Words by Sean Moeller , Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Two things are paramount to giving Austin, Texas, band Sound Team the appropriate textural arcing and just the right amount of background to make all of the guesswork that follows stick. They have a why. They just have to get to a how to fill in the parenthetical, the breadth of sumptuous white noise or terrible cotton silence that exists in the place before a song gets its wings. They are gear heads, merciless pack rats and obsessives about long-discontinued models of everything aural. As engine oil can be found under the fingernails of every grease monkey (the automotive equivalent of the gear junky) day or night, in a more linear world with strict associations, all five members of the band would have analog tape, like oil, crescent mooning the tops of their 10 nails. They abide by their circuitry, which tells them to follow their ears, like bears follow their noses to honey pots and combs and earthworms gravitate to the slamming of raindrops overhead, forcing them uncontrollably out through the top crust of soil and into the storm.
The correct piece to a song, the right dimension of that song, the crisp, the cool, the darkened function of each substantial ribbon of sound has to be discovered through unrelenting task mastering. They can't help themselves. It's more than an addiction because it can't be burnt out of them. It can't be cold-turkeyed away. They can't be rehabilitated. They believe in the sum of the obsession that keeps them logging hours tinkering with knobs, knowing from past experiences that you can squeeze diamonds from bricks of coal if you're patient enough. They believe in cassette tapes and bassist Bill Baird says that he thinks technology peaked in 1975. They are hopelessly romantic for the studious reclamation of out-dated processes and work tools because damn it, you heard what they once produced. That's what's still desired. Records aren't supposed to be made the way they used to be, but they do it anyway. In more ways than one, the path that Sound Team takes with its creations is about discovery that is so engrossing, it just might get insufferable.
The band's debut full-length, Movie Monster, is the work of hungry men. It's a direct result of preoccupation, meritorious fly-fishing into darkened caverns for the right pieces to the puzzle and re-casting if unsatisfied with what's biting. Practices must be marathons with a trove of responses to unending "What ifs?" having drifted in and out of memory. If the walls of Big Orange, the band's haven-like compound shared with a herd of real horses, could talk, they probably wouldn't get a word in edgewise. The album, released in the early summer on Capitol records is full of sweeping songs of grandiloquent emotions and tornadic roundhouses that bulge at the chorus, popping buttons and leveling you flat. It paints a life that more often than not is being lived on the outskirts, pushed into a dreary mood that is all the more ripe in the laterday.
There is a lack of levity and lightness on the album. Instead, lead singer and lyric writer Matt Oliver favors the pessimist, no, realist's viewpoint, where there just isn't much glee to be seen. There's a sense that this isn't what's wanted, but what's a guy to do? Oliver sings on the title track, "The devil's always boring me/About the angel that he used to be," and the line kind of universally acknowledges that things have changed. Baird calls it a "wariness of the world at-large" and it ties in well with the way John Updike follows the title page for his classic Rabbit, Run, a peach-colored paperback I picked up from a used store last week and couldn't help but connect when I listened to this album repeatedly this week. Updike quotes Pascal for his benediction, using, "The motions of grace, the hardness of the heart; external circumstances," before he began his chapter one about the life of Rabbit Angstrom. The hardness of the heart is more of a hardening of the heart in the protagonists on this album, but the cause is recognizably external. It couldn't really be more applicable. Nor could the line about the motions of grace or eddys of grace and lightning coming from this band, however, those are being produced internally. They're blistering and unmistakable.
*The Daytrotter Interview:*
*What can you tell me about Big Orange that's never been told before? What are some of the prized pieces of equipment and where did you find them?*
Bill Baird: We share the space with a horse shed. A junky overdosed in the yard during last Christmas holidays. Prized pieces of equip: coffee maker, soundimension tape delay, echoplex tape delay, upright piano, boat with a hole in it, rose bushes (not a piece of equip but no less important to the music-making process).
Matt Oliver: Prized pieces of equipment: clock with no hands; guitar with nail through it, nailed to wall; four sepia-toned prints of industrial smokestacks, 16" x 16" each, framed (brown wood); several rail-road ties, partially decayed, now forming garden barrier outside; Otari tape machine. All found at Big Orange, except tape machine: eBay.
*When I listen to your albums, I hear a congregation of five heads and five different people. How does this possibly work out? What are these songs collages of?*
BB: Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. I can't answer "how" because it isn't that predictable. A lot of our music is made when I compose something as an ambient-type piece, then bring Jordan in and add the drum flavor, then Matt comes in and the amorphous blob is shaped into something more closely resembling a "song." Then the vocals. The songs are collages of 60's pop, heavy metal drumming, dub reggae tape manipulation, heaps of lyrics and vocal stylings - double-tracked, all filtered through a healthy dose of both optimism and wariness of the world at large.
*You've toured with our buddies Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. Are they too nice for rock and roll?*
BB: No such thing. Rock and roll isn't nice enough for them.
*This is a loaded question, but what do you hope to leave behind? You're indebted to music, it's pretty plain to see so what will be your addition to its history?*
BB: I hope to leave behind clean white bones, a few trees I've planted, maybe a few kids. Clean dental records. My addition to music history: a steaming mess of creativity that others can sort through or disregard as is their fancy.
MO: Several albums of music.
*Who's the fastest man in the band? Please give examples.*
BB: Michael Baird. He's won numerous foot races against other band members. Matt drinks his coffee the fastest. Gabe eats the fastest. Sam reads the fastest. Bill sits around the fastest. Jordan slaps the fastest.
MO: One night Gabe and I were walking home and Gabe decided to prove his superiority in track & field by doing hurdles over sidewalk construction barriers. He fell on the pavement several times. He was pretty drunk.
*Did you feel like you got stabbed in the back or cut off at the knees by Pitchfork when they brutally slammed Movie Monster -- saying "Movie Monster's adenoidal overemoting and Wall-of-the-Edge guitars can't hide a shortage of, like, actual decent songs?" Is there still some animosity there?*
BB: Why would we be stabbed in the back? That would imply that they were, at one point, our allies. No, they paid no mind to our band for several years, right up until the full-length album. And that wasn't much of a review, really; more a reminder of "who's boss" of internet music opinion. Such baseless trashing has political motivations, I think. Anything rock-oriented that whiffs of commercialism...P-Fork will hate. It seems to me. I suppose our album's glossy mix might be what incurred their wrath? It's really not a concern of mine. Critics don't owe us anything, and we don't owe them anything either. There's no animosity, though. That kind of stuff is a waste of time.
MO: Never read the review but I know it was bad. Oh well.
*Whose idea was it to make the video you made?*
BB: Mine. The video was honestly made without any bitterness at all. I was making a joke about the whole thing. Some people interpreted the video as "taking the review too seriously" but, hell, I had to deal with it somehow. Making that video made me laugh about the whole thing. Laughter has a way of cutting things down to their proper size.
MO: Teddy Roosevelt probably had something to do with it. Bill made the video though.
*You were videotaping the entire tour that you were on when you stopped in. What are you planning on doing with the footage? What's the best moment that was captured?*
BB: Elizabeth, Sam's girlfriend, is making some sort of documentary about our group. The best moment captured was setting up our 6-by-6 grid of televisions on top of
a large hill in rural west Texas -- this is one of our band press photos.
*What makes you most happy?*
BB: Big Orange.
MO: Right now, at this very moment, writing this...clean laundry.
*What's exciting you creatively these days?*
BB: I've been doing a fair amount of video work lately, mostly with Super 8 film. Stop motion film, primitive animation, mechanical television sets...
MO: Mailer's Executioner's Song.
*Are you lying low for the time being or hard at work?*
BB: We're on tour right now, and that's both lying low and working hard, depending
on the time of day.
*Matt, how do you keep your voice on tour?*
MO: Slippery elm.
*When you have time to kill in a city you're playing, what does everyone split off and try to do?*
BB: I go on long hikes up mountain peaks, explore wooded areas, film the proceedings.
MO: Tomorrow we're going surfing; we'll also try to ride Go-Karts at some point.
*If Brian Wilson walked into your room right now, what do you ask him?*
BB: Would you like to write some songs with us for our next album?
MO: Where'd you get a tambourine that big?
*Who's done you the greatest favor musically and what was it?*
BB: Our neighbors at Big Orange -- they don't complain about the noise. Well, the
horses might be complaining, but I'm no "horse whisperer."
MO: My parents sent me to piano lessons.