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Explosions in the Sky

Explosions in the Sky

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 28th November, 2011 9:17AM

Seminal post-rockers Explosions in the Sky returned in 2011 with their sixth studio album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. UTR caught up with Michael James to discuss the new record, how the band have changed over the years and how it feels to write music for the silver screen.

What are you up to right now?

Right now we have two weeks off we just finished our US tour three days ago, so right now we’re on vacation.

How did the tour go?

It went amazing really. We played in a lot of really beautiful places; venues and rooms we hadn’t played before. We played a lot of really cool old theatres and different places outside of the traditional rock club spectrum which was really fun.

Was there a particular venue or experience that was amazing?

We actually played in an area of Northern California called Big Sur which is just by the huge Red Wood Forests right by the coast and we played in this library. It’s called the Henry Miller Library and it’s just this cool little cultural enclave that we got invited to play at and that was really one of the highlights; just the natural beauty of the area and the people that ran the venue were really cool - that was something really special.

That sounds amazing and it also seems as if playing in these venues would totally suit your music?

Yeah for sure. Probably more so than a metal band or pub rock band we try to have a memorable live show and you know bring some emotional heft to the performance and I think having it in a really beautiful place can add a lot to that so we were very fortunate.

Tell me a little bit about writing and recording the new album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care.

Well it actually took us about two full years to write it. We had four years in between records which is a really long gap, but for two of those years we were on tour basically and we’re just not one of those bands who can write music on tour - we can’t get enough focus and we just really need complete focus when we’re writing music. So after that was up we got home and decompressed for a little while and then started working on the new album. By the way we realized we wanted to do it a little bit differently we didn’t just want to try to do the exact same thing we’ve done in the past with writing an album so we took a little bit more time to experiment with different sounds and textures and just ways of writing music together which was really fun but kind of led to us not really finishing anything for about a year, we just played around. After that was kind of worked out and we got down to the serious writing process and it took us about a year.

And you got a producer on board for this album?

John (Congleton) was actually an engineer and he's amazing to work with. None of us are very technically savvy in the studio so when it comes to that sort of thing we really need someone like John to translate kind the weird ideas of what we want the music to sound like. We can say ‘we want this part to sound more sunny’ and he knows exactly what we mean and how to make it sound like that.

So if you were to describe what sort of sound you wanted to portray on this album what would you say?

Kind of as always the music for us needs to be emotional primarily. That's what we really love about music - that emotional pull that you can get from it. So we want to touch people in a way that only music really can. That’s the first thing but for most of our albums we have worn that emotion on our sleeve; it’s very upfront. With this one we wanted to be a little more subtle and make people look a little deeper not just put it in their faces. It’s still a very emotionally diverse album but people have to kind of work for it a little more which was something we really wanted to do.

Is the album concept driven at all or is it this ambiguous emotional thing?

It’s kind of both. For us as we’re putting together a group of songs for an album we generally always have an overarching theme in mind and for us it was the title being Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. In the States take care is how you say goodbye in a casual way. For us we were just talking about the idea of a goodbye being a poignant thing even if it’s just for an hour or a week or a year there’s this emotional component to a goodbye. Some people took it as we were saying goodbye as a band, that certainly wasn’t the case, it was just kind of exploring that sort of emotional component.

Rather than you guys saying goodbye of a band, considering you took four years to write the album and a year to construct a new sound, would it be fair to say it’s a new phase of the band?

Yeah sure, you know I think as any kind of artist you want to be continually moving forward and doing new things. You don’t want to be writing the same songs or doing the same things you’ve always done in the past. So yeah we’re always trying to move forward - not necessarily saying goodbye to what we’ve done in the past but certainly being open to new surroundings and landscapes of writing music together.

You've been a band for a long time, do you find it hard to step outside what you’ve done?

It can be kind of difficult because we’ve been a band for 12 years now so we know how to write music together in a particular way and we all have very different tastes of what is good so it’s hard for us to all agree on what is good. We’ve been able to agree for ten years on a particular sound that sounds good to all of us so trying to make something different can be a challenge, and we’re the kind of band where everyone in it has to love every part of the music equally. You know if three people love it and one doesn’t then that song goes away so that can be the big challenge there.

It also seems that for you guys the artwork and the videos are a really important part of the package. Tell me about the visual construct.

A very good friend of ours has done our artwork for the last four albums and he’s one of our best friends and as soon as we start working on a new album it’s just a given that he’s going to do the artwork. So as we’re writing the music we start to come up with our concepts and visual accompaniment to that and we talk to him about it and he starts brainstorming and jotting different ideas down on paper to show us. We work on it very meticulously for a long time – not quite as hard as we work on the music but we put a lot of thought into it because music is a whole package. And I think for the artwork for the new album it does speak to that idea of going out into an unknown world. You know you see the house that’s there that has obviously been lived in but is now vacated and all the things that made it a home are absent or are taken down – the pictures are off the walls. That was a part of the visual concept for us.

The video for 'Be Comfortable Creature' speaks to that as well, right?

That was a really interesting one. So we made a video for the first single and that was a very collaborative process. With 'Be Comfortable Creature', it was a guy named Paul Logan who’s a guy we’ve known a long long time and Paul just came to us and said 'hey I have this idea, I wanna make this video, I'm not going to tell you what it is just wait till I’m done and if you like it you use it and if you don’t you can throw it away'. So the video was completely Paul's vision and we were all kind of apprehensive but when he showed it to us we were so charmed by it; it's a beautiful sad little story and it works really well with the song so we were really happy with how it turned out.

It perhaps says something about the power of the song to the fact that he could take no direction and come up with something that was appropriate?

Yeah totally and it speaks pretty well of him too.

You've gained a little bit of notoriety for doing the music for Friday Night Lights. What draws you to those sorts of projects?

I mean as an instrumental band people say we will be the soundtrack for the movies that are in their minds, that’s the beauty of instrumental music is that it can accompany any kind of visual image that anybody wants. So I think it’s kind of a natural thing for people to want our music to go over visual image and with Friday Night Lights that was our first movie score that we had done. We’d done smaller stuff in the past and it’s pretty interesting because as an instrumental band you want to write music that completely captures peoples attention; that’s not just background music. But when you’re writing something for somebody else’s images and movies it has to be background music - it can’t take over. So it was an interesting project for us and we found it pretty challenging but pretty rewarding in the end. It’s definitely something we’re interested in.

What are the future plans?

Just tour right now that’s all we have planned. We head to Europe in a couple of weeks and then NZ in December and then back to Europe in January and the States in the Spring. We’re giving the album it’s due and it’s proper push and taking it around to people.

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