Sigcell returns with ‘Pile of Ghosts’

Richard Thomas 

One the finest albums to come out of the first decade of the millenium, in my humble opinion, is one you’ve probably never heard of, “The Poet” from 2005 by the Twin Cities band Sigcell. It’s a sonically dense work of, I don’t know, post-grunge? Alt rock? Prog rock? The guitars sound like a swarm of angry hornets, there are scattered, startling electronic effects and sometimes it’s just lead vocalist Peter Wannemacher with a keyboard and his spooky voice. It ranges from mournful to angry to joyful, but is always majestic. The songs have titles like “The Purpose and the Mystery” and “World That You Found” and the loftiness is well earned. It’s so otherworldly that sometimes I’ve wondered if Wannemacher isn’t a bonafide man who fell to earth.

But the album was just a drop in the ocean of great indie albums and received little notice. It got lost in my cd collection for years, then during Duluth’s big storm of 2012, I happened to pull it out and dust it off. I drove around with it on constant replay, the soundtrack for the apocalyptic scenery. I wore out that copy and replaced it with both digital and another cd. Now I can’t go for more than a few months without listening to it again. And again and again before I force myself to put it away.

Fourteen years after this album, Sigcell has resurfaced with “Pile of Ghosts,” an LP with a mere four songs. The title reflects the music, which is in many ways the exact opposite of “The Poet.” While the first album was ethereal, this one is very much down to earth. It’s minimalist, acoustic, slow-dance country western music. And it doesn’t rock. But it’s no less haunting.

The band now includes original founding members Wannemacher (vocals/guitar) and Andrew Munsch (guitar). Relatively new members are Sam Keenan (bass) and Ben Stein (drums). On the LP Wannemacher is joined by singer Sarah McCaffrey Ritchie. Wannemacher answered a few questions for the Reader:

Is there a full length album forthcoming?

I wish! This EP was going to be seven or eight songs but as we got into it there were four really strong songs and three or four that just weren’t coming together quite right. We will probably finish off the stragglers in time but there’s no rush. We’re excited to move on with some new material. 

Didn't you start to release this EP, then pulled it? What was that about?

Heh, heh. Yeah. Money was an issue. While we had the means to record it ourselves, we had no intention of mixing and mastering it ourselves. We launched a Kickstarter with no real idea of how to do it well and it fell pretty flat. That delayed things a while. But then I found some money under my bed and we set off to finish it. 

Why the drastic change in style from “The Poet?”

There’s no real reason other than I wanted to write something different. I tend to start the seeds of the songs just strumming a guitar. This time I started on acoustic and it stuck. It was just where we were at. I don’t know that we have any intentional style so the shift didn’t really matter. It’s really interesting to play live now since our set list is a bit bipolar. We play the songs from The Poet in a more ‘90s alternative style and then start in on some Americana or alt-country or whatever “Pile of Ghosts” is. 

What does "Sigcell" mean anyway?

The true origin story is that I have a good friend with the last name of Sigurdson. My nickname for him was Sigs. I was writing down his cell phone number one day and wrote Sig’s Cell and thought, “Ha … band name.” If I want to mess with people I’ll tell them it relates to the book “Signature in the Cell,” which discusses the concept of intelligent design embedded in our DNA. Or I’ll tell them we’re named after an electronics store in Brazil.

Who's the female vocalist?

Sarah McCaffrey Ritchie is a good friend that I first met as my then two-year old son’s music teacher. She’s an amazing early childhood music teacher as well as a piano and flute teacher. She has roots in alt-country/Americana from her time in the New York band, Waiting for Jerry.

Big question: Where the hell y'all been since 2005??

The simple answer is, life. I’ve had a lot of life since 2005. House, marriage, kids, career changes. Because we all know writing and playing music is an addiction, not a job. With Sigcell having several band members coming, going and returning over the years, we would pop up, play a few shows and then disappear for a while. We’re going to stick around now, though. Says the one constant member who just had 14 years between album releases.

Photo by Ellie Wannemacher
Photo by Ellie Wannemacher