Explosions In the Sky: No Vocals Necessary
Known for elaborate guitar work, referred to as "cathartic mini-symphonies," Explosions In the Sky put on emotional shows. Remaining completely devoid of vocals, three guitars and one drummer (a bass guitar is thrown in at times) Explosions combine to create a sound that seems to carry the crowd on a journey of emotions.
The Austin band has released five albums, most recently last year's Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence), and will be bringing their interesting talents to Houston once more Sunday at Warehouse Live. Speaking with guitarist Munaf Rayani recently, I discussed the band's progression over the years, why vocals just simply never fell into any of their music and how he himself picked up a guitar.
Rocks Off: Basically, how the band started is fascinating to me. I'm from Katy, Texas, kind of a small town and I believe that everyone came from Midland, Texas, excluding drummer Chris Hrasky, who hails from Illinois.
Munaf Rayani: Yeah, that's where we came from. Small town. Haha.
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RO: Now I've heard some rumors you never started out much into rock. You were into a lot of hip-hop?
MR: Well I was definitely into a lot of hip-hop. I listened to a lot of punk-rock too as I started, you know, hang with the fellahs when I was about 14. It wasn't just limited to those genres of music. I was listening to classical music already and just trying to appreciate melody no matter what the genre of music.
But yeah, I definitely listened to more hip-hop than some of the other guys at the time. But everybody, we all listened to all types of music at the time.
RO: Michael James brought you along and actually taught you how to play the guitar as well?
MR: Absolutely! He was the first person to put a guitar in my hands. I was 14 about to turn 15, and he was already a pretty great guitar player. I mean he's become even more phenomenal since then. I think either I asked him or he gave me the guitar and was like "Here, learn this chord."
From there, you know, the rest is history. Everything that I've learned or have gotten to now has come by way of either Michael James or Mark Smith. I've been pretty lucky to have those two guys be ones who taught me how to play guitar.
RO: I can understand small some town sentiments, although Katy isn't the small town it once was. I know Midland isn't that big, but what's awesome about it is that y'all got to create the soundtrack of Friday Night Lights in 2004.
MR: Yeah. Wow, isn't that just kind of amazing how life just kind of works its way around. That was one of the things we thought about heavy. You know for a place, and maybe you share sentiment growing up in a small Texas town is that we were so eager to get out of there
MR: We were young and we didn't know where we were going, but we knew we had to get out of Midland to pursue dreams and what have you. That this place we were so eager to get out of even though it was good to us when we grew up that it ultimately came back to really set our lives on the trajectory to a different stratosphere.
Getting to score Friday Night Lights, was kind of a once in a lifetime experience especially for how meaningful it was and how it related to us of us growing up in this part of the world. I kind of get lost in thought about how things line up sometimes.
RO: It worked out perfectly then. But y'all's style of music is just different. Having a band that's completely devoid of vocals is interesting. Was there a reason to go upon this path?
MR: I think the path kind of found us. It was all a bit accidental. We just played music, with each other, you know because we loved music. It served as an escape from our counter jobs and whatever troubles we were experiencing either individually or together.
This music was our way of kind of getting lost. We might have discussed this for a little bit, you know should one of us sing? Not that anyone of us is that great of a singer, so we just kind of refrained and just wrote these songs and these melodies. And they were strong enough to stand on their own that we felt as though if we started to sing on it maybe it would take away from any impact that it was already offering.
As the years progressed, I think we just became stronger and kind of honed our skills even further to make these songs sound even better. Once we were way down the line, I mean the thought never came up again. It was just if there's going to be any lyrical quality to these songs then let our guitars take that role or let Chris' drumbeat be the voice, use these instruments to translate a story just through sound.
And that's the beauty of music in general. If you reference old classical musicians, Mozart or Beethoven, and these guys who are living in a time writing these phenomenal symphonies that even if you hear the right one today it evokes such emotion in one. I find it remarkable that just the combination of notes and sound can make one feel happy or sad, hungry or tense or whatever it is.
Music has that capability. It can do it on its own.
RO: I'd have to agree. I know the most recent music video, "Postcard From 1952," embraces emotions from that song so well. I think I watched it seven times in a row. I kept watching!
MR: Yeah, it came out really spectacular. The filmmakers, Annie Gunn and Peter Simonite , they're very... just the creative type. That's been kind of lucky for us too, in a town like Austin in which art is kind of bubbling over or bursting at the seams that we're lucky enough to hold the company of some of these really creative types like Annie and Peter.
We talked about a lot of things, and kind of did an outline of this video might go. But all credit due to them. They just took a little seedling of an idea and ballooned a whole garden.
RO: Most label y'all as a post-rock band. I don't necessarily see that within what y'all do with videos and music in general. It seems different to me. If you had to what would label Explosions In The Sky?
MR: Hands down, a soul band! I know that sounds silly, but in the same way old soul singers like Gladys Knight and others when they sang from a really deep place in their heart of loss and love, oppression, whatever it was, I hope that when somebody hears what we write, not that it reminds them of that, but it hopefully provokes the same meaning or meaningful things to them.
Now people can call us whatever they want to call us. We are a version of music. If we are post-rock, I hope that we are some of the better of the bunch. Because the genre all together is a little troubled, if you ask me. But then just in the greater scheme of music I hope we're not just limited to being under this one umbrella. I hope. If we are under one umbrella, I hope it's under the umbrella of good music. Be whatever flavor.
RO: Labels aside. I grew up in a family where classic rock was always on. And songs lasted longer than three minutes. Y'all aren't a band to play a song for just a few minutes; More like seven or more.
MR: That's another thing that if people kind of stopped to analyze and think about that in today's day in age or maybe not just today but over the last however many years of pop music, they say the perfect pop song is three and a half minutes long.
And that could speak on the audience's attention span. So whoever "they" are that is saying the attention span is three minutes give or take, boy then those who listen to us are proving against that over and over again. Because if our songs are coming in at eight, nine, ten, 11, 12 minutes long and you sit and you listen to all of those minutes then, man, something bigger must be at [that] place. And for that I am forever grateful.
RO: I find it refreshing. Flash from the past. Being raised on Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, who could go on longer than a few minutes.
MR: I mean hopefully we can continue on the path. But yeah, it's a good reference point of Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd doin' it that way. Then hopefully without being them, because it's hard to be somebody spectacular as those bands, but hopefully that we can offer something that is in that line.
That if Pink Floyd wrote a song for 12 minutes, I mean mind you they probably had a laser show going and jammin' it out, that's cool stuff. I mean who knows maybe we'll introduce laser shows?!
RO: I mean, those have been getting pretty big today.
MR: Yeah, even us we've kind of put our mind to it. I mean it does add. You know? With the right queues of color and without being too flashing you can help in a live setting create a better tone. If the lights, music, movement and the people. If all these things are in a harmony it can make for a great performance.
RO: Y'all have progressed so much since 1999, having over five studio albums and making a Bonnaroo appearance even. Of course, ACL.
MR: Yeah, we've been through the most interesting and comical, just exciting things have happened over the course of our career. Which feels strange to call it a career. But just in the time that we've been playing music, we've seen the good and we've seen the bad, but more than anything we've seen the amazing.
So if we can kind of stay on path, the light still looks pretty bright.
With Zammuto, 8 p.m. Sunday at Warehouse Live.
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