Pittsburgh’s The Smiling Moose is first and foremost a bar, but they fancy themselves to be a “rock and roll bar.” This means that their upstairs area doubles as a concert venue. My guess is that the maximum capacity evens out at about 150 people. No skin off my ass; that makes for an intimate, close-up night of music. Sargent House alumni And So I Watch You From Afar and Zechs Marquise, both contenders for 402′s AOTY for 2011, took the stage last week and put on an incredible show.
Zechs went up first, playing select tunes from Getting Paid for about 45 minutes. It must have been exhausting, as they appeared to be a ball of boundless energy the entire set. Their drummer Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez was not present for the set. He was supposed to be there on time, but his flight from Europe (playing keys for The Mars Volta) was delayed. Because of Marcel’s priorities, Zechs are equipped with a stand-in drummer while on tour. This guy really shined on the skins. There was no discrepancy between Marcel’s recorded playing on record and this guy’s learned drum parts. However, halfway through the set, a miracle happened; (I may be using that term a little loosely…). Marcel emerged from the crowd, fresh off the plane, and switched out to finish the tiring set. I would say that his arms must’ve been tired, but some guy thought it was necessary to shout out that lame pun DURING the concert. Zechs Marquise is most accurately described as “gettin’ shit DONE” music, and they could’ve rallied an army together with the powerful funk they were broadcasting that night.
And So I Watch You From Afar followed, playing for approximately an hour. My friend Will accompanied me to take photos, and let’s just say that after viewing the entire set from up front, the car ride home was filled with a lot of “Huh?”s in conversation. Our ears were wrecked, in the best way possible. They played significantly louder than Zechs, and it was completely appropriate. Funk doesn’t need to be blaring, but ASIWYFA’s brand of heavy instrumental rock is the right fit for that volume. I predicted that they would begin their set with “BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION”, and they did so. It’s the perfect introduction to their set; from the get-go, you’re pounded with dual guitar and bass combined drone with incessant cymbal smacks. The noise level never secedes, it’s just one monster ride on their intricately composed instrumental odyssey.
Both bands were kind enough to sit down for interviews. You can read them below. The bands are divided by their photos; Chris and Niall from ASIWYFA are first and Matthew and Marfred from Zechs come after. There was a lot of laughter during the Zechs interview, but it was laughter from all of us. I tried to indicate the most prominent ha-has that stood out when transcribing. It was a fun time.
So, to prevent confusion from saying the word “and” twice, have you guys always received top billing or anything weird like that for shows?
NIALL: There’s been a lot of misspellings.
CHRIS: Yeah, “And So I Watched”… yeah, there’s been some serious misspellings and grammatical errors on posters.
NIALL: And then they’ll shorten it to the “ASIWYFA”, and they’ll misspell that.
Like, And So I Afar Watch You From?
On a more serious note, you guys accordingly scrapped 22 songs before recording Gangs. Do you think any of those will see the light of day on record in the future?
CHRIS: Um, I hope so. We’re always writing new stuff and so we’re always building up a catalogue of ideas and things, and you know, sometimes we play through them for fun or whatever, but there’s no immediate plan to bring them back to life. But yeah, there’s some really good stuff that we set aside whenever we decided to do the Gangs thing.
For cohesion’s sake?
Coming from Sargent House with a large thicket of instrumental groups like Fang Island and Russian Circles; with the exception of Them Crooked Vultures, do you find it somewhat necessary or more comfortable to tour with other instrumental groups?
CHRIS: I think for our own satisfaction that we all prefer to play with bands that have vocals. We’ve done a lot of tours in the past where because we’re an instrumental band, we get put on a bill with all instrumental bands, you know? So, yeah, sometimes it’s quite refreshing to have a band with vocals, but there’s no rule to it.
If you had to give Zechs Marquise a song of yours to cover, what would you like it to be?
CHRIS AND NIALL: Ahh…
NIALL: That’s a good question… it would be fun to hear them do something like “7 Billion [People All Alive At Once]”… I think that’s like, kind of the last thing they’d pick.
CHRIS: Yeah, yeah.
NIALL: ‘Cause they don’t like to sing, so they might have to plug in a little vocoder or something. They’d probably do something amazing, I’m sure. They’re incredible.
Being from Belfast, would you say that your influences lie primarily at home or do they carry over to the states? I’m not particularly familiar with the music scene there.
NIALL: It’s a good mix of both, for all of us. There’s a very healthy scene at home and a history of exceptional bands that are where we come from; we live in Belfast, but we come from the north coast of Ireland. It’s the closest city to where we live or whatever, but there are some amazing, amazing bands that I think we’re all heavily influenced by and I think in equal measures, we listen to a lot of American music as well.
Finally, if you had to come up with a mixed drink that really emanates ASIWYFA, what would it be?
NIALL: I think something hot would be in there. There are a lot of people who like hot sauce in this band. Something fiery.
NIALL: Chris used to make cocktails for a living, so he’s probably a better person to answer this than me.
CHRIS: Hmm. Something fiery… maybe a bloody mary.
NIALL: Yeah, pretty fresh.
NIALL: …and refreshing. Maybe some veggies in there.
CHRIS: Yeah, something good for a hangover.
I read an interview you gave where you said that hip-hop is a large component in the music you make. Was Getting Paid an attempt at trying to emulate specific artists of the genre or did it develop out of a culmination of what you guys grew up listening to?
MARFRED: I think it was a culmination of what we grew up listening to, because we had recorded Our Delicate [Stranded Nightmare] and then we talked about making the next record something more representative of what we do live, you know, something you can tap your toe to, nod your head to. You could listen to one song or the whole album. Each song tells its own type of story whereas the first record, you sort of have to listen to it from beginning to end.
Yeah, I can definitely see that. One example of a toe-tapper or something more soulful is “Everlasting Beacon Of Light”. Do you guys plug in the vocals for that somehow in the live performance?
MARFRED: No, actually. Primarily for the fact that since the record’s come out, it’s just been tour after tour after tour, so we haven’t had time to rehearse with the PA to see what it sounds like when we’re singing the part. I mean, we do play that section of the song, but we’ll chop it and extend other parts of the song to make up for it.
MATTHEW: There actually have been a few times where you’ve sung the part…
MARFRED: Not on “Beacon”, on “Static [Lovers]”.
MATTHEW: Oh, that’s right. Yeah, a couple of times when we were touring with Rx [Bandits], he sang vocals to it and we sort of… discovered that he had a really good voice.
MATTHEW: We had never put vocals in songs before other than some humming, you know? So, that was the first time we found out that he could also be a singer for the band as well. So, maybe in the future…
So, I take it “Getting Paid” is a nod to hip-hop and rap culture, as well as a facetious take on it as well…
MATTHEW: Definitely both of those.
Well, that being said, who in the band is getting most “paid” right now?
MARFRED and MATTHEW (semi-in unison): Probably Marcel.
MARFRED: Just because he actually makes a living off of it. He’s in these other bands and for that reason alone, you know, he doesn’t have a regular job like the rest of us do.
Who is least “getting paid?”
MARFRED: I would say either Marcos or Matt.
So as long as it’s not you [Marfred].
So, I asked ASIWYFA the same question: being a band on Sargent House with a bunch of instrumental bands such as yourselves, with the exception of The Mars Volta, do you find it somewhat necessary or more comfortable to tour with other instrumental groups?
MARFRED: Not really. Actually, instrumental bands now are who we tour with the least. I mean, back when we were starting out, we always got paired up with them for shows. We don’t view it as a necessity. It’s always a plus if we like the band, but really, as long as the music is good. And with these recent shows where that is the case, with Fang Island too, people are coming to the shows expecting to see a night of instrumental music.
Last year, a fellow writer and I got sent to see Good Old War, and during sound check, they played Getting Paid on their monitors. Have you ever played Come Back As Rain during your sound checks?
Or any Good Old War, for that matter?
MARFRED: No, actually…
MARFRED: That’s cool though.
MATTHEW: I don’t even think I grabbed an album from them the one time we played with them, and I regret that. Because we all have the Maps [And Atlases] CDs, we all have the Rx CDs, you know. So, Sargent House bands are always in constant rotation in our van and stuff like that. It’s good to be a part of a label with music that you really like. Good Old War is an example of that. Sargent House, I’d say, has a really nice roster.
MATTHEW: Once we get that CD, we will definitely play it.
Who’s the mastermind behind what I consider to be the greatest album artwork of 2011?
MARFRED: Yeah, our one friend Zeque Penya really blew it out of the water. My brother Marcel and I have known him probably since we were eight. Marcus has probably known him the same amount of time, maybe a little longer. But he’s just a really gifted artist. We just gave him an idea and he ran with it, and it turned into this really amazing piece of art.
MATTHEW: Yeah, he just kept producing and producing and producing and it was just a great process to see come together.
What was the initial idea that you gave him to feed off of?
MARFRED: We told him the idea we had going into recording the album and how it was really influenced by hip-hop and soul, and stuff like that. Then we also gave him examples of covers like Outkast’s Aquemini, RZA’s Bobby Digital [In Stereo], and just a lot of Blaxploitation covers.
Yeah, I definitely got that. I picture it as Super Fly meets Dirty Harry meets… the animal kingdom.
MATTHEW: That’s kind of the theme we were going for, you know, we were going for something like The Delfonics… and one of our friends was doing tee shirt designs and he asked us what animals we thought best represented all of us… and at first, we were like, “Okay… ‘spirit animals’”.
MATTHEW: But it actually turned out really cool, and from there… I think it was you [Marfred] and Marcel who wanted to do the Delfonics cover.
MATTHEW: There’s this old Delfonics cover where they’re all wearing white tuxedos, you know, looking all dapper.
So, the animals are avatars for the band members. May I ask which animal represents each band member?
MARFRED: I’m the lion, he’s [Matthew] the elephant, Marcel’s the owl, and Marcos is the gorilla.
That’s pretty radical.
MARFRED: Yes. And we also told him to keep in mind that we wanted artwork that would really compliment a vinyl, and then worry about the CD later, and it actually translated really well.
Have either of you ever dealt out a “mega slap?”
MATTHEW: Every night that we play.
MARFRED: Physically though, I don’t think we ever have. Actually, Marcel and I in the past have had our slap battles where we will try to surprise the other by slapping as hard as we can. And we’re over that, but… it used to be funny.
I asked them this question in regards to you guys, but if you had to give ASIWYFA a song of yours to cover, what would you like it to be?
MARFRED: I think “Getting Paid” would be pretty cool.
MATTHEW: “Getting Paid” would be good… I think either “Getting Paid” or “Mega Slap”.
MARFRED: What did they say for us?
They said “7 Billion People Alive All At Once”.
[laughter from Marfred]
They said that they thought it would be your last pick of all their songs.
MARFRED: That’s funny, because that’s one of their songs that we like the most.
I think they meant as far as tackling the song as a band, rather than liking it.
MARFRED: Oh… we could do it.
And that’s it! Big thanks to Dave Clifford for setting this up and photo credits go to my good friend Will Carey. Catch these bands live, you won’t regret it.