The Necks from Australia Don't Talk, They Just Play

The Necks
The Necks
Alan Murphy

If you spend enough time in a band, you’re bound to develop an unspoken language with the other members. The Necks, the Sydney, Australia-based everything-and-the-kitchen-sink improvised music trio, might discuss which member starts one of the group’s hourlong improvisations, but that’s about it.

“Nah, we never talk in advance about a piece at all. We try to be as unfocused on the upcoming performance as possible, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” says Lloyd Swanton, the bass player of The Necks, who will make their Houston debut at month’s end during a Nameless Sound shindig.

“We used to hang about in the dressing room with a trash bin in the middle of the room, taking turns punting an empty drink can into the bin,” adds Swanton. “The stage manager would pop his head in the door and say, ‘You guys ready?’ and we’d go onstage and play.”

Swanton, pianist Chris Abrahams and drummer Tony Buck formed The Necks in 1987. The trio has released 18 studio albums, and arguably, none of the records sound similar to the others. That’s especially the case with 2015’s Vertigo (Northern Spy) and its 44 continuous minutes of edge-of-the-Earth abstractions, deep-space microtones and percussion shrapnel.

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“For starters, I am constantly looking for other possible ways to play whatever motif I’m playing at the time. So that keeps me constantly digging into my repertoire of instrumental techniques, and sometimes inventing new variations of them onstage,” Swanton says when asked what The Necks, who will soon release a double LP of spontaneous studio recordings, do for the development of his individual vocabulary.

“Also, the way we take a good 45 minutes to an hour for our explorations means we have to be aware of the grand developmental arc of our improvisations, even though ironically, at any given point we’re totally ‘in the moment,’” says Swanton.

After all of the albums and concerts, the group, who are bigger than a big deal in Australia and Europe (simply because they’ve made more appearances on those continents than they have in the States), still finds challenges each night they take center stage.

Swanton says, “The way we improvise in The Necks is all about keeping one’s ears open to any idea that might enter one’s head, or be suggested by the other two guys, and being ready to jump onto that in an instant, whilst at the same time maintaining the integrity and clarity of whatever the thematic area might be that we’re occupying at that particular point in time.

“So there’s quite a lot of patting my head and rubbing my belly at the same time.”

The Necks are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, at MATCH, 3400 Main. Admission is free for folks 18 and under, $10 for students, $13 for everyone else. For more information, go to www.namelesssound.org.


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