Explosions In The Sky Make A Big Bang

Instrumental rockers cause a rumble


In mid-August the Egyptian Theatre marquee advertised a concert coming in September. There was nothing unusual about that--the venue often uses the marquee to promote shows. What made this particular announcement a big deal was the name of the band and the date of the concert formed an unfortunate coincidence: Explosions in the Sky, Sept. 11. Photos of the marquee flew across the Internet, and it became the top story at media outlets as far away as New York.

Like many sensationalized stories, this one soon lost steam. While the saying goes that no publicity is bad publicity, Texas-based Explosions in the Sky didn't really need it. Since being founded in 1999, the band has spent a decade making a name for itself with its music.

The music of post-rock stalwarts Explosions in the Sky is definitely not meant for the casual listener. The songs rarely fit into the mandatory radio-ready length of four minutes or less and don't contain attention-getting repetitive hooks or memorable choruses. And they don't use any vocals.

While some of the band's songs have been known to easily clear the 10-minute mark, it would be a mistake to dismiss Explosions in the Sky as a jam band. To do so would mean missing out on some intricately crafted soundscapes that are miles deep. The band's most recent effort, 2011's Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence Ltd.) is no different in these respects, but as guitarist Mark Smith explains, the journey toward completing this album was a bit different than their previous recording experiences.

"It wasn't so much that we couldn't write music, period, it was just that we couldn't complete a song to save our lives," he says when talking about the trouble EITS had recording this album. "We were writing stuff--random melodies, weird demos, even completed sections of songs--but we just couldn't form them into a fully satisfying song, and it was pretty demoralizing."

While the early false starts were deflating, a two-month break from writing turned out to be just what the band needed.

"Once we completed the first song after that little break, the floodgates opened and we were able to get in a groove and finish the rest of the album," Smith says. "Once we finished the last song, it was hugely gratifying and relieving."

Take Care, which Spin Magazine notes is filled with "gorgeously towering moments [that] seem boundless," is a rollercoaster ride of skyscraping post-rock thrills and subdued moments that border on total sedation. With three guitarists, EITS marries distorted rock riffs with echoing ones, alternating between sounding like they are headed for heaven or dropping through the air, depending on the ebb and flow of a particular track, all while the drums pound like thunder throughout. The album is a mishmash of sounds and themes that come together in unexpected ways because it is loaded with so many twists and turns that you can never be sure what is coming next. Given what the album is meant to represent, however, this is fitting.

"I'd say it's a document of the last four years of our lives," Smith says. "It's about farewells and abandonment, and being a dad and having someone sick in your life, and getting married and about being friends for years and years. And many other things."

The inspiration that life provides for the music found on this album also extends to the song titles, or at least one of them.

"I think for this record, the hardest [title] to come up with was 'Be Comfortable, Creature,'" Smith says. "I remember after we wrote it, we listened to it for weeks, and then Chris [Haskey, the drummer] said something about how it reminded him of the feeling you get when you have to decide whether to put your dog to sleep if they have health problems. And then that title came."

Music has such a profound power in and of itself, in Smith's view, but when paired with the minds of people who are interested in speaking to others without actually speaking, it can turn into something even more meaningful and emotionally significant. 

"I think maybe I talk about the brain too much, but it's just the most amazing thing," he says. "Just so many things go through your head in four years, or even a year, or even a day, or even a minute. And we just try to translate that to music in the most direct way we know how. And as for emotion, we just rely on the natural ability of music. Certain tones, certain chords, the use of dynamics, the use of space, all of it, for whatever beautiful reason, can elicit emotions." 

The band's pursuit of musical excellence, according to Smith, is never ending and they are often influenced by some of life's weightier experiences.

"Music has always been my favorite art," he says. "I find it the most immediate, visceral and directly relatable to how I feel about the world. Most of that is on some level where I can't really explain why it does that, some primordial series of chemical reactions in the brain. But I don't question it, I just love it."

Despite how seriously they take their craft, EITS are not without their lighter moments, especially when searching for song titles.

"We're always on the lookout for song or album titles. Sometimes it kind of interferes with my reading, though, to be honest," he jokes. "I'll be reading a book and find myself continually stopping in the middle of a sentence and wondering if a certain phrase would make a good song title." 

Despite all the bloated beginnings, the breaks and the uncertainties surrounding the material and where it was ultimately headed, they completed the album and heaved a collective sigh of relief. Then they did something a little embarrassing.

"I believe we celebrated with a dinner at Red Lobster. I wish I was joking," Smith says with a bit of a laugh.

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