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.

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

RO: Yeah!

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.

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Taylor Moon
Contact: Taylor Moon