Tonight marks the end of Empty Space Orchestra’s four-Friday residency at Silver Moon Brewing & Taproom, and one of the cool things about the run has been the opening acts: four different bands, all very different, all good.
This evening’s opener is my favorite of the four. X-Ray Press is an experimental rock band out of Seattle with a brand new album called “UVB-76″ that takes me right back to working in college radio in the middle of the country during math-rock‘s heyday. “UVB-76″ is a complex chunk of punk/rock/jazz/etc., where time signatures switchback more than the road over Mackenzie Pass. It’s not easily digestible music, but it’s built to challenge ears and kick down genre walls.
All that said, these dudes also have a knack for building up twisty, turning tension, and then breaking it with a sliver of totally accessible melody. Like, check out the song below; the first 1:50 or so sounds like weird, robotic worms writhing in a bed of guitar strings and effects pedals, devouring each other in unorthodox time. Right around that point, though, X-Ray Press shifts into Grizzly Bear mode, singing a capella harmonies for a spell before one of the guys takes over with soaring lead vocals. Play or download it:
To find out a little more about this band, I sent ‘em a few questions, and they were nice enough to send back a few answers via e-mail. Here’s that interview, slightly edited:
Frequency: Who’s in the band, and what instruments do they play? How old are you guys?
The current line-up (and the one we’re touring with):
Paurl Walsh – guitar/vocals; Michael Pasuit – bass/vocals; Adam Kozie – drums; Mike Sparks – guitar/keyboards
We’re all about 30 years old.
F: Can you tell me how X-Ray Press came together?
Paurl Walsh: Our drummer Adam and I met in music school, had some classes together at Cornish College, and we kept running into each other at rock shows. We quickly realized we had similar tastes and decided to start playing together, and after a few years of playing in more casual projects we started X-Ray Press with Mike Pasuit and our other friend from school, Max Stein. Mike was a good friend of one of our roommates and when he started playing with us everything started to click.
Michael Pasuit: We’ve had a few line-up changes along the way but we’ve been lucky to have really talented friends. Kelly Wyse, who plays Rhodes keyboard on the album definitely helped shape the full length’s sound just as Max had with the initial EP. Joining us on tour is Mike Sparks, who is doing an amazing job on both keyboards and guitar. His main project is By Sunlight, a fantastic band from Seattle as well.
F: Lots of kids and young adults like pop music, rock, etc. Not as many are drawn to the kinds of bands that play the kind of music X-Ray Press plays. Did you guys share a common interest in certain bands or certain music that has influenced the band’s sound?
MP: We had a few bands we all were into, like Chavez or Jawbox, but I wouldn’t say any of them were a focal point as inspiration. More than anything else, I think it’s those music interests that we don’t have in common that contributes most to the sound of X-Ray Press. We really wanted to create a band that was as collaborative as possible in our songwriting. It makes the process a bit arduous at times, but the end result is very much a composite of all our voices coming through in the songs.
F: Often, it seems rock bands that use unconventional time signatures, rhythmic shifts, etc., often have at least some members with music theory studies in their background. Is that the case with X-Ray Press? If not, where do you think you guys get your predilection for (relatively) odd rhythms?
PW: Both Adam and myself went to music school, he studied jazz while I did classical.
MP: Kelly, the Rhodes player on the album is an incredible classical pianist when he’s not in rock bands. An amazing talent. I had grown up playing classical piano as well even though I play bass in the band. Having those backgrounds really helps out. We all feel comfortable with off time signatures and rhythmic patterns and we can at least speak the same language when we want to try something more complicated or a bit abstract.
F: Your Bandcamp site says “UVB-76″ features an abstract story about “alienation, confusion, mental instability, and ultimate purpose.” Can tell me a little bit more about the album’s message, what you guys are trying to say, and/or why you’re interested in those themes?
PW: I’m not sure the lyrics will help you that much! They’re generally pretty cryptic. Although “UVB-76″ could be looked at as a concept album, and is more or less intended to be such, its concepts and thematic content are pretty loose.
MP: The songs sort of lean on each other with similar ideas and themes rather than the whole album meaning something deliberate or concrete from a singular point of view. While Paurl and I were writing the lyrics, we were both going through tough times in our lives, and the tone of the album lyrically really fed from those strained experiences. In the end, the album basically ruminates on the confusion and frustrations that exist in life and at first not knowing what to do with them, and then through the course of the album, you finally arrive at the fact that whether or not you have figured anything out, you sort of have to be OK with it regardless.
PW: Also, the record is split into sections and subsections, each containing different thematic content, and the songs in each section are basically independent stories illustrating facets of each theme.
F: After coming to prominence in the 1990s, the national math-rock scene seems to have shrunk and faded over the past several years. Am I right, or have I just not been paying attention like I was back then? Are there a lot of bands out there that you guys think are (a) doing things in a similar vein as X-Ray Press, and (b) are awesome?
MP: Although we’re not averse it, it’s a bit misleading to categorize X-Ray Press only as math-rock. I like to think we straddle a few different genres. In Seattle, we tend to play with a range of bands from post-rock to straight indie-rock to more aggressive stuff. There’s a great family of bands that we run with like Panther Attack, Wah Wah Exit Wound, Snowman Plan just to name a few. It’s not so much the same exact genre as different takes along the broad spectrum of mathier stuff. But, yes they’re all awesome.
F: The beauty of “UVB-76,” I think, is its ability to straddle experimentalism and accessibility. Is that a major goal when it comes to songwriting / recording — to make sure to include things along the way that are a bit more accessible? Or does it just happen naturally? And do you guys ever find yourself leaning heavily in one direction — experimental or accessible — to the point where you actually have to pull back and say, “What can we do here to create some balance?”
MP: Like I was talking about earlier, the song compositions probably sound experimental because there were four headstrong songwriters in the same room. But there’s never a conscious decision to enter a room with anyone saying that we need to sound more aggressive or more experimental or more melodic. They would get booed out of the room in fact. We’re basically out there to make music that we find interesting and challenging, and sometimes that doesn’t include being totally accessible.
PW: That’s true, although I would add that there IS a conscious effort in our writing process to straddle that line between accessible and experimental. I actually feel like it’s one of our founding principals, so it usually happens naturally and under the radar.
F: Your live show: Is it wild and kinetic? Or do you guys keep a pretty low-key demeanor and let the music do the flailing?
MP: The live shows are always high energy. It’s tough to not feed off it while we’re up there.
PW: I usually give myself a bit of whiplash.
F: The brand new album is out and you’ll be pushing it for a while, I imagine, but what else is on the horizon for X-Ray Press? Any big, exciting developments you can tell me about? Anything you want the people of Bend to know?
MP: Believe it or not, Bend has played a huge part in the creation of “UVB-76.” When Kelly first joined the band, we knew the sound would naturally change, so we wanted take a week and really immerse ourselves in the new sounds and exploring new directions. We took a week in Bend to get out our comfort zone in Seattle and do a band “intensive” — playing every day for 8 to 10 hours. A lot of the songs on the album were born that week.
PW: We will also have an X-Ray Press remix and re-interpretation album coming out the first half of this year as a free download from our website. We’re getting some really cool artists to do their thing with our stuff and it’s turning out to be all over the map in a great way. Keep your eyes peeled!
X-Ray Press plays tonight, opening for Empty Space Orchestra at Silver Moon Brewing & Taproom (24 N.W. Greenwood Ave., Bend). 9 p.m. $5.
Tags: X-Ray Press