Summer Cannibals Make the Most of a Fresh Start on “Can’t Tell Me No”
After their previously planned fourth album dissolved along with frontperson Jessica Boudreaux’s romantic relationship, she wrote a record about reclaiming her personality.
Coming of age in an era that deemed JNCO jeans and oversized Korn t-shirts acceptable fashion, it’s something of a miracle that Jessica Boudreaux is not only proud of her ’90s adolescence, but willing to make an album cover out of it. “I love that picture so much,” the Summer Cannibals frontperson says of the childhood-sourced photo on her band’s latest record, Can’t Tell Me No. “I’ve always been, like, ‘Look at me!’ since I was a kid. It feels like me ’til I die.”
Donning acid wash jeans and pre-Matrix hacker sunglasses, a young Boudreaux is stone-faced and powerstancing on No’s cover, a kid seemingly torn between picking up a guitar or ollieing over every Mid90s-type skater boy that told a girl they couldn’t skate. It’s a fitting image, considering the album’s knowingly bratty title—but for Boudreaux, the photo serves a greater purpose.
Following a draining few years culminating in the end of a manipulative relationship and the disposal of a finished record tainted by said partner, Can’t Tell Me No isn’t an album lamenting what was lost, but rather reclaiming the person Boudreaux’s always been. “Having to confront these things, and doing it in a semi-public way through making a record about it, it felt like taking back the parts of my personality that kinda got pushed down,” Boudreaux attests. “It’s taking back my humor and the parts of me that the experiences I had over the last couple of years kinda took away.”
To say that No is Summer Cannibals at their most emotionally raw feels like a disservice, given that all four of the Portland band’s fuzz-drenched albums thrive in diving headlong into life’s bullshit for answers. With Boudreaux’s innate ability to salvage fiery one-liners out of decaying relationships, No resembles more of a spiritual conclusion to 2016’s Full of It, namely in excising the domineering partner that clouded over the previous record. Where Full of It found Boudreaux at a frustrated loss over how to end an unhealthy partnership, No is all firm resolutions in the wake of a former lover’s bitter public flameout.
“Because the record is really personal to a pretty specific experience I went through over the last year, I almost feel like an outsider couldn’t have been involved. I needed this to just be me and my band.”
A once-lauded Oregon scene veteran until tweets detailing illicit activities with underage women resurfaced, her ex-partner and his cancelling put Boudreaux under an unwarranted spotlight by association. Still, it somehow paled in comparison to the private battle over an unreleased Summer Cannibals record they had finished together before splitting. “To be perfectly honest, [the band] didn’t have much of a choice,” she confirms bluntly. “Without going into a ton of detail, the situation involved things as bad as threats against me—like, violent threats.”
Boudreaux wasted no time in starting fresh. Within twenty-four hours of burying the record for her own safety, Summer Cannibals had begun work on what would become No. “With my band, I feel like we have a pretty good dynamic in terms of trusting me as a leader,” she adds. “I was like, ‘Guys…can you come over tomorrow and start making a new record?’ Everyone said yes.”
Recruiting bassist Ethan Butman and guitarist Cassi Blum between records, alongside longtime drummer Devon Shirley, Boudreaux frequently champions the new lineup as Summer Cannibals’ tightest yet, both musically and in friendship, during our conversation. “Cassi and I hung out, like, twice and we were best friends,” Boudreaux says. “Just interpersonally, we’re all four best friends, and this group works like a machine. Everyone has a clear role, everyone is very dedicated and open. Nothing about it has been hard to share.”
Making No the first self-produced Summer Cannibals record was an obvious choice. The band was already selective about producers coming into their tight circle, but Blum and Boudreaux’s day jobs as recording engineers meant they could keep their own schedule in the latter’s basement multi-room studio. Writing and recording the album over a series of fourteen-hour work days, Boudreaux took on the multi-hyphenate producer/songwriter/bandleader role by “just being super caffeinated” at all hours, relying on Blum’s technical approach with production to reign things in.
“When it comes to being a songwriter and being precious, I find that Cassi can shut me down really quick when we have to move on,” Boudreaux says with a laugh. “Because the record is really personal to a pretty specific experience I went through over the last year, I almost feel like an outsider couldn’t have been involved. I needed this to just be me and my band.”
If anything though, the breakneck schedule and choice to hire internally captured Summer Cannibals at their most laser-focused and essential. Aside from the record’s sneering opener, “False Anthem,” dismantling an ex’s surface-level enlightenment while fearing a #MeToo moment (“Look ahead and see your future’s gone,” Boudreaux triumphantly barks at one point, “’cause here it is right in my motherfucking palm”), No puts self-recovery ahead of dwelling too heavily on the past with surprisingly joyous results.
“Just interpersonally, we’re all four best friends, and this group works like a machine. Everyone has a clear role, everyone is very dedicated and open. Nothing about it has been hard to share.”
The title track turns its chorus into a schoolyard-esque chant, while album highlight “One of Many” joins wailing riffs with a piped-in choir backing up Boudreaux’s demands for a greater purpose in a relationship. According to the bandleader, overproduction was “not an option” given the time constraints, but the record’s straightforwardness also prioritizes Boudreaux’s caustic, admirable path toward catharsis. “I think everything that was written ended up pretty close to just how it was written,” she adds. “Usually we have more time to go down in the practice space, play through songs, and kinda see where they take us, but…the message of the songs is clear because there’s not a lot of distractions on the record.”
The excitement is nuanced in the Cannibals camp on the eve of their longest headlining run in years. Touring on a set of new songs is naturally a rush, but hearing Boudreaux talk about bringing these particular songs outside the studio and letting them find life elsewhere is like witnessing the defiantly confident kid on the cover of No come back to life. “It feels cathartic and empowering for me right now to play a lot of these songs live, because I feel like they are so fresh,” Boudreaux concludes. “I knew that it was going to feel really good to go out and play these songs when we were writing them, [but now] I’m just kinda like, ‘Okay, yeah, I have to get this out now.’” FL