Atlanta's Noisedotcom are starting to gain a little momentum. The stir created by their specially released Live And Raw EP has people in the progressive rock community murmuring quietly about an upcoming full-length disc. Sea Of Tranquility staff writer Yves Dubé had a chance to chat with guitarist Sean Tonar, bass player John Christopher, keyboardist Mark Fillingim and drummer Mike Geeslin about the band's immediate future.
(Click here to see our review of Live and Raw)
SOT: The 5-track demo sent to Sea Of Tranquility is obviously a self-produced disc. Will this recording ever see the light of day as a CD, or is there a full-length disc in the works as we speak?
Sean Tonar: That particular demo is a "live in the studio" situation and I see us putting it on our website in the future for possible download. It was sort of a quickie, for promo purposes. Now that there's some interest in it we plan to make something available, though our biggest priority at the moment is recording these songs in the studio for our full-length album. Still, our website is expanding greatly and we are offering many new things over the next few months there, some of these live tracks will most likely surface there. Let me add that this demo is different than the one we have samples of on our site at the moment. This live stuff is very recent and the whole band is on it. The one on the site right now is an old one with just Mike and myself playing on it. It shows our studio side rather than live side. I expect our full album will have both live and studio elements to it.
SOT: Is there studio time booked in the immediate future, and have you been approached by any labels based on either your live performances or the material available on your site?
ST: Not booked, no- scheduled, yes. We have a better option than going into the studio and paying for time. Our singer has a studio in the house. This works out great because the whole process is a rather long and sometimes tedious one, though very enjoyable every step of the way, and this will give us all the time in the world to record. We plan to track the basic foundation of the tracks live and then overdub some to fatten the whole thing up a bit. Not so much that it is impossible to recreate live though. Just a little extra seasoning here and there; a few ambient " what the heck is that?" things as well in the background.
Mike Geeslin: Yeah, it's nice to have the liberties that purchasing studio time wouldn't allow. Sometimes a song may change itself while we're recording it- a new passage, extra section or something.
ST: We have lots of cool stuff in mind. As for label interest, there hasn't been any as of yet. Hopefully this album will get someone's attention though!
SOT: Let's speak about the music itself. In an age where many bands seem to be bending over backwards to recreate a nostalgic sound of a bygone era, your band really seems to be reaching for something new. Is this something that's constantly in the back of your mind when writing; to be fresh?
ST: Thanks. I can't say freshness is on our minds, except when we go digging in the fridge for a snack (laughs). Not fresh in the context of history of music, we never think in reference to other people's music when writing. The concern is more: is it fresh to us? We like to play a variety of music, when we write it's more about: " What mood do we want to create here ? What kind of kind of stuff would we enjoy playing and feel honest about? What stuff gets us off when we play it? "
John Christopher: I like finding musical answers to the latter two questions. I'll try to find a bass line that, while I'm playing it, let's me tell myself:" Yeah, you're having fun now". 'You're being who you are, not who someone else thinks you should be. The guys in the band trust me to restrain myself when necessary, and let's be honest, that's most of the time; and to not chop into others' sonic spaces when playing more aggressively. They trust me to be me. Noisedotcom, to the best of my knowledge, was not formed with the intent of 'making it big' in the music industry, but with the intent of making music that its members enjoy and that other folks might enjoy as well.
ST: A great deal of our music is inspired by harmonic ideas too. We like to exploit the different flavors that harmony offers; therefore a lot of our pieces will dwell in one particular mode or another, just for the sound. The music feels very "of the moment" to us.
SOT: Yes, fresh food is an integral part of any creative process, although the hallucinogenic qualities of a bad burrito have yet to be fully exploited by musicians (laughs). I guess where I was going with my inquiry was to address your apparent lack of obvious influences. The music seems a hybrid of fusion and art rock elements, yet one cannot call you a blatant rip-off of any style or band. Can you outline some of the band's influences?
ST: Influences? Hmm… Let's see. Well, each member has his own distinct influences and inspirations, so it's a mixed bag. Maybe that is the key to our sound, a wild hybrid of so many things that it comes out sounding like us. We have a lot of common ground musically, but there are some differences as well. Speaking for myself, I have been inspired by so many different things musically. For starters, I have to give props to my family. My grandfather and his dad before him were both bandmasters back in the '40's and also the '20's. They both played the music of the day. Great-grandfather was a military man and played trumpet in a military band. Supposedly, he was a protégé of John Philip Sousa, the fellow that wrote many of the tunes played on the 4th of July. My grandfather had a dance band in the late '30's and '40's and played the kind of stuff Glenn Miller and his ilk did. My dad wasn't a pro musician, but he was a big lover of jazz and great music in general. So I have to mention my family and their musical tastes as my first influences. I got into jazz because I wanted to play something he would dig, so that is where that side of our sound comes from, I suppose. Later on I became inspired by many different people's music and playing. As a teen I was into British metal and then got into bands that came after that; some of the heavy ones like Slayer and Megadeth. All along though I also loved artsy bands like Yes, Kansas, and Rush. Then, around 1990, I stopped listening to most all of that and got into other things like world music, space, and even ambient music. I also started really getting into jazz harmony. Maybe five years ago I stopped shunning the influences of my youth and realized it was all good and all part of what I liked musically. Some of the music I started writing then became Noisedotcom music. It is a blend of all of the above, though seldom all in one tune. That would be a bit much! Over the course of a CD or show though I think we touch on all of the stuff I mentioned though. That said, I am more inspired by how music works and the different flavors it affords you, than I am by one band or person.
MG: My influences are pretty eclectic as well. I've always been into fusion and progressive rock, but I prefer the drummers who groove ( Bruford, Bozzio, Trilok) over the more mechanical drum parts that are just chops.
Mark Fillingim: I think that each member of the band brings their own musical background with them. We all like to listen to vastly different things when we are on our own. Speaking for myself, those things tend to find a place in what I play. I love piano music in almost any form and I think it comes through in some of our tunes. From what I know of the rest of the band members, they are like me- they like a bit of every style of music. I think that one of the strengths of this band is the ability to draw from a huge variety of styles and flavors to make things work within a single song.
SOT: (addressing Sean Tonar) Would it be safe to assume that you're the main songwriter at this point so it's mainly your influences which are coming through in the band's sound ? Which other members bring a sound to the band that is far removed from any of your influences, and where can they be heard on the EP?
ST: Damn, that's a toughie. It would be a fair assumption for the most part. I wrote most of the music up to this point though "Heddalettuce" was collaboration with Mark, our keyboard player. But it became something so much more once the guys in the band started playing it. It became better in so many ways. Their take on it and the way they bring their personalities to it is why it works as far as I'm concerned. Just compare a version of "Daja" at our site, with just Mike and me on it, to the one on the live EP. One is very pretty, majestic, rather polite as it is saying, "please listen to me". The one on the live version says "here I am, ready to engulf you and take you on this wild ride whether you want to go or not!" Also, a lot of this music was written with the guys in the band in mind. I was writing music that I thought they would like, and that carved part of our direction. Mike was there pretty much every step of the way as I wrote the bulk of the music, so I consider it collaboration from the get go.
JC: Sean is correct. The bass lines I play in Noise's music are lines that he wrote out. I took nearly all my cues from the demo CD that Sean and Mike produced. Any embellishments I've added are first and foremost meant to emphasize drum patterns. Mike is such a solidly grounded and consistent drummer. I've become a better player by working with him. I've become more of a 'whole-drum-kit ' bassist rather than a kick-drum-only bassist. I think the major difference between the bass lines Sean recorded on the demo CD and the bass lines I play now are in tone. On louder, more aggressive songs, I like to dig into the strings harder and get more distorted, grinding tone. I like using effects units, and enjoy dialing up a tone that seems to compliment the song. Case in point: One of our newest songs has a swing beat to it, and it says to me: " You outta be wearing a zoot suit and playing an acoustic upright here". The next best thing is a fretless bass sound from a stompbox.
MG: Being melodically challenged, my contribution to any given piece is obviously rhythmic. Several times I've started playing off-meter in a section, and over time the guys fall in with me, so the melody follows.
ST: Mark has some ragtime influences that crop up in the things he plays and thinks of things I would never have thought of. His playing reminds me of a mixture of Scott Joplin, Elton John, and Freddie Mercury's piano styles. John also plays a number of things on the bass that remind me of inventive and incredibly solid bassists like Dave Hope of Kansas or John Wetton. John has written a lot of the lines he plays and added a lot to ones which are are synched with my guitar as well. Wade is our newest member and brings an extra guitar texture to the proceedings, which is really nice live, and he sings! We have 6 or so vocal tunes that break up the monotony of just being purely instrumental. And Mike, he just adds this solid bottom end to everything and the sounds he chooses drumwise are integral to the band. He uses some electronic percussion and the fatness it affords us really has a lot to do with our sound.
SOT: You speak of an added vocalist, has he played live with you guys yet? Are vocals something you feel were missing from your overall sound?
ST: Some of this music was written in a sparse way with the thoughts of some melody being added over it later, vocal or otherwise. As it turned out, with Wade, we can add melodies both vocally and otherwise. With him on guitar as well the other guitar can be freed up to be more melodic too. We may have a guest or two on the CD too; maybe some violin or woodwinds doing some prominent melodies. And yes, Wade has with us live the past 4 or 5 gigs and is gelling nicely.
SOT: Sounds like you've got all the bases covered. Are you concentrating solely on producing the disc right now or are you still playing live every chance you get? Are you planning on ' taking it on the road' outside the Atlanta region, or would you rather wait to have a bona fide CD out first?
ST: The band is taking a short break from playing live at the moment while we work on the album. We don't have any gigs booked until late summer though if something special came up before then we would probably do it. Of course, we would love to play some places outside Atlanta sometime soon and most likely will. Honestly, we would like to have a CD available when we start playing out again too. We are rethinking the way we market this band in the future as well. I think we can reach a much wider audience than we have so far.
MF: I would like to see us develop composition-wise into the kind of band that could put out a song-in any musical style- that was instantly recognizable as a Noisedotcom tune. To me, that is the trademark of a good band: a group that can go without abandon in many musical directions yet still have every song instantly identifiable as one of their own.
MG: Playing out in the past 5 months or so has been very good for improving the shows. We video each show and then I go over each tape relentlessly, finding what drum parts work, when and how, or what I need to do differently. Sean and I never cared to be pigeonholed as 'prog' or 'art rock' or whatever. We feel that we have something commercially viable, hopefully we're not too far from reality in that opinion.