Afraid of the dark? If so, proceed with caution: The sullen music of Ednaswap may be hazardous to your mental health.
Several disturbing tales unfold on the alternative rock quintet's new five-song EP, "Chicken," which serves mainly as an appetizer until its full-length CD is released early next year. One ("Way Down") is about a woman who kills her husband and buries him under the house. Another ("Therapy") chronicles a protagonist trying to talk his way out of a mental hospital. And the most chilling ("Torn") finds a person psychologically and physically stripped naked.
At least lead singer and lyricist Anne Preven comes by it honestly.
"My dad is a psychiatrist, and it was a requirement of being in the family to work at his hospital," said Preven, during a recent phone interview from her Los Angeles home. "When I was 17, I went to work as a mental-health worker there . . . and I worked in the 'adolescent depressed suicidal unit.' It was a scary, eye-opening experience."
"I had a young girl that was under my care run away from the hospital. There was this massive search, and while she was gone, she tried to kill herself," she said. "It was just horrible, and it's something I'll never forget."
Preven, who was born and raised in New York, attended Harvard University soon after and began writing poetry in her journal as a break between studies for her self-designed "psychobiology" major. It was frequent daydreaming about being in a band, though, that nudged her toward the serious pursuit of a musical career.
"It was like I had this split personality, where I was studying medicine and the human brain one minute but completely drawn to music the next," Preven recalled. "So I wound up following my instincts and just started writing a bunch of songs."
She buckled down and earned her bachelor's degree before moving to California in 1991. After a series of fruitless musical endeavors, Preven joined La Habra-reared lead guitarist Rusty Anderson, rhythm guitarist Scott Cutler, bassist Paul Bushnell and drummer Carla Azar to form Ednaswap in the summer of 1993.
The group was almost immediately signed to Elektra/EastWest Records. The band's debut album was released last summer, but instead of celebrating the accomplishment, both the band and their label were dissatisfied.
"We only had four songs done when we signed the record contract, and all of a sudden we had to have eight more ready to go right away," Preven said. "Well, our vision and sound changed while we were writing the rest, and when we finished, I guess the label didn't get what it expected and was kind of shocked. . . . We got no promotional support once the record was released, and they wouldn't even let us tour." An Elektra representative responded that it is the label's policy not to discuss any acts that are no longer under contract.
The band is now signed to Island Records and has included new material--plus two rerecorded selections from the first album--on the "Chicken" EP.
"Chicken" showcases a modern guitar-based sound that drives Preven's emotive vocals, which at times recall the graininess of Melissa Etheridge, seductive whisper of Johnette Napolitano and punk bite of Exene Cervenka.
Not quite the formal, proper stuff she begrudgingly practiced at home while taking violin lessons as a child.
"Classical music was kind of forced on me, and I just lost interest after listening to rock 'n' roll," said Preven, who got hooked hearing Bob Dylan, the Stones, Patti Smith and the Sex Pistols. "What really appealed to me was the idea of improvising. I mean, you could scream, be loud . . . and even play out of tune."
With renewed self-assurance, Ednaswap (the name, Preven said, came to her during a nightmare) just finished recording 10 new songs for a full-length CD to be released next year.
Does that mean more songs about obsession, guilt and self-torment are on the way?
"I honestly don't know where some of my ideas come from because I don't really think about themes while I'm working on songs," said Preven, who in her spare time dabbles in photography and plays with her collie, Niki. "There will be more vignettes, some with personal lyrics, but most come from a disconnected perspective. Musically, you'll hear some spacey psychedelia, but we're still evolving, so there will be some surprises."
* Ednaswap, Roundabouts and Xian & the Infidels play Thursday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $8-10. (714) 496-8930.