One of the best songs on ad hoc (self-released, 2018), the new album by local experimental pop project Spiritual Warfare and the Greasy Shadows, is "Shook Loose." It's a catchy, up-tempo ditty about the randomness and absurdity of existence.
"Wasting time, turn on a dime. / Where did we come from on your mind," sings project creator Joel Marquard. Later in the song, he slips in this sardonic couplet about human evolution: "Out of the water, we crawl / To our food court job at the mall."
That might not seem like a cheery sentiment, but Marquard's rippling guitar hook, Bo Diddley-esque beat and ghostly background vocals make the song sound ecstatic rather than despairing. The Arizona transplant pulls off a similar trick on the bubbly "Angel of Death Donut Shop," the swooning "Volcano Girls" and the 11-minute epic "Death Was an Olympic Speedskater." Odd yet beguiling songs like these make ad hoc, which came out on May 12, one of the most fascinating local releases of recent years.
True to its title, ad hoc's idiosyncratic sound arose partially from resources Marquard had at hand.
"In Pro Tools [a music software program], I found this disc in the box that said 'Loops,'" he said. "So I put it in my computer one day, and it just has all these professionally recorded [tracks]. ... They had all these Indian percussion loops—I mean, like, East India."
The sinuous rhythms that Marquard created from those loops help distinguish ad hoc from his earlier work, which includes albums with the emo band Dear and the Headlights, the indie-rock group Gospel Claws and the ersatz gospel project The Through & Through Gospel Review. The new LP doesn't quite sound like Spiritual Warfare's previous material either.
"The first album, Double Voices (Moone Records, 2015), is more Bollywood-influenced," Marquard observed. "This one is a little bit more exotica-influenced. ... It's kind of like lounge but also Latin, African, jungle stuff. Some of it gets really weird."
The eclecticism of Marquard's music is surprising, considering his upbringing.
"I grew up Christian," he said. "My dad was a pastor—like, a music pastor. I eventually lost my faith in my early 20s. ... My mom was 40 when she had me, so they were very old-school. They didn't even listen to The Beatles or anything 60s or any pop-rock or anything. My dad did traditional hymns and choir stuff, so I grew up just hearing choral music a lot, which is pretty cool."
It's tempting to regard Marquard's diverse oeuvre—not to mention the names of his various bands—as a rebellion against his childhood. He resists that interpretation, though.
"It might be that I just get bored and am always looking for weird or interesting music to listen to," he said. "I'm always trying to learn from different styles and productions. I sometimes wonder if I was a teenager in the 1950s in a past life because of my love for oldies and doo-wop and early 60s music. Because I certainly didn't hear that growing up, even though that would have been my parents' music."
Marquard discovered rock and roll in his teens.
The Pumpkins' blockbuster double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Virgin Records, 1995) made a particularly strong impression on him.
"It's funny, I kind of learned variety from that album—the importance of variety," Marquard said. "Just the range on that album is pretty amazing."
Religious music influenced Spiritual Warfare's sound too. ad hoc's multi-track vocals, for example, recall the choral music that Marquard heard growing up.
"I love that stuff," he said. "Any chance I get, I try to apply [it]. It's kind of an underutilized thing, group singing. I also came across some gospel music, but white 'hill people'-type shit. I'm not explaining it very well, but when you're listening to that, there's always this lady singing extremely high. And it just fills up the whole [space]. ... I started using my pitch shifter, and I've been doing some chipmunk choir stuff."
Meanwhile, African American gospel recordings influenced ad hoc's guitar sound.
"The guitars are so out of tune, but you can feel their energy," Marquard said. "I don't know, there's something cool—it just affirms that there's a human behind that, you know what I mean?"
Beyond the occasional Oregon or Washington gig, Marquard doesn't plan to tour. There should be plenty more Spiritual Warfare music, though.
As Marquard sings on "Shook Loose," "there's a lot more beating at the end of the drum."