VAN CHAMPIONS: Members of Little Big League previously played in Post Post, Strand of Oaks and Titus Andronicus.
When Michelle Zauner of Philadelphia band Little Big League answers her cellphone, it’s obvious she’s been rudely awoken.
“Oh, hey. We’re doing this right now?” she asks. Her voice is scratchy; she sounds baffled.
“Sorry, I’m just waking up,” she says. “Sometimes I forget what day it is, and I don’t remember where I am. Right now I’m …”
It takes a few seconds for her to remember. But when she does, she declares her location with the confidence of a Jeopardy champion.
“I am in Cleveland!”
Little Big League — guitarist/vocalist Zauner, guitarist Kevin O’Halloran, bassist Deven Craige and drummer Ian Dykstra — is on tour. Between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, they swam in Lake Erie. “The water was really warm, gross and there was so much lake scum,” Zauner says. Then they played their first Cleveland gig, at a venue called Now That’s Class. Afterward, they crashed at “our bassist’s friend’s girlfriend’s house.”
“It’s a nice house,” she continues. “But the shower’s broken, so I’ve had Lake Erie scum in my hair for two days. Overall, we’ve been really lucky this tour, staying in big, clean, nice houses. That makes everything better. People come up to us after shows and ask if we want to stay with them. You’d be surprised how easy it is to sleep at strangers’ houses. Sometimes they’ll let you do your laundry, too.”
This is Zauner’s third tour. Her first, which she describes as “terribly put together,” was with Post Post, the band she was in with O’Halloran for a few years.
But the two Little Big League jaunts have been much better. The improvements are largely due to the road experience Craige (the tour manager for Strand of Oaks) and O’Halloran have brought to the band.
“Deven and Kevin are like the dads, me and Ian are like the babies,” says Zauner, 24. “I never have to drive the van, because those two are pizza delivery drivers, and Deven’s really intense about driving. He feels safer when he’s behind the wheel. He figures out everything — where we’re supposed to be, what time we’re supposed to get there — and he always volunteers to sleep on the floor. I don’t know what we’d do without him. He’s a real warrior.”
This tour’s different from the last one because now Little Big League has its first full-length album for sale at the merch table. These Are Good People (Tiny Engines) is officially out Aug. 6, but the band’s selling advance copies of the LP, which will also be available at tonight’s hometown record release show at The Fire.
Zauner wrote the lyrics for the nine emo-inspired/’90s-indie-rock songs on These Are Good People. On “Lindsey,” the opening track, she sings, “Lindsey, Lindsey, be mine. You’ll be my pet, Lindsey.”
“We were going to make up a lie about her,” says Zauner, “but we forgot to do that. A lot of the record’s informed by a very possessive male figure who was in my life at the time. On some songs, I even adopt male voices. And a lot of the record’s about power dynamics.”
Zauner takes the voice of the domineering male jerk once again on “My Very Own You,” one of the catchiest songs on the album. “Show me every inch they couldn’t reach,” she sings. “I will bring and claim bricks to build my place.” What’s startling is how romantic the tone is, but then how truly terrifying it becomes once you realize what’s really happening here: A man does not see the difference between conquering and loving.
When not deconstructing the patriarchy, Zauner sometimes examines how overwhelmed she felt after moving from Eugene, Ore., to Philadelphia, and how the city initially terrified her.
“I took comfort in the small things,” she says, “like my house or a school nearby. And then those things ended up being vicious, too.” On “Sportswriting,” she howls about witnessing two kids ripping each other’s “hair out for entertainment.” But even during These Are Good People’s most brutal, hopeless moments, the hooks are so charming you’re forced to sing along.
Back in Cleveland, the rest of the band has now woken up. There’s one place they must visit before skipping town. “Being on tour’s like vacation,” says Zauner. “Today we’re going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Apparently, if you bring a CD, you get in for free. We don’t have CDs, so we’re giving them one of the copies of our new album that got warped by the sun.”
“I hope they do take it, because otherwise, we probably can’t afford to get in.”
Thu., July 25, 8 p.m., $8, with Cruiser, Slow Animal and Gunk, The Fire, 412 W. Girard Ave., 267-671-9298, iourecords.com/thefire.
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