You can always guess what musicians started off as buskers. Still sporting the bravado of a street performer, the past difficulties of playing to and entertaining an entire city on a single block remains the fuel that drives them do more. Those who break through to other venues are forever indebted to the lessons they learned on the streets. Amanda Palmer discovered the benefits of the art of asking. Venice-based throwback act Leftover Cuties paid their way through a tour simply by busking in SF.

“The last time I was there, I busked on Haight and got a great reaction. It actually helped fund our entire trip,” frontwoman Shirli McAllen tells the Appeal.

“I love San Francisco. It’s just one of those places.”

The band has been hard at work finishing their second LP, Spark and the Fire. Though they’ve released countless EPs, including a Christmas album and a covers album, they’ve yet to properly follow-up on their breakout debut Places To Go.

Their sophomore album, due out July 23, takes the twee joy the band is accustomed to providing and muddles that emotion with what McAllen says are her most confessional lyrics yet.

“Something happened and there’s a definite difference with this album. There’s a lot of heartbreak: about relationships and that sense of longing. We all feel that way when we feel like we can’t take anymore. It’s about how much of a challenge it is to be a friend as it is to be alone. A lot more of the songs are personal like with ‘What’s The Matter’,” McAllen says.

“It takes you to this sentimental, lonely place. It’s about longing and wanting to have harmony.”

Leftover Cuties could easily be written off as a band embracing the past without moving forward if it weren’t for the conscious decision to put more of themselves into their songs, even when it comes to those aforementioned covers. A particular highlight of that effort is a comedown of a cover to close out the album, Coldplay’s “Trouble.”

The track, which closes out the aptly titled Departures, pits McAllen’s voice with a muted trumpet heading into the first verse, a self-deprecating lament propelled by meandering ukelele and swelling horns. The subdued minimalism makes the song all the more effective.

“It came about almost organically. It was something we could really make different and interesting. We were in Texas at the time doing soundbites and it just came to mind. I started singing it and thought, ‘That’s it! That’s the song,’” McAllen says.

“We put horns in instead of piano. I loved switching that. It was quite magical and I think it turned out well.”

Leftover Cuties kick off their North American tour in SF over two nights. You can catch them either Thursday at 7 PM at a free, all-ages show at Optical Underground (yes, the glasses store at 280 Sutter!) or at 9 PM Friday night at Hotel Utah (tickets are $10). At either show, you’ll be catching a fully realized band that’s sure to leave you smiling.

“Playing live is an experience. One of the biggest compliments we get is that we make people smile. We’ve always got grins on our faces and we have a really good time,” McAllen says.

“It’s kind of unreal though, playing with with your best friends. And when we’re all together, it just makes sense.”

the author

Always in motion. April Siese writes about music, takes photos at shows, and even helps put them on behind the scenes as a stagehand. She's written everything from hard news to beauty features, as well as fiction and poetry. She most definitely likes pie.

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