AS PUBLISHED IN SKINNIE MAGAZINE, JULY 2011.
The wind picked up on a crisp evening at the end of April as the guitars swirled to a climax, only to eerily slow again once the melodies softened. The majority of the crowd sat upon blankets while a small number huddled around the stage. Everyone remained silent, in awe. The spooky atmosphere added to an overall bittersweet and comforting evening. Explosions in the Sky glided from one song to another on stage in a corner of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, leaving some audience members trembling in their stockings, tears flowing freely, and others stomping in their boots, overpowered by the sounds.
“Our fans are quite spectacular in their loyalties and their devotion to the sound,” said Munaf Rayani, one of the three Texan guitarists in the band, of the meaning fans place unto the music. “We’ve heard some really heavy things, like ‘You helped me stay alive. I was ready to kill myself, and then listening to your album helped me stay around,’ I mean, that’s heavy to hear from somebody! Or, that a couple walked down the aisle to one of our songs, that’s beautiful. Another was saying how it bonded them and their grandparents over some songs, something that they related to in showing them their catalog of music.”
Formed in 1999, the Texas-based post-rock (as much as they may wish to deny the genre) quartet has released six studio albums, the latest of which – titled “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care” – dropped this year. Six songs long, the collection remains under the umbrella of their former sound while featuring different melodies and beats than before and even vocal loops, something entirely new for the band.
“The way we’re kind of instructing melodies is a bit unusual in comparison to the rest of our catalog,” Rayani said. “There’s a handful of people that might say that it’s the same old thing, but then I don’t really think they’re listening, because an evolution definitely felt like it was in play here. I think that putting years into this thing and as you become older and as your thinking changes and your perspectives are altered, I think all of this influences the way the music sounds now, which has to be different than what we’ve done before, because we are a little bit different than we were before.”
Over the years, Explosions in the Sky members (in addition to Rayani – Mark Smith, guitar; Michael James – guitar, bass; Chris Hrasky, drums) have undergone many changing events. In 2000, the band The American Analog Set submitted Explosion’s demo to their label with a note saying, “This totally fucking destroys.” Now, the band plays sold out shows across the country, and internationally.
“I’m going to quote Jay-Z on this one and say, I don’t know if we chose music, or if the music chose us,” Rayani said. “Sometimes, you just end up doing things without really knowing how you’re doing it. I was into music at a young age, I was just around it, but even befriending the fellows in the band – I was young, I was 14 years old when I met all of them, and they further took what I already liked about music and helped me love it even more. We did it on the side, we did it as a solace, as an escape to whatever it is that we had going on in our lives, be it counter jobs or whatever we were doing to pass the days. Then at night, we would play music and kind of lose ourselves in it and then soon, music started to eclipse everything. It started to take care of us, meaning, it allowed us to eat and keep the electricity on and then it was allowing us to see the world.”
During the transition from side project to full-time job, the band has been through plenty, ranging from media chaos about a possible connection with the 9/11 attacks, writing an entire album in eight days and scoring the television series Friday Night Lights. More recently, Explosions played Radio City Music Hall before having a visual interpretation art show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery where six different artists each took a song to interpret in a visual manner. Yet still, the band remains humble, accrediting much of their success to their crew and friends, “We are a village. You think that there’s only four of us, no, there are 40 of us. They’re all putting their hands up and pushing us along and I think that all of our friends who aren’t on stage with us also feel like it’s their band. That will be my greatest and fondest memory, who we surrounded ourselves with.”
“It’s all just daydreaming,” Rayani said with a laugh. “How can this sound, how can this music that we’re playing without saying a single word, be attracting this many people? We’re trying, very hard, to not just make a good sound, to make a great sound, but to make a beautiful sound, and if that can sustain, if that can outlive us, then boy, I’ll feel as though we really did our part. It’s just that – leave a good sound behind and for anybody who hears it to say, ‘Yeah, man, they did something good. They did something right.’”
Many fans and critics have said just that about their latest album, “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care.” The record itself came from a long work process, starting four years ago, slowly. After half that time, the steam began to pick up and it became “a process like all processes in which we show each other melodies, play them, like them, don’t like them, talk about them, think about them, sit quietly, play them again, and then the album is done.”
From the entire album, Munaf Rayani’s favorites are “Let Me Back In” because of the “real smooth, and slow and almost seductive beat to it, that in some ways is reminiscent of some hip hop,” as well as the opener track “Last Known Surroundings.” As a whole, however, Explosions in the Sky’s music has always been, to the fans, more about the feeling received than anything.
“Like a lot of our albums, where we try to focus in on a hopeful sound, even though many parts of our music have a decent hint of sadness or longing, we try to be aware of excitement and positive feelings throughout this record,” Rayani said. “Even the sentiment of ‘Take Care, Take Care, Take Care,’ in our eyes, is a bit of a sweet one. Offering that sweetness, that kindness, excitement, these are the things we were after on our new album.”
“I don’t know if you ever get sad or worried about things, but we do too, and I think all humans do,” Rayani said of the emotional qualities presented in their songs. “Those things, I feel, will always find their way into our music. The darkness, the true darkness of our music is not anything on the surface for any of us. For the most part, we’re a bunch of comedians. We tell jokes a lot to each other, we laugh a lot, we try to enjoy the sun and the clear skies. But, I think inside, all of those things, all those emotions that you feel from joy to sadness, they’re all there, and we try and do our best to interpret that into a sound and into a melody. By no means are we dressed in all black, walking with our heads down or anything to that degree.”
Despite the lack of gothic gear and brooding personas, the foursome played a sold out show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where many attendees commented on how suitable their music was for such a venue. After hours of striking wonder into the audience, Munaf Rayani only exited the stage before exclaiming across the crowds, “Thank you for spending the evening with us and the dead, so let’s keep living!”
Original link: http://issuu.com/skinnie_magazine/docs/july2011 – pages 20-22.