SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY
Sweep the Leg Johnny were a Chicago-based post rock band from the late 1990s. The name comes from a line in the film Karate Kid.Sweep the Leg Johnny were fronted by saxophonist and vocalist Steve Sostak, who decided to form the band after meeting Chris Daly at university in Notre Dame. Steve tried out many different instruments to accompany Chris’s guitar, eventually settling reluctantly on the saxophone. When they returned to America, they tried to recruit other members for the band and found drummer Scot Anna, whose open and free-sounding drum technique went well with Chris’s convoluted guitar work, which was based mainly on melodies rather than chords. The band then also recruited John Brady to play bass. The bass playing is often simplistic in melody, but serves excellently as a pulsing rhythmic accompaniment where otherwise the beat might have been lost in the chaos. Allegedly, the group would rehearse up to 25 hours a week to graft their seamless synchronization in songs, which paid off.In 1997 the band released 188.8.131.52 on Divot Records, which was a clean and open sounding album that had a sound similar perhaps to Yes or Slint, but really captured a style of its own encompassing brash speeding rock with much more sensitive slow-paced rock, within songs. The band took individual riffs and developed them within songs, looking at them in different lights, sometimes with vocals and sometimes without. Steve Sostak has said he writes lyrics when things in his life change; in other words he does not write lyrics for songs, as a lot of lyricists in rock bands do, to complete the sound. This relaxed attitude towards music-making allows a lot more freedom than the traditional rock formula, and sometimes requires more attention.The band’s second LP, Tomorrow We Will Run Faster, and subsequent albums, were released on Southern Records. Tomorrow… was mastered at Abbey Road Studios in London. Its five songs are all lengthy progressive songs that develop slowly, maturing, and climaxing fantastically, reminiscent of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Conversely, their third album Sto Cazzo (which means something akin to “f-ck you” in Italian) is a hectically-paced and chaotic frenzy of music which contrasts completely with Tomorrow. The two albums were released very close together, and Tomorrow ‘s dark navy cover and Sto Cazzo ‘s deep red one obviously portray the styles performed within. Sto Cazzo contains some of the most engaging rock music produced; furiously fast-paced, constantly changing, angry, and amazingly tight and synchronized, with songs flowing into one another seamlessly, this captures the essence of Sweep.After Sto Cazzo, guitarist Mitch Cheney of Rumah Sakit joined the band. He played in a dissonant and wandering style that contrasted well with the clean-cut interplay of the sax and guitar already there, to produce a very epic sound for their final LP, Goin’ Down Swinging. The album’s opening sax riff leads into the epic “Sometimes My Balls Feel Like Tits”, which combines the chaotic roller coaster variety of Sto Cazzo with the slowly maturing progressive sound of Tomorrow, and to some, it is the height of Sweep’s career. With the addition of Cheney, the group also decided to repair and modernize two of their older songs, “Rest Stop” and “The Blizzard of 99”, which are both made the more stunning with the addition of guitar, and the added energy they receive. Mitch also did the artwork for their last album, which features a bloodthirsty knight on horseback being lowered into some unseen battlefield.The band broke up some time after making their last album, having toured to excruciating lengths, and to some extent, made a conquest of the genre. Steve Sostak and John Brady are now in ZZZZ, a mystical musical group that carries some of the open-ended experimentation of Sweep, but with keys rather than guitars. Chris Daly was in a group with members of June of 44 and Hoover called Just A Fire, and Mitch Cheney is in a project called GREENESS; find out more on his Myspace page.Sweep briefly reformed for a benefit gig in Chicago near the end of 2005, but have no immediate plans to make any more music together.