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Best of What's Next: AgesandAges

May 27, 2011  |  9:56am
Best of What's Next: AgesandAges

Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Members: Tim Perry (Guitar/Vocals), Daniel Hunt (Drums/Percussion/Vocals), Rob Oberdorfer (Bass/Percussion/Vocals, Kate O’Brien-Clarke (Strings/Piano/Vocals), Graham Mackenzie (Percussion/Vocals), John McDonald (Guitar/Vocals), Lisa Stringfield (Percussion/Vocals)
Album: Alright You Restless
For Fans Of: Akron/Family, Arcade Fire, Polyphonic Spree

Talking to AgesandAges frontman Tim Perry, it’s clear that he’s as earnest as his music (he’s also both kind and unexpectedly intense). In the course of our conversation, he mentions “hearts on sleeves” several times, which might lead you to expect something heavily optimistic and maybe a bit twee. But while the group does sound hopeful, a little bit of digging reveals something much more demanding than campfire happiness in debut album Alright You Restless.

With engaging choruses and energetic appeals, the music quickly presents a joyful front. The essential element to the work, though, is an understanding that this sort of excited fervor comes from a knowledge of tribulation. “We recognize the inherent underlying doom in all this,” Perry says. “These songs are self-affirming. They’re like propaganda music. Anytime you have someone insisting over and over that things are great, you wonder if that’s the case.”

Perry’s songwriting shows an awareness of these challenges, so the optimism isn’t so much tempered by reality as it is necessitated by it. Perry describes the central feeling of the record, saying, “It’s almost the feeling you get when you go back to a time when you’ve had a horrible relationship that resulted in a break up. You feel like all you’ve got is a little raisin of dignity left, but it’s still at that point where you’ve made the right decision. It might just be a raisin that you have, but it’s you, it’s yours. It’s empowering. It’s the energy you have: I’m getting further and further away from this bullshit on a daily basis and I can’t wait to get bigger, to come into my own again and embrace this new perspective. Even with that outburst—with that fists in the air energy you have—you’re still just in pain. It comes from a dark painful experience that brought you to this place.”

The album opens with a track called “No Nostalgia”, and that title pretty much pins down Perry’s relationship to the past and to memory. His method of moving forward involves a clean break from history.

“Freedom can’t really exist with anger and with bitterness. The songs are sung from different perspectives, some from different individuals with different experiences all of which lead them to the same place. They address the need to, when you take that step and drop your apron and say, ‘Fuck this job—I quit,’ and walk out that door, it’s gonna happen with no pining, no regretting, no wondering what might have been or wishing that things back there could have been different. In order to do this, you have to just leave it. Stop arguing with the ceiling at night when you’re laying on your back in bed.”

“No Nostalgia” yearns for “No nostalgia, no point of reference / No, nothing wrong and no looking back”. The song speaks about a way to live, but it could just as easily refer to the songwriting on Alright You Restless. One of the trends in music that Perry wanted to escape with this band was the focus on musical referents, and the need to be properly original. He says, “There’s a big pressure to be original and to be aware of what’s going on musically and what’s gone on, and that creates this hypersensitivity toward ‘You can’t go in this direction because so-and-so did this and you can’t do this because so-and-so thinks that’s cool.’ There’s this happy little medium where it’s okay to reference this because it happened it some bygone era that hasn’t been referenced yet. It’s confusing and it’s stupid. The way that we’ve gone about trying to be original, is less trying to be concerned about that and more about that aspect of originality that relies wholly on being totally sincere and heart on the sleeve.”

That doesn’t mean the band doesn’t have influences. Hard as it might be to hear the late ‘60s and early ‘70s soul Perry said he had been listening to, it’s much easier to hear the choral influences. But trying to ignore what is or isn’t influencing your work coupled with the erasure of biographical past, it seems like it would be easy to become unmoored. It’s a challenge, but when Perry speaks about it, he focuses on the possible liberation.

“One is often grounded by their past and the values that were instilled in them, but at the same time, leaving those behind and allowing yourself to start completely with a clean slate is also very important,” he explains. “Personally, I think that if anything’s a reason for wanting to leave a place, it would probably be the values that were instilled in you as a kid are values that are not celebrated and lived up to by society. It’s kind of a sham. That’s a great source of frustration. The things that are truly important in life are disregarded, and people shit on people and the world’s in a mess.”

If the world’s in a mess (and this sort of issue applies to politics as directly as culture and personal relationships), withdrawal is an easy option. “No Nostalgia” ambivalently praises “living in a fortress”, and you can see the roots of circumscribed community in the way the band works. At the same time, the music sounds like an invitation, and a tension exists between isolation and unity.

Perry sees the split, and it’s not unintentional. AgesandAges are trying to establish something honest, living and performing as sincerely as possible, but they’re not evangelizing their worldview. They’re finding their own space, and inviting like-minded people to participate. “You go over there and you do your thing and we’ll go over here and we’ll do our thing,” Perry says. “We don’t want to argue any more. We don’t want to fight. We don’t want to live contrary to what our destiny is. We know now where we belong, and that’s where we’re going to be.”

Understanding that attitude makes Perry’s mixture of warmth and fierceness more comprehensible. There’s no room for apathy in this view. That attitude comes out in AgesandAges’ music. The fist-pumping moments stay lit with hopefulness, and the awareness of those dark places only make the outlook that much more powerful. When Perry sings in the title track that “So many wither away, but that won’t happen to us,” he has a confidence you can trust. And fortunately he has a melody that makes the trusting fun.

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