Lira Mondal is making cookies. More specifically, malted sweet corn and blueberry swirl cookies. They’re fresh out of the oven when I arrive at the home she shares with her partner Caufield Schnug, the cozy, book-filled house where they make catchy post-punk under the name Sweeping Promises. “I’m married to my taste buds in a way that is problematic but also really enriching,” says Mondal, a former pastry chef.
It is just shy of release week for the Lawrence, Kansas duo’s second album, the exhilarating Good Living Is Coming for You, and it seems fitting that there are homemade sweets on deck to discuss a record overflowing with food metaphors. “You’re filling up your cabinets/With spices and salts to cover up the bitter taste,” Mondal tersely declares on “Connoisseur of Salt,” over Schnug’s signature guitar stabs. “Petit Four” pays homage to the singer’s pastry talents, using a phrase like “It’s an unmentionable serving” to invoke a sense of Phantom Thread-like menace. Schnug has his own term for Mondal’s lyrical style, a merging of passions: “food surrealism.”
Though Sweeping Promises’ 2020 debut was named Hunger for a Way Out, Mondal and Schnug have taken to calling Good Living “the ravenous one.” Their sonic leveling-up is clear—thanks, in part, to this very home, which they purchased for its acoustics. The back of the ranch-style house transitions from a traditional living space into a recording studio, with a cavernous environment—formerly a nude painting studio—that creates plenty of natural reverb. Once Sweeping Promises signed to Sub Pop in 2021, they used their advance to buy the place. They looked at 10 houses in two days and even considered unconventional sites across the country, ranging from a church in rural Ohio to a gas station, before stumbling upon the property in Lawrence, just minutes from the University of Kansas campus.
Their investment has already paid off: In addition to making Good Living here, Schnug has recorded 40 bands, including Optic Sink, Soup Activists, and Wet Dip, in this studio within the last year. The duo has reached a moment of stability, after moving around and evolving through musical projects for more than a decade. They met in Conway, Arkansas, in 2008, where they were both studying at Hendrix College. Mondal, a vocal performance major, also played in a punk band. “A tall, blond, lanky kid appeared in the door during rehearsal,” recalls Mondal, “and the first words he utters are, ‘Are you in a band? Can I be in your band?’”
Mondal and Schnug bonded over artists like Television, Mazzy Star, and Beach House. “There weren’t many people with the selective affinities we had,” Schnug says. The two have been playing in bands together ever since: They made surf punk as Silkies, goth rock as Dee-Parts, and dream pop as Mini Dresses before establishing Sweeping Promises in October 2019 when they lived in Boston. “We had never received such a vigorous response before to our music,” Mondal says. “We played a ton in Boston, but the music scene there is balkanized.” Schnug clarifies: “We self-balkanized; we had like 10 bands.” Sweeping Promises was simply the one that took off.
After a stint in Austin, Mondal and Schnug relocated to the heartland mid-pandemic. In between tours, they’ve had the chance to finally settle into the college town and befriend its locals, two of whom include Rob and Ryan Pope of emo legends the Get Up Kids, who live just down the street. Mondal volunteers with the Lawrence All-Ages Noise Destination (LAAND), “the goal of which is to put on all-ages shows around town that are very site-specific, not your typical bar or venue,” she says. Mondal recently booked an on-campus show with the pop experimentalists Water From Your Eyes, though most of LAAND’s programming takes place, amazingly, in a one-room schoolhouse turned event space.
The couple feels fortunate to have found a community and carved out their own little corner in Lawrence, especially after witnessing intense gentrification in other cities. The most pointed song on Good Living, “Can’t Hide It,” chronicles the spread of uniform apartment buildings across the country, bland “luxury” living with retail space on the ground floor. “Five stories going up /Another big ol’ gray block,” Mondal sings. She wrote the song after reading a news story about how Middle East, the beloved Cambridge, Massachusetts venue, was being torn down to make a six-story hotel. “I just felt this immense heartbreak for this place we love that’s legendary,” she adds. “I sat down to write some words, and the song just poured out of me.”
Mondal’s writing sessions aren’t usually so spontaneous. There are many factors at play, she says: “the weather; if Mercury’s in retrograde; if I had anything to eat that day.” But when it comes to the group’s sound, it’s always an extemporaneous process. “You’re listening to improv whenever you hear us,” Schnug explains. “There are a lot of versions of songs, and we delete most of them.”
Despite how pop-informed the duo’s songs are, there’s a DIY sensibility that lends to their lived-in charm, like if Brian Wilson worked with the Raincoats. Even after signing to Sub Pop, Mondal and Schnug wanted to maintain their lo-fi style. They told the label upfront that they wanted to have full creative control over their work and simultaneously continue their partnership with Feel It Records, the small label that released Hunger for a Way Out. As a result, Good Living maintains the grungy milieu of Hunger while refining it. Mondal tried her hand at vocal harmonies, conjuring new-wave heroes like Blondie and the B-52’s. Schnug, meanwhile, applied some studio trickery he learned while recording and running sound for various Lawrence bands.
“I’ve been really into spatial projections,” he says, referring to a technique used by composer Alvin Lucier in “I Am Sitting in a Room.” As the piece unfolds over the course of roughly 45 minutes, Lucier’s narration takes on more harmonics and gradually grows unrecognizable as a human voice. Recording Good Living, Schnug became more enamored with the “character of a wall” and “extreme space.” Their studio’s natural environment is as central to the record’s sound as the tumbling drums and incendiary vocals. The title track’s stop-start rhythms accentuate the space between Mondal’s staccato bass plucks and Schnug’s quarter-note drum pattern, augmenting the uneasy omens of change hinted at in the lyrics.
Still, Schnug doesn’t identify as a “capital-E Engineer.” Schnug pursued a PhD at Harvard in Visual and Environmental Studies—academic speak for film and arts criticism—and he approaches recording like painting, adding layers and shades where he sees fit. “I’m not very gear-deterministic,” he adds.
Eventually, we leave their house and make our way to some of Mondal and Schnug’s favorite spots in downtown Lawrence. This includes a stationery shop with a purportedly haunted bathroom and a toy store with a human-sized Mario piñata in the front window. As they show me around town, it’s clear they’ve become bona fide locals. When we stop by Love Garden Sounds, a beloved record store on the city’s main drag, they chat with patrons and employees alike, all of whom they’ve evidently befriended since their move to the middle of the country. While I’m off browsing the crates at one end of the store, I spot Mondal at the cash register from afar, discussing the new shipment of Good Living vinyl that recently arrived. Her excitement, even from a distance, is palpable.
Later, at the Pope brothers-owned cocktail bar the Bourgeois Pig, the conversation turns to video games. More specifically, the cult-favorite farming life-sim Stardew Valley. Eric Barone, the game’s creator, is currently working on a game titled The Haunted Chocolatier, which the duo is eagerly awaiting the release of, though Schnug believes it’s “at least a few years out.” Mondal briefly worked at a chocolate shop while they lived in Boston, and in the initial throes of the pandemic she learned how to make homemade chocolates while immersing herself in Stardew Valley. “Maybe I manifested The Haunted Chocolatier,” she muses. Like Good Living Is Coming for You, it sounds like food surrealism at its zenith.