By Dave Schutz
A lot of people would kill for teleportation technology, not least among them the average touring musician. Ironically, just as the Internet is shrinking the globe in terms of the ability to get music in the hands of potential fans, rising gas prices and a crappy economy have made it harder for small bands to actually get to those fans in person and to make money doing it.
Therein lies one paradox for Fort Collins’ True Aristocrats. The (mostly) instrumental duo – comprised of Will Wayland (guitar) and Tyler Lindgren (drums) – has used free distribution of their music on the Internet and word of mouth to plant seeds in some cities among fans of the kind of loud, spastic, experimental rock that True Aristocrats deal in. But with gas over four bucks a gallon in many places, heading out on the road to cultivate a fanbase is a difficult proposition.
“We’re at a stage right now where we’re just trying to get who we are out and then find the people who like us. And if there are people who like us and they’re in a concentration, maybe we’ll go there and play shows,” Lindgren says. “It’s just a matter of finding another receptive audience for the kind of thing that we’re trying to do.”
The thing about that “thing” they’re trying to do is that it’s not accessible enough to gain a wide audience in a town as small as Fort Collins, but those who dig it really dig it. It’s been the case for experimental rock artists from Frank Zappa to Mr. Bungle. Hence the term “cult following” attached to the fans of these kinds of groups: marginal and seriously dedicated.
“It’s really tricky being in a band these days without a vocalist just because that’s how people kind of digest a lot of music” Wayland says.
It’s a good point. The Mars Volta enjoy a lot of success, but they have the benefit of Cedric Bixler high-kicking and hip-shaking across the stage. For True Aristocrats, the challenge and the goal is to take out the vocalist as translator (and/or eye candy) and get the audience to directly engage with and understand what the music is trying to communicate.
Even the band’s name, which Lindgren says was born out of a joke among friends, has a dual meaning.
Wayland says, “On one hand, you have the aristocracy, which is not the ruling class but just the class that’s refined and trying to always define something that’s above and beyond itself. But then you have the modern tendentious joke at the same time, so it’s like the Aristocrats joke where everything’s on the table.”
The essence of True Aristocrats lies somewhere between the intricate, complex precision of Mars Volta and the minimalist chaos of Lightning Bolt. (During the interview, we all make fun of “sounds like this and this” descriptions of bands, but a guy has to do his job, right?) There are less contemporary influences, from avant classical and jazz, as well as non-musical ones such as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s bizarre 1973 film The Holy Mountain.
The duo has been nothing if not prolific in the year-and-a-half since they started playing, making three albums available for download. Of these, 2010’s Zikkurat Thaumaturge is an EP-length, one-take improvisation.
By contrast, True Aristocrats spent the last year writing the new full-length Susurrus. Another irony – “susurrus” is a word signifying the sound of whispering or leaves rustling. While the album’s low-key intro and ending may fit that bill, the bulk of the album is anything but subdued.
The improvisational element is retained in some spots, but Susurrus is clearly a different animal than Zikkurat Thaumaturge. The album follows a pattern of alternating highs and lows, based on the duo’s penchant for speeding up and building intensity until the whole thing collapses under its own weight, and then starts again. Wayland and Lindgren worked hard to balance their preference for the rawness of live takes and improvisational sections with the desire to create something thematically cohesive.
“We wanted to preserve the raw intensity of being a duo, and I think the best way to do that is, we recorded as much as we could just the two of us in a room, playing really hard. But we also wanted to kind of create a narrative of the entire album too” Wayland says. “I kind of look at it as an Orphean journey through hell. The whole things starts off pretty peaceful, descends into utter madness, and then at the end, there’s repose.”
The new True Aristocrats album, Susurrus, is available as a pay-what-you-want download at truearistocrats.bandcamp.com.