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Exploring an explosive instrumental sound

by Justinas Staskevicius October 1, 2013
Exploring an explosive instrumental sound

This Thursday night at the Bell Centre, the lights will dim and Explosions in the Sky will unleash their “cathartic mini-symphonies” to a crowd of thousands. The Austin based four-piece will open for industrial rock veterans Nine Inch Nails along the first leg of their Tension 2013 Tour to promote their latest album. In a recent interview with The Concordian, guitarist Mark Smith shared how four young aspiring musicians came to play alongside one of the biggest names in music.

Explosions in the Sky formed in Austin, Texas, back in 1999. Chris Hrasky, the band’s drummer, is an Illinois native while the remaining three members are from Texas.

“I moved to Austin to go to the University, but had dropped out,” said Smith.

As fate would have it, Hrasky had posted up a flyer to attract musicians with “Wanted: Sad Triumphant Rock Band” printed on it in hopes of forming a band. Because of the flyer, the three musicians answered the call, came together and have been playing as a band since. With such a crucial point in their genesis based entirely on luck, Smith claims that “It’s just weird to think if he had never put up that flyer or we had never seen it…I try not to think about it.”

If he were not part of Explosions in the Sky, Smith says he would have wanted to be the general manager of a professional basketball team. “I’m fairly certain that’s what I was born to do but got side tracked by music,” jokes Smith.

Being an almost purely instrumental band, Explosions in the Sky drew on a long list of musical influences including Metallica, Fugazi, Pavement -the creators of Smith’s favourite album, Slanted and Enchanted-, Jawbreaker, and The Cure, to churn out their first album, How Strange, Innocence, in 2000. “In the early years, it seemed like we wrote at a pretty ferocious pace, like it was just pouring out of us. We had found a sound and were just feverishly trying to develop it and explore it. Not to mention we were renting practice spaces by the hour,”said Smith. “We’ve never taken more than two weeks to record an album,” he added.

After being together for only a year, the band was already feverishly working on their second album, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever and it was clear to them that they had put together something special. The four members tattooed the angel depicted on their second album cover onto each of their left wrists. “It really solidified how serious we were. We’ve always referred to them as our wedding rings,” said Smith.

Having created the original score for the recent David Gordon Green film Prince Avalanche starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, the band has been increasingly busy.While not new to scoring screen productions—having filled out most of the soundtrack for the TV series Friday Night Lights—this venture is a different beast from traditional album composition. The band had composed a song for Green’s previous film Snow Angel and with Green currently living in Austin, the matchup seemed like a natural fit.

While artist and director at times do not see eye to eye in scoring films, Smith stated,“this was kind of a dream project in that it just went extremely smoothly and we all ended up happy.” While the 15 song soundtrack is well composed, do not expect to hear any of the band’s newest material on stage.“We only get 40 minutes for our sets on these tours, so we’ll be playing four or five songs from our albums every night.” However, these songs might one day be played live: “I don’t think it’s out of the question that we’ll play a song from the movie the next time we do our own tour.”

As for their current tour with headliner Nine Inch Nails, Smith and the rest of the band are not feeling overly nervous about playing before such  large crowds. “We’ve been doing it long enough that we have confidence in what we’re doing,” Smith asserts. He added that even if the show goes south, their goal is only to “do our thing and hopefully it sparks something in some people.” While the band have been fans of Nine Inch Nails since their 1989 release Pretty Hate Machine, none of the members had previously ever seen the band live in concert.

Despite recording movie soundtracks and their ever expanding tour lineup, the band have not lost their sense of wonder and of humour. When asked what type of animal he would most likely be, Smith answered that he had once looked in the mirror and “thought (he) was a wolf”.

Explosions in the Sky open at the Bell Centre Oct.3 for Nine Inch Nails.



photo caption: Instrumental rock band Explosions in the Sky perform with Nine Inch Nails on the “Tension 2013” Tour.


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