Painting in sound: Explosions In The Sky

Over the past 15 years Explosions in the Sky have crafted their honest and evocative instrumental rock sound to a point of near perfection. The band which formed in Austin, Texas following a flyer in their local record store which read “Wanted: Sad Triumphant Rock Band” have across the course of their six albums created truly expansive and emotionally compelling music. Since forming in 1999 the band has gained attention from touring with the likes of Fugazi and also providing music for Brian Reitzell’s acclaimed film Friday Night Lights. Following the release of their album Take Care Take Care Take Care, I talked briefly to guitarist Munaf Rayani.

So how many bands that start off the back of a ‘let’s start a band’ flyer do you think are successful?

I mean it must be one in a thousand, or something like that, I don’t know it was very lucky for us. Mind you three of us knew each other for most of our lives and to find Chris the way we found him through a flyer was a fluke to say the least. We feel pretty lucky that it all worked out for us and so many years later that we able to do the things that we’re doing.

What were some of the things that you guys bonded over when you all met up?

We all had similar taste in music which was a great starting point, but once we finished talking about music we started talking about film and all the same pictures that we loved he (Chris) loved, and then once we got past film all the jokes he was cracking, were the jokes that we were cracking so our humour was the same. I mean it was just one thing after the other that led to of one of the moments in which you meet someone and it feels like man ‘I’ve known you my whole life, we are cut from the same cloth’ and that’s how it was with Chris.

So that must’ve helped with you guys keeping things fresh over all these years?

Absolutely! Music is very powerful and it bonds people, but well beyond music the friendship that we have cultivated is something spectacular and I think without that foundation of friendship this music wouldn’t have as much meaning as it has to us, or we wouldn’t be able to play it with such sincerity. We often say to each other that well after we’re done playing music we will still be in each other’s company, we will still eat those dinners, we will still go to the cinema together, we will still do things friends do. It’s not that our friendship was born out of music; music was born out of our friendship.

It must be really nice that it all happened in such a natural way?

Oh man you’re telling me! In the time that we’ve been doing this I’ve run into too many bands where it really seems like they don’t like each other, if you don’t like each other as people how can you continue to play music.

You spoke of a mutual love of film and with you having scored a few films thus far is there a desire to continue exploring that side of things?

Well I hope so yeah, to get another couple more of those under our belt would be ideal, but everything is in the moment and in the now we’ve written this album that we all feel pretty strong about and are showing it to the world. But yeah, as the years move on and times change and ideas start to flourish in other respects yeah I hope we can score some more pictures. If we don’t, what we’ve done I’m pretty grateful for, but who knows what tomorrow holds.

Having taken a bit of a break in the lead up to the latest album, what were some of the ideas that you all came back with?

Well the idea was to just to continue to try and push ourselves and to exhibit our type of melodies in a new light. I think and this goes for anyone, you will always be who you are, so I think that cuts through in our music from record to record. But with this new record we wanted to introduce alternate ways to convey emotion and melody and so came the introduction of some samples and some new rhythmic qualities. The structure of the songs I think has matured to a point in which only a band after 10 years could write. What we wrote on this album we couldn’t have come close to writing on our first album, it took years of being in each other’s company, years of seeing the world, years of playing music to achieve I think what I think we’ve achieved on this one and hopefully it only gets better from here.

So do you think that level of experience and ability to work together on such a level has played a big part in what you guys do and your overall success as a band?

Yeah I think it has to be a part of it, when one is doing anything for an extended amount of time, for years as it were, then yes. If it all goes right then you are only becoming stronger, your skills are only becoming more fine-tuned and honed and with the company of who I keep company being Mark, Michael and Chris that not only do we keep each other grounded as just regular human beings we inspire one another to be better musicians, to chase a better sound. We’re very critical of each other when it comes to music and I think this is yet another reason perhaps why we’ve seen the success we’ve seen is that the filtering process and the levels of what our music has to go through, you know the checkpoints that our music has to go through in order to survive, in order to be put on an album, in order be shown to the world, is extensive. And so without one another’s honest opinion I think we would’ve just been releasing… shite. Very luckily I think that because we’ve been hyper critical that at least to us anything that we’ve put on tape, anything that we’ve allowed you to listen to is the best we could come up with.

I’ve read that you guys like to explore historical events and moments in time is that something that is still a part of the writing process? Would you consider an entire concept album around something like that?

Well we kind of try to apply it to the songs that we already write. A lot of our songs come from many different places, world events or stories that we’ve heard and from being a part of that. For example a couple records ago we wrote a song called ‘Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean’ which was about the Russian submarine the Kursk that had lost transmissions and fallen to the bottom of the sea and you know these men were left for days until ultimately the air ran out on them. So that we tried our best to translate into a melody or a piece, so stuff the like that yeah we’re inspired by left and right. I mean concept album wise I think all of our albums have some sort of concept to them, there’s a connecting thread to each track. We want the songs to stand individually but as a whole is the true piece.

So very much like a symphony in many ways?

Well in a way I would say yes, I mean barring the lack of traditional instruments and it being modern times with guitar, bass and drums but the principals and theories are the same. And how lucky for us in this day and age that a big crowd will come to watch an instrumental act and I can’t really think other than the days of true classical musicians and not to compare ourselves to them, but to Bach and Chopin and these guys when you would go to a concert hall just to watch music, how lucky that we are getting to experience something that is similar to that.

(This interview was previously published on The Corner in 2013)

Explosions In The Sky official website

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