Monday, July 26, 2010

Here They Come: Are You Ready For the Selmanaires? (Music interview) by Alison Ross

The music of Atlanta band The Selmanaires is virtually impervious to categorization, so promiscuous are the band's influences. So of course it’s no surprise that the members of the group are a culturally literate bunch, inspired by Dadaism, haiku, and of course, music from across the sonic spectrum.

“We are fans of music from all around the world,” says Ohio native Jason Harris, who, along with twin sibling Herb and Atlanta-born Tommy Chung, founded the band in 2003. “It all comes from a similar place, no matter the cultural differences. We attempt to distill the essence of that through what we know, modern American life.”

“Music is never a solitary venture,” says Herb. “There is always the player and the listener. And it is also informed by magic. It is culture trying to get outside itself.”

Jason echoes this sentiment: “Our aim is not to express ourselves, but to get OUTSIDE of ourselves, and rhythm is the springboard.”

Tommy Chung, who rounds out the core of the band, also feels that classical literature is an implicit influence on The Selmanaire’s music. “I like the masters: Hemingway, Fitzgerald,” he relates. “I also like Japanese author Murakami and magical realism. Of course, these influences affect me more subconsciously than consciously.”

Heralded as extremely hard working and yet “underappreciated” by fellow Atlantan Bradford Cox of indie darlings, Deerhunter, The Selmanaires have released three albums since their inception, each with its own idiosyncratic identity.

However, the first two albums share more of an artistic kinship than the latest offering. The debut album, Here Come the Selmanaires and the sophomore release, The Air Salesmen, carve out a rather traditional rock sound compared to the far spacier, more meditative, and electronica-infused Tempo Temporal.

Of course, the first two albums are suffused with quirky qualities that do seek to set them apart from mainstream rock outfits. Those albums are comprised of tunes that can best be described as a mad mashup of disco, classic rock, art rock, post-punk, new wave, electronica, Motown, and 60s garage rock. This reflects The Selmanaires’ cultural-stew approach to forging sounds.

But with Tempo Temporal, things get eccentrically edgier.

“With the first couple of records, it was us learning the craft, and learning to write,” explains Tommy. “With Tempo Temporal, we’re not trying to fit in. We are more open to randomness and chance. We are going away from verse-chorus, verse-bridge. We have thrown the rule book out now.”

“There came a point when all we could think about was texture,” Jason expounds. “It felt like we were just bashingbashingbashing. People in bars respond to bashing and not subtlety, and we were doing what elicited a response.”

This move away from more straightforward sonics must in part be explained by Jason’s propensity for avant-garde poetry and art: “I like any anthology edited by Jerome Rothenberg. And as far as art, I'm dedicated to Modernism, especially Dadaism. I feel like they were surrogate fathers to me. Jean Arp is one of my all-time favorites.”

But of course, likely the evolution is owed mainly to the band simply having mastered the rudiments of music-making and wanting to venture down more daring and even daunting paths.

“I think we've always wanted to do something a little more sophisticated and nuanced but did not have the resources or technique,” says Jason. “We don't want to remain alcohol salesmen. We are just beginning to emerge from ‘apprentice’ stage and move on to the next phase, which we hope will be developing a sound of our own. We felt trapped as a three piece and wanted to expand.”

Herb continues: “After a while we got bored with rock and roll and blues-based music which is most prevalent in American culture. We also didn't want to bludgeon people over the head with sound, we want to caress the ears, not make them bleed. It started when Jason got a sampler. Then it all got stranger.”

To weave in a bit more complexity and subtlety to its musical template, the band has been collaborating with 22-year old honey-voiced folk-crooner Adron. And wildly talented Floridian-Columbian Schambon has taken over on percussion.

Herb says of these additions, “Our ideas have gotten bigger, and there is only so much three people can do. Mario is crazy on the percussion, and he has been a wonderful addition. We have not really discussed long term plans with Adron, but it has been a blast to work with her. She has her own thing going on and her music is amazing. We definitely enjoy having female vocals. It adds to the sonic spectrum.”

Regardless of what musical corridors the band ventures down, The Selmanaire’s trademark melodious harmonies will remain firmly intact, according to Herb.

“Singing with other people is one of my favorite drugs,” he says. “When you’re all hitting it the vibrations are magical. We have been told we need a frontman. We contend that our harmonies are the main vocal.”

The members of The Selmanaires do not seem concerned that this may further marginalize the band in the local scene. They exude confidence that in the end, their vision will prevail.

Says Jason, “If we're doing something good it will be appreciated at some point. What we want to do is going to take time. We have grand ideas that are only starting to come to fruition. I'm somewhat glad that we haven't quite had ‘success’ yet. Great things take a long time. We would have gotten caught in traps had it happened sooner.”

And anyway, as the band asserts, the music scene has always been propelled by payola, where it’s more about marketing than the music. These days, with the Cox/Clear Channel monopoly, things are only that much trickier for up-and-coming visionary artists such as The Selmanaires.

Of course, the internet has afforded such bands unprecedented opportunity for wider exposure. And it also offers a way to circumvent the big corporations.

Say Jason and Herb: “The internet in its infancy. Big music corporations are squirming. Michael Jackson was the last big musician that everyone liked – but now there is so much choice and so much music. Things are so fragmented and there is so much to choose from – it’s going to be about finding your niche."

For the members of The Selmanaires, Sonic Youth exemplifies what constitutes the ideal equilibrium between critical acclaim for original output and audience appreciation. “Sonic Youth stature would be what we aspire to,” says Jason. Sonic Youth, it must be noted, never grew into an arena band, but has always maintained reverential status among critics for its innovative manipulation of noise, and retained a sizable core fan following as well.

The Selmanaires will continue to allow disparate cultural influences to impact their mode of music-making. Serge Gainsbourg, CAN, Os Mutantes, Ray Davies, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Air, Glass Candy, Broadcast, Stereolab, are just a few more in the band’s long litany of musical heroes who will undeniably make their presence known overtly and covertly in the band’s music. And, of course, creating its own mythology remains an impetus for the band.

“We are living in a very mythical/changing/confusing time, except that the myths of pre-industrial and pre-electronic times are not very fitting to us," says Jason. “We're dazzled. We're looking. Essentially all of our songs are about feeling at peace with our animal nature and finding out where we fit in. We FEEL there is major inner psychic change that is occurring right below our noses and coming to grips with that is one of our major themes.”

The band, which has yet to be signed, wants to work with any label that will give it enough financial backing to record a proper album. The band does not want to feel rushed and “under the gun” like they did with previous efforts. Until then, they will do it themselves.

“We have thought about giving it all up, but then we come back to it,” says Tommy. “We have to do it. We love it.” Jason and Herb nod in aggressive agreement.

The Selmanaires are working on new material which will likely be out by the end of the year. In the meantime, the band will release a 7 inch, Sinister Season/B.Spell on Double Phantom records, which is linked on Pitchfork, and has just dropped an EP download, An Animated Shadow. Both efforts showcase a startling evolution toward a dreamier, more deconstructive approach to music; traditional time signatures give way to cerebral sonic musings. Elements of Kraftwerk and Brian Eno can be readily discerned in these celestially sinuous tracks.

When The Selmanaires’ tenacious efforts do finally pay off and their vibrant vision is duly recognized, the band will at last reap the manifold rewards it so richly deserves.

Get ready for The Selmanaires. Here they come, world.

Here are some crucial links to The Selmanaires:

Official band blog



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