Explosions In The Sky: Welcome, Ghosts

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By: Dennis Cook


Explosions In The Sky
Flipping channels in the Summer evening heat, I stopped cold when I hit Late Night With Conan O’Brien and the red haired former Simpsons writer-producer announced the musical guests. Explosions In The Sky aren’t the kind of band you expect to come across on a hugely popular national talk show. The Austin, Texas-based instrumental rock quartet has been around since 1999 but has recently found their sumptuous, emotionally charged music coloring the edges of mainstream culture in places like Conan O’Brien and the Friday Night Lights theatrical film and television series, where their mix of gossamer swirl and oddly muscular exploration is center stage every episode.

“We think of things more emotionally than spiritually, even though there’s a lot of overlap between the two,” says drummer Christopher Hrasky. “It has to move us in some way. It has to be something that strikes a chord with all four of us. Most of the stuff we write gets thrown away, which is why it takes us four years to make an album [laughs]. It has to hit us on a gut level.”

Through four brilliant studio albums, soundtrack work and constant touring, Explosions have carved out a career that makes zero artistic compromises. Their sound is the same revelation Tortoise was a decade earlier. EITS is the evolutionary step between that Chicago institution and celebrated wordless contemporaries like Fridge and fellow Temporary Residence label mates Maserati. Built on Hrasky’s massively powerful yet deeply nuanced drums and the frictionless, compelling elasticity of bassist Michael James – two masters of smartly restrained playing – it is the ridiculously lyrical guitars of Mark Smith and Munaf Rayani that first draw you in. The pair reminds one of Bill Frisell, Tortoise’s Jeff Parker and Norway’s indefinable Terje Rypdal all rolled into one thick package. Together, the four men collectively compose miniature tone-movies with titles like “Six Days At The Bottom of the Ocean” and “What Do You Go Home To?”


Explosions In The Sky
“It’s very organic. No one comes in and tells the others what their part is. It’s very much back and forth. I don’t play guitar but it’s an open environment to suggest how they can play. There isn’t a lot of ego involved with the writing. All of us want to make the best music we can and we’re open to any ideas the others have,” offers Hrasky.

Their latest album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (released 2.20.07 on Temporary Residence), has a slightly different vibe than earlier releases, something less elusive with increased power chord oomph.

“There’s definitely some Pete Townsend windmill action happening,” Hrasky says. “We wanted this record to be a bit more ragged sounding as opposed, particularly, to the last record [2003’s jaw-droppingly beautiful The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place]. My mom listens to the last record a lot but I don’t know if she’ll listen to this new one as much! Also, recording-wise, it sounds much more like we do live. Nothing is too planned out when we write music. We wanted to make something a little more rock, a little less ornate. At the same time, I don’t think the record sounds like AC/DC [laughs]!”

 
We think of things more emotionally than spiritually, even though there’s a lot of overlap between the two. It has to be something that strikes a chord with all four of us. Most of the stuff we write gets thrown away, which is why it takes us four years to make an album.
-Christopher Hrasky
 
Photo from do512.com

EITS have their own aesthetic, and one can’t escape the feeling they’re entering someone else’s world when the notes wrap around you.


Christopher Hrasky
“Two big bands for us when we formed were Mogwai and the Dirty Three. For years it was constant Mogwai comparisons, and there’s no denying they were an influence, but I think it’s a lazy way to talk about something,” laments Hrasky on the challenges of playing instrumental music that strays outside established genres. “It just seemed the way to go. We just wanted to have a band that wasn’t some guy’s band where they play his songs. We operate with all four of us having an equal part. We all take it very seriously. No one hangs back and says, ‘Play whatever you want.'”

The evocative song titles expand on the meaning and mood of each piece, creating a set of ideas that play off each other. “The same goes for the artwork on our records,” Hrasky adds. “We get as nervous about finishing the artwork and song titles properly as we do about the music. It’s as important to us as the songs a lot of the time, which is strange in this day and age where less and less people are holding physical copies of albums.”

Friday Night Lights is about the small, rural, football-obsessed fictional town of Dillon, Texas. A lot of the storytelling is greatly underscored by EITS’ naturally cinematic work.


Explosions In The Sky
“It’s a football movie but it’s not exactly upbeat. It’s a movie about poor people basically. This thing they build their lives around comes crashing down when they’re 18,” observes Hrasky. “The other three guys in the band grew up in Midland-Odessa, Texas, which doesn’t have anything to do with how we ended up scoring the film. It was just a coincidence. We all knew the book it’s based on really well.”

“It is a strange thing to have these pieces of music suddenly making us money. We’re really happy about it but it’s still strange,” he says. “There is this weird guilt we feel for some reason. In the last three years, this has become what we do for a living, which is a pretty unlikely thing to happen. We feel really lucky but it’s something we’ve had to come to terms with.”

“It’s funny because we haven’t really been getting more soundtrack offers. It just hasn’t happened. I worry that it’s such a specific sound that maybe people only associate us with the football movie,” Hrasky continues. “I’ve found the TV show to be stronger than the movie. It’s more fleshed out. There’s a lot of stuff the book gets into like the economics of the town that the film couldn’t get into. Surprisingly, it’s a pretty interesting show where there’s actually not a lot of football. It’s good so it’ll probably get cancelled after one season [laughs]. NBC loves it and is pushing but it just can’t beat those Dancing With The Stars ratings.”

The network has signed the series to a second season but its fate remains far from certain. I suggest they perform at a high school dance on the show while they’ve still got the chance. “We could be the guys the jocks are beating up,” chimes Hrasky.

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