barely handle reliving himself.

“The thing about dealing with grief and loss and heartbreak — you see it in poetry, you see it in film, you see it in fiction, but you don’t really see it in music,” DeCicca said. “People don’t want to listen to that … That’s why the last line of the record is ‘Sometimes the occasion for song/ Is filled with reasons that are all wrong/ Don’t sing along.’”

The Black Swans commemorate “Occasion for Song” with a performance Sunday at Lost Weekend Records, followed by a release party August 24 at Rumba Cafe.