Austin post-rockers Explosions in the Sky have been weaving their instrumental magic for almost ten years now, releasing four revered albums and one soundtrack over that time. During their recent Australian tour Static’s Chris Berkley talked to Chris Hrasky drummer with the band about creating their last disc, All of a Sudden I miss Everyone, the Friday Night Lights soundtrack and curating the upcoming All Tomorrow’s Parties festival.
It’s nice to finally have Explosions in the Sky here Chris. It’s taken awhile; you’re in Brisbane this evening. Are you sound checking as we speak?
We just loaded in our gear and we’ll probably be sound checking here in the next little while.
Do you ever get nervous about what a venue will sound like for you guys? I imagine you would be pretty picky about the sound and the acoustics and how they will affect the Explosions in the Sky sound. Does that ever weigh on your minds?
I guess, sometimes. But we are generally pretty easy going guys and we’ll try and make do with whatever room we are in. Although this place (The Zoo, Brisbane) seems like it will be pretty nice.
I guess also that this far into the band now you must have had all the worst things that could have been thrown at you already happen by now right?
Yeah, although you never know something even worse might happen someday but we’ve had our ups and downs on tours for sure.
Have you guys ever turned up to a venue where the PA’s been run by a mouse in a cage or something and have you wondered how you were going to get your sound out to everybody?
Yeah, or showing up to places where there is no PA and stuff like that but we tend to just deal with what is there and we are just happy to play. We don’t get to uptight or angry for stuff like that.
So heaven forbid you know that Explosions in the Sky acoustic might happen — but apart from that you’d do alright.
[laughs] Yeah, exactly.
As well as taking quite awhile to get here you even took your sweet time in making the last album All of A Sudden I Miss Everyone. Was that a long and drawn out process itself, to get to that record?
Well after the record before this one we just toured and toured. We got a little burnt out from touring and seeing each other everyday for months and months. So we took a bit of a break for awhile. And then when we are home we tend to be fairly lazy so it took us awhile to get going and getting into a process where we were productive. We tried for a few months and were coming up with stuff that we weren’t really that interested in. For us to write records it’s generally a pretty long process just because, I don’t know, it is just the way we work. It just takes awhile. There’s no sort of front man in the band so it’s not like some guy comes in and says “ok here is the song, lets learn it.” It’s much more this process of the four of us putting something together and it can take a long time but ultimately that is the way we prefer to do it.
I actually heard that you guys had done some versions of this album and then sort of aborted them as well. Is that right?
Yeah, we wrote a bunch of stuff that we didn’t like over a few months and sort of just threw it away and started over from scratch. That seems to happen every time we work on a record, I think it is just part of the way we do things. It is basically a trial and error-process for us.
How spontaneous then are any of the takes that end up on an Explosions in the Sky albums? Is it stuff that you played through a thousand times or do you sometimes have some happy accidents in the studio that you get down on tape?
There is always some sort of happy accidents but mostly when we go into the studio we have the songs written, we know what to do and we play them. There’s not a lot of improvising in the studio just because it costs money then.
So going in there actually makes you not quite so lazy and you get your shit together when go to record.
The other thing I guess that drew out the process was that in between the last two albums you guys scored a Hollywood-film. Where you initially bewildered to be approached to do the music to the football-film Friday Night Lights?
Yes, we were a little bewildered. Not for the reason everyone assume (because it was a football move), but it happened to be based on this book that was a true story that actually took place in a town where the other three members of the group grew up. So they are very familiar with that world that it portrays the sort of West-Texas football insanity.
We were bewildered that a studio would contact us to do music. It was very strange for us.
Were any of you guys in Explosions in the Sky then high school footballers? Is there a jock element to the band?
No, no one was into football. I think we would have been brutally crushed on the football field.
Did doing that music then sort of discipline you guys to make your music fit a scene or correspond to what was on screen? Was it a very different kind of process than writing normal Explosions in the Sky material — having to put it to this movie?
Yeah, it was very different but it was actually a lot easier than writing songs for a record. It is ultimately background music, you are really there to service the scene as opposed to make this music stand on its own. It was actually not a particularly stressful or difficult task for us to do. It was a lot easier. We were a lot less hard on ourselves when we are actually making a proper record.
So you learnt that people like John Williams and Danny Elfman etcetera just coast through life?
Yeah, [laughs] I don’t know if we are quite at that level. We just plug in some reverb pedals and what not.
Another thing that you guys in Explosions in the Sky have done this year is that you are adding another talent to your résumé in becoming music festival coordinators.
After here you go to curate the All Tomorrow’s Parties in the UK. Was that much more of a fun phone call to get — to get to throw together a music festival of your own?
We’ve played the festival before and we are kind of friends with the organisers. We’re always kind of whistling in their ear a bit that we would love to be one of the curators. This year they asked us and that was basically it. We sort of put together a wish list of bands and passed it over to the festival people and they go and ask.
So there must have been some late night in the van conversation about making your ultimate festival wish list? Did you get most people that you wanted?
Yeah, we definitely got a lot of the people that we really wanted on the list. There are a few various reunions and things like that that we couldn’t pull off but for the most part we’re really excited about it.
I noticed that you got some of the home town favourites like You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead and Okkervil River playing with you and you got some hip hop represent with Ghostface Killah and Raekwon. There is one name that is missing off the list — I noticed that you guys didn’t ask Smashing Pumpkins?
Yeah, I don’t now if they would do that sort of festival.
You actually supported them in America last year, right?
Yes we did, just this last fall we toured with them for about a month in the States.
How did you pull through that?
Again, it was pretty easy actually. I don’t know, whenever we get involved in these big time operations it ends up a lot less stressful than as opposed to a headline tour. You just show up and play for half an hour and there is not a whole lot of pressure on you. If people don’t like it fine, if they do it’s great too.
You didn’t have any rabid Smashing Pumpkins fans flipping you the bird or throwing things at you when you were playing then?
No, not so much. We did pretty well I think. The Smashing Pumpkins fans were pretty nice to us.
I’m pleased to see that it hasn’t resulted in you guys suddenly shaving your heads or wearing silver dresses on stage or anything like that.
No, no nothing like that.
The pomp and circumstance hasn’t hit Explosions in the Sky just yet then?
No, not yet. Maybe in a couple of years, we’ll see what happens.
We might let you go to do some sound checking there in Brisbane right now. Thanks for the talk and have fun!
First broadcast on Static on 14/02/2008. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3FM) and via the internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).