Capital alums get cathartic on new EP

A few years ago, before the presidential primaries were even underway, Jeff Straw knew what was about to unfold, and just the anticipation of the negative-ad onslaught began to get under his skin.

“It was the beginnings of knowing that the cycle was coming,” said Straw, who sings and plays keys in local foursome Sussman Can't Sleep. “These people really don't care about anything other than power in some circumstances, and that's not OK.”

Straw took that unease and channeled it into a song he titled “Stupid Little Stories.” “Well I make up stupid little stories … and I lie to your face and to your family 'bout who I am, what I think, where I been, what I done and how I think this all's gonna end,” he sings, spitting out the words in rapid-fire blasts over careening guitars.

“It was cathartic. … I created a person and wrote it from that perspective, just being like, ‘Yes, I know I am this way, and I'm going to straight-up tell you that, because at this point you're still gonna eat it up,'” Straw said. “It became a lot more relevant than I had hoped.”

“Stupid Little Stories” leads off the new seven-track EP from Sussman Can't Sleep, We Don't Dream, We Worry, which the band will celebrate with a release show at Spacebar on Saturday, July 21.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Straw began playing piano at age 5, and his interest eventually led him to Coldplay, and then to Radiohead, Grizzly Bear and “all that weird, psychedelic-ish stuff,” he said. After moving to Columbus to study piano performance and sound technology at Capital University, he found himself among a group of like-minded musicians who exposed him to the art of jazz performance. After graduating in 2012, he and a few of his Capital buddies — guitarist Andrew Sais, bassist Andy Hawk and (later on) drummer Austin Nill — formed the jazz-inflected alt-rock group Sussman Can't Sleep.

The friends had a natural rapport, and they used those relationships as a launch pad for musical exploration. And while We Don't Dream, We Worry begins on a caustic note, it ends with a more hopeful tone that may not be readily apparent.

Final track “Don't Mistake Me” originated from a moment of frustration. “I was actually practicing ‘Blackbird' by the Beatles. I got stuck on a part, and I kept looping it. Then I stopped practicing and started writing ‘Don't Mistake Me,'” Straw said of the track, which focuses on perception. “Sometimes you know someone very well, and you don't see them for a while, and they come back in your life and you don't have a gauge of where they've been or what they've done, and vice versa. … They see you as their memory of you. They're not willing to see how you've changed in the interim. [‘Don't Mistake Me' is saying], ‘Please see me as I am now. I know you have all these memories of me, and yeah, I was that person, but I've changed. And I'd like to be respected as such.'”

Sure, the person in “Stupid Little Stories” may only care about power. But in “Don't Mistake Me,” people can change.