Words by David C. Obenour
The last couple of years have been filled with starts and stops. They were also filled with stillness, uncertainty, fear and angst. They’re actually still filled with all of those things. Though maybe not quite as overflowing as before.
For their part, Baltimore based “weirdo” noise rock trio used this time – and the time in between the time – to write, rewrite, record and record again, their new album Crayon Sun. Without having a stage to work songs out on, this material was formed through practice and experimentation. New tunings, new pedals, and isolation and self-reflection. It’s not the same album they’ve made before, and it’s unlikely to be like the next album they’re already working on – but as with all good art, it’s a compelling capsulation of the time it was made in and the people who made it.
Off Shelf: Crayon Sun was recorded, mixed and mastered in early 2021 – arguably one of the darkest points yet in the pandemic for America. How do you think that influenced the writing and performances?
Max Detrich: For me, it was interesting to have more time to practice and focus on small details in my drum parts and even how I play them. Overall, I think my writing and performance on this record was more technical than the previous ones.
Blake Douglas: The process felt a lot different than our previous releases. This gave us a lot more time to sit with the songs. In the thick of it there’d be a couple months where we wouldn’t be able to practice and the solitude of practicing the songs to our demos allowed them to shape up differently than before.
OS: It wasn’t just the pandemic too, early 2021 was a moment of political and social upheaval and uncertainty. Did any of your emotions from that find their way onto Crayon Sun?
BD: Yeah, absolutely. Listening back to these songs now reminds me of the early uncertainties of 2020.
DG: For me playing has been an escape from reality or really just an outlet. I think the album evolved to a much darker tone once we shutdown. So maybe?
MD: It was definitely an escape and outlet for me as well. I don’t know what I would of done if I couldn’t have played drums over the past year.
OS: With touring being a questionable proposition at that point – did you have any thoughts about how the album would be released and what promoting it would look like?
DG: Honestly, not really. We just love creating together and wanted to release this either way. We didn’t know where things would be at in August, but we wanted to get it out there. From our experiences, playing out is how you promote your music so this will be a bit new to see what happens. We are trying to be a bit more mindful about learning a bunch of new songs and just forgetting about this album.
MD: Everything was and still is up in the air, Dom writes so fast we can’t keep up so we had to release something before we had too much on our plate.
BD: Right, what Max said. This is the longest we’ve sat on a batch of songs so we had to start planning a release.
OS: Has the last year changed how you approach being a musician? Whether big or small, I’m talking about your appreciation, reasoning or inspiration?
DG: I feel for anyone who makes a living as a musician or in the arts. I can’t imagine what a shit show this year has felt like. I am thankful for us all being healthy through this all and being able to finish the album. We started and stopped a lot so it’s easy to say “Oh, who cares?”, but it was probably really healthy for us to have something to focus on. Getting to the end is a great feeling and I appreciate all the work that went into it.
MD: I’m very happy we’re still kickin’ and were able to put this record out. I think throughout the last year I was able to practice and think more about how I drum and how it fits in with the band as well as listen to more new bands and old stuff I never gave a chance.
OS: While we’re far from through things, the arrival and availability of vaccines has still led to a shift in our outlook. Given the difference in atmosphere, does listening to the songs now strike you any differently than it had when you were recording them?
MD: It’s weird. It seems like forever ago and also last week that we wrote these songs. I’ll be glad to play a few out once the time comes.
DG: I think listening back after 8 months is a different experience in general. I really rather look forward and I am excited to start working on new material – hopefully with things feeling more normal. It’s been nice to have a break from the album. Its too easy to be critical once it is all over and just from mixing/redoing vocals I was a bit worn out on the songs.
OS: On the track premiere of Shadows, you talked about how you had been messing around with a pitch-shifting pedal. What prompted you to use it and what about how it ended up sounding resonated with you?
DG: Yeah, I really feel in love with this lil’ pedal as I was writing the album. I think I saw the Fond Han dude play a solo set and he used one. I just thought, “Yeah, I need that”. It worked well within Gloop, just creates a fucked up sound and sounds a bit off key. It was a great tool for me to use and helped with the song writing.
OS: Were there any other sounds that the band hit – either through effects or performance – that stick out to you from Crayon Sun?
DG: Bugs to be is like a cornerstone song for the album. I probably wrote this after maybe a third of the songs were already done, but it really gave me some direction for the rest of the album. A bit of a darker tone and sounds a bit wilder than what I had written. I also started to mess with open G out of boredom when I was out of work and waiting for my kid to arrive in the summer of 2020. That really stuck and I am not sure I would have messed around with it if not for all the free time. It just opened up the guitar to me again and I had a lot of ideas quickly.
Its always fun to bring songs in and start to work them out. Max always crushes it and gets the ball moving quickly. We usually start working the songs out together and then bring in Blake. Blake’s bass parts on Pressure and You’re Home are just bizarre to me. He has his own method and I just get out of the way. Playing with talented, dedicated, and creative people goes a long way. Go find some and then get out of the way of their creative process.
OS: While noise, hardcore and punk can have a fair amount of overlap, it still seems like the term “weirdo” gets thrown around as a descriptor for your music. What do you think that is? Is it something that you embrace or feel annoyed by?
BD: No it’s cool, we embrace it. We’re somewhere in the middle ground of all that.
MD: It definitely is noisy but I think if not as in your face, heavy, gut punching as a lot of noise rock is. We’re the weird cousin.
OS: What aspect of playing live do you miss most? Is there a common moment from the day-in-day-out of touring that you feel yourself being sentimental for getting back to?
DG: I miss just seeing and finding cool bands we play with. That feeling of seeing a band you have never heard of blow you away is missed. Also just the raw energy of a live performance. Dare I say I crave for the late night drives home with the fellas, feeling like shit from drinking/lack of sleep while guzzling red bull and blaring Roger Miller?