There’s a specific kind of eeriness to Littlefoot’s music. It has a dreamlike quality that unmistakably comes from another time and place, one that causes very specific images to spring to mind.
The slow crash of Pacific waves and the rustling of palms in a warm, California breeze are nowhere to be heard in the four tracks Littlefoot has available to stream online, but I heard them anyway. They’re there in spirit, conjured up from my subconscious by what pop culture has lead me to believe are the sounds of a mid-20th century southern California. In the case of “Sad Song From Someone Else,” those sounds are vocal harmonies and retro-reverb guitar. Hearing them makes it easy for me to imagine a scene where I’m driving along a moon-bathed Pacific coast and happen to stumble upon the song somewhere on the radio dial of a cherry red ‘64 Malibu.
“I don’t think I know how to write any other kind of music,” says Erica Sutherland, who started Littlefoot as a solo project before eventually settling in with its current lineup – Mary Burke on bass and vocals, Derek Knox on guitar and Mike DeCosta on drums – at the end of 2012. “I didn’t go into it thinking I want to be in this kind of band, but I can see that it’s a combination of different pieces of things I like.”
An appreciation for popular music from the ‘50s and ‘60s, like The Beach Boys, The Beatles, surf and girl groups like The Shangri-Las has informed Sutherland’s songwriting, particularly when it comes to the powerful simplicity of old pop.
“I think there was something more genuine in the feeling, how it was being expressed, how it was played and sung,” says Derek, who holds an equal reverence for pop arrangements. “A lot of those songs were just really beautiful melodies that could give a lot of weight to an otherwise simple sentiment.”
Lyrically, Erica tries to avoid clichéd metaphors or being clever for clever’s sake in favor of direct appeals to the heart. “Worrydoll,” for instance is a deceptively simple song that manages to punch your heart square in the teeth thanks to the power in Erica and Mary’s heartbreaking harmonies – “I love harmonies,” Erica says, “They’re pretty key in the band.”
“When I first started singing these songs it was, I don’t want to say embarrassing, but you’re spilling your guts,” she says. “You kind of have to separate yourself from that.”
There is no shortage of melancholy in the four tracks the band has available online, but that doesn’t seem to be turning anyone away. “Sad Songs…” was featured on AS220’s Winter Sampler and racked up over 1,000 downloads in less than a month.
“I think there’s something about the contrast,” she says. “A lot of oldies sound pretty positive, but they’re really about heartbreak.”
Littlefoot, despite arriving a handful of decades after the surf rock wave crested, feels like the real deal. Littlefoot March 1 The Columbus Theatre 270 Broadway.