Saturday, April 30, 2011

Explosions in the Sky

This is my Explosions in the Sky cover story
Explosions in the Sky. Yes, their music is as earth-shattering as their name sounds. This Texas based instrumental rock band is here to blow your expectations out of this world. EITS is formed by guitarist Mark Smith, guitarist Munaf Rayani, guitarist/bassist Michael James, and drummer Chris Hrasky. Their trademark to fame is the Friday Night Lights film soundtrack, but with a new hard-hitting album out, these guys are proving there is more to offer. I had a chance to converse with drummer Chris Hrasky about the struggles of music writing, their new album leaking early, and the unique venues on their current tour.

How did you guys start playing together and what were your expectations at the start?

Chris: I moved to Austin from Illinois in January of ‘99 and met these three guys that are fans of similar music and movies. We had a very similar sense of humor and a way of looking at the world. It was immediately very striking that we had this very close connection so quickly. We started playing music really out of boredom. In terms of expectations, it was like maybe we’ll do a couple shows in Austin at some point. That was really it. We never really had some sort of ambitious plan or vision that 12 years later this would be our career and we’d be touring the world.

After over a decade together, what’s the most challenging part of keeping the band together? 

We’re very slow at writing music and most of the stuff we write we just end up throwing away because we don't like it. That’s the biggest challenge—keeping ourselves interested in what we’re doing and putting out stuff that we think is worth putting out. That’s always been a challenge for us to push ourselves to do something that all four of us feel strongly about. We’ve never just put a record out because it’s like “Oh, it’s about time we should have new record.” Unless it’s something we love, I think the four of us would just rather stop playing music together as opposed to us putting out something we’re not all proud of. 

EITS gets many genre labels from American instrumental to post rock to indie rock. How would you describe your sound?

Chris: One of the guys came up with a funny term called expeditionary rock. Where it’s like music going on this journey. The song is this little adventure with peaks, and valleys, and dynamics. I guess we consider ourselves a rock band. Only in the sense that it’s mostly the traditional rock setup; it’s four guys with guitars and drums. The music obviously doesn't sound like typical rock music, but that’s kind of what we all grew up on. We all grew up listening to punk bands and before that metal bands, so we kind of came from that high school rock band mentality. Why it turned into what it is now, I have no idea.  [laughs]

The new album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, came out April 26. How does it differ from past albums?

Chris: The songs were just written and recorded in a very different way. All of the other records were recorded live, basically the four of us in a room playing. This record is way more dense and layered and it’s not as much of just a live recording, it’s much more of a studio record. That was very different for us, we’ve never done anything like that before. And we’re working on ways to implicate that live because there are songs with three drum sets going at once, and eight different guitar track samples, and all this stuff. So we’ve kind of been messing around with how to pull it off live. To us it feels different, the music feels a little more mysterious and less melodramatic than what we’ve been known for. There’s maybe a little more subtly as opposed to the sort of in your face emotion that has dominated the first four records.

How do you guys feel about the album leaking early?

It sucks. You know bands hate that, it’s awful. It’s weird because we’ll check our Facebook page or email and there will be messages from people like “Hey man, downloaded your record last night. Great Job!” It’s very different for us because we’re older now (in our thirties) and our experience growing up listening to music is very different from what it is now. I think younger people now, that’s just how they listen to music. They get an illegal download, and it’s not really that it’s illegal that bothers us. It just seems that more and more it doesn’t even occur to people that the band is actually not cool with you just downloading their album. And not just because we’re not getting paid for it. The way we grew up listening to music was like “Oh man, the new Dinosaur Jr. record comes out on this day!” Then we go get it and all hang out at someone’s house and listen to it. And now it’s like that whole thing is ruined, it’s just like “Oh, it’s out already even though the record doesn’t come out for another month.” It ruins the anticipation and the specialness of it. It’s just a generational thing. Music is consumed so differently now.

I noticed vocals on the track “Trembling Hands.” Are you planning on experimenting more with vocals now?

Chris: I don’t know, maybe. I don’t foresee us ever having lyrics or anything like that. We just sort of look at our voices as just another instrument that we can use and if it works on a song then we’ll try it. It’s not like we gotta have vocals now because we’ve done it once so we have to do it again. We don’t feel that way. It’ll probably be a while before we start working on new music and it’ll either be more vocals or none at all. We’ll see.

Your last album All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone was released in 2007. Was it hard to get back into the process of writing an album? 

Chris: Yeah, definitely. I mean we toured for two years after that record and toured basically all of 2009. We just tried to write stuff in-between, but we went through a lot of times where we would just not come up with anything good. I mean months where we would try to write stuff and none of us liked it. It’s always kind of hard for us and it’s never been easy. Maybe the first couple of records were because we were a little less critical of ourselves and there weren’t any expectations either. It just takes us a while and times when you’re not able to come up with stuff, it’s discouraging. You start worrying like “Oh god, is this it? Are we done? We had a good run, we put out some good records, but let’s stop now.” But then usually something will happen where we’ll come up with a song that we love and then the dam kind of opens and things come pretty quickly. I expect the same thing will happen when we try to write another record, it’ll be really difficult at first and then hopefully some spark will happen. There is just no guarantee. You just try to think of stuff out of thin air and most of the time it’s not very good. You have to fight through that despair, and the nice thing about a band is that you don’t feel like you’re alone in the struggle. It’s not like we’re fighting in a war, we’re just playing music. It’s not really that big of a struggle, but it’s nice to have a team working together on it. 

What’s your favorite song off of Take Care, Take Care, Take Care?

Chris: I would say the first song “Last Known Surrounding” is my favorite song on the record just because everything worked out how we had hoped with that song. I think we all find that to be our favorite song. To me, the textures of it are really interesting. It sounds like us, but there are just certain parts where there’s like thirty different things going on at the same time. It’s not so much like there’s Mark’s guitar part or there’s Mike’s guitar part, it’s more of this wall of sound that we really wanted to get for that song and it worked really well.

What’s the best part about touring?

Chris: Just the shows, just playing shows is still exciting for us. It’s still a surprise, like “God, there’s a lot of people here, this is crazy. We can’t believe people are actually responding to us.” It’s exciting to get that feedback and to see that people are into and excited about the stuff we work on. It’s always very nice, and definitely not something we will ever take for granted.  

EITS has a show scheduled at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. How exciting or creepy is it to be playing at a cemetery?

Chris: It’s kind of creepy. When it was first proposed to us, we were kind of like, “What does that entail, like we’re not gonna be playing on people’s graves or something are we?!” Then we found out more about the cemetery and how they have shows. I think it’ll be pretty cool and interesting, we don’t really know what to expect of it. It’s certainly more interesting than just playing in the normal theater or club. We definitely like playing places that are a little strange, not just normal rock venues. It’s just a little bit more interesting and inspiring to play weird places like that.
EITS tour starts tomorrow with a show at Radio City Music Hall. How are you feeling about playing such a prestigious venue?

Chris: It’s a little overwhelming. I think we’re almost looking forward to it being over with. It’s kind of intimidating and very strange to be doing it. I mean we’re excited and it’ll hopefully be a beautiful night, but we definitely feel a little pressure. It’ll be a relief when it’s done. Although we’re completely honored to be doing it and it’s kind of a dream come true. Even though we’ve been doing this for so long, we still get fairly nervous at shows and particularly a show like this. I’m sure we’ll all be terrified.  

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