The first I ever heard of Explosions in the Sky was when Trent Reznor got married and used one of their songs for his first dance with his new bride, Mariqueen Maandiq. Then Matt Good told me something similar before showing me an EitS song titled engraved on the inner side of his wedding ring.
EitS is now touring with Nine Inch Nails. Correspondent Julia Wallace got into an email exchange with the group while they were finishing up a roadtrip through Asia.
1. You guys have resisted being pigeon-holed as a “post-rock” band. How would you define yourselves? Or would you rather not bother?
To be honest, I guess we would rather not bother. The term post-rock in particular has no meaning, as far as I can tell. I know why genre labels exist, and why people need to compare bands to other bands, and writers need to be able to describe music when they write about it, but yeah, it always just sounds reductive and pigeon-holing. Whenever I talk to someone who doesn’t know our music (like when I’m getting my hair cut or something), I guess I always just say instrumental rock. That seems to cover it.
2. How has adding a fifth member (and old friend) to the live show changed the dynamic on stage?
For the last couple years, we’ve had our friend Carlos Torres as fifth member for live shows, and now we have David Wingo playing with us. It’s pretty necessary because we just couldn’t play some of the newer songs (most of our last album) without the help of someone else helping with playing bass and additional guitar parts and triggering samples. But I actually don’t think it’s changed the live dynamic all that much, in a very good way. I think sometimes when bands add live members, the energy lessens on stage and there’s more emphasis on playing the songs “right.” But the energy has been fantastic.
3. Speaking of being on stage, you guys are days away from going on tour with Nine Inch Nails – and you have a pretty gruelling schedule with 19 shows in 18 cities. Did the offer comes as a surprise? What are your concerns about playing in hockey arenas?
I’m writing this after we’ve played three of the shows with NIN, so I’m cheating a little bit. (i.e., the shows have gone really well.) But even before we came, we were feeling pretty fine about the arenas. We did a few tours opening for pretty big bands, and we’ve played at some pretty huge festivals, so I think we kinda worked that all out. The offer itself did come as a little surprise, and a very welcome one. It’s pretty amazing to be given the chance to play your music in front of thousands of people who have never heard of you. And the schedule is not very grueling, to be honest–there’s way more days off on these NIN tours than we have on our usual tours, so that is also pretty welcome.
4. Soundtracks are something that your music suits well, as it’s often described as being “cinematic”, and you’ve certainly done a lot of them. What has been your favourite story to tell with music?
Please don’t make me choose favorites. Okay I will–it’s gotta be Prince Avalanche. On Friday Night Lights, it was an amazing opportunity–helping tell the story of a certain part of the culture in the town where three of us were raised. And we were still coming into our own on what our “sound” would be. But the filmmakers very much wanted that sound, because it really worked for that movie. But on Prince Avalanche, there were no restrictions. In fact, it was quite the opposite–the filmmaker wanted us to spread our wings and push ourselves to find something different from our traditional sound. So I like that a listener can tell it’s the same band (meaning us), but there’s a lot of different elements and instruments and kind of subtly strange additions and manipulations. And I love how it works with that story of loneliness and detachment and weird human connection.
5. Being from Texas, did you have a connection to the plotlines of Friday NightLights? Did Midland have similar issues with racism, poverty, and a Rush Limbaugh style of ignorance?
Definitely, but as with any place it is a lot more complex than that. Those issues were and are absolutely there, and the book in particular does a pretty amazing job of painting those issues for the town in that time period. It’s a pretty segregated (not literally, but unofficially) town, and some of my friends had some pretty awful and screwed up experiences with racism, but that is not at all to say the whole town is like that. In Midland I met some of the most embracing and accepting people I’ve ever met in any town, and those are the people who I love and am still friends with.
6. This one is for guitarist Munaf Rayani: I once read that you drove from sleepy Midland, TX to Austin to see Canada’s own Propaghandi at a punk club. That must have been powerful. How did the show shape your musical ambitions?
Here is Munaf talking: It was a powerful show to go see for a kid. I was 15 going on 16, and it was the first time I had seen a live performance with that much power. The place was packed, it was hot as hell, and Propaghandhi was relentless. The amount of effort and energy they put into the show really came across, and I’m sure that it not only inspired me but everyone there watching.
7. Austin likes to call itself the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Now that this band has taken you around the world, would you agree?
I guess I’ll err on the side of city pride and just say Austin is the best. It is a pretty amazing and impressive scene…. but to be honest, I don’t really think we’re the right people to ask, as we don’t go out to all that many shows in Austin. And the only shows we go to in other cities are our own.
8. Do you ever feel that being an instrumental band has held you back or limited the opportunities made available to you?
No, not really at all. Maybe it’s even helped us, because of the novelty, especially early on. And it has definitely helped us get considered for movie soundtrack work and for having our music in movies. It’s kind of impossible to say, because if we had a bad singer, I think it would have ruined us, and if we had (say) Thom Yorke as our singer, maybe it could have gone in a different way. But we’ll never know, and we are 100% thrilled with where our instrumental music has taken us. A lot lot lot further than we ever dreamed.
9. Where do you plan to go with 2014’s follow up to “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care?”
No idea about the actual content, and that’s really exciting. We know it’s going to be different, and I don’t just mean incrementally different, but I feel pretty confident it will be a different beast altogether. I mean, I love our albums, but we’ve done those albums. There is no need for another album in those veins. With the soundtracks, I think we have learned a ton in the last year about working with different instruments and manipulating and effecting sound; now we want to craft an album using those thoughts. I think the goal is to make it sound recognizable as being uniquely us, but enough different to make you doubt it. I think we want to make something more alien, more looking into the cosmos, than our more recent personal albums.
10. How has your creative process evolved over the years?
I kind of alluded to it in the last question, but the recent soundtrack stuff has been the biggest change to our process. I’m talking about Prince Avalanche, and the music we have done for the upcoming Pete Berg movie Lone Survivor (I think it comes out December 27th), and the music we’ve started working on for the next David Gordon Green movie, Manglehorn. Using computers a lot more has been huge, because we can take our usual ideas (beats, guitar lines, flourishes) and make them into something unlike anything we’ve ever done before. And also the shorter timeframe and deadlines for working on soundtracks has helped us work a lot faster than we have for the past 8-10 years or so. We used to be able to write a lot faster when we started playing, because we just played instinctively and everything was new to us. But we started to get bogged down in trying to do things differently but with the exact same tools (making sure we could play everything live), and that got old. So I’m looking forward to us being able to explore a lot more.