Hoop dreams and epic music still part of Explosions in the Sky
It wasn't tons of exposure through music placement on "Friday Night Lights" or a fan base large enough to defy reason for an instrumental band that helped Austin's Explosions in the Sky score a spot opening for Arcade Fire on Tuesday.
Turns out, what it took was a pretty sweet jump shot.
Chris Hrasky recounts how a pickup hoops game last year between Arcade Fire singer/Mr. Everything Win Butler and Explosions guitarist Munaf Ryani laid the groundwork for the show at the Backyard with the Grammy award winners for Album of the Year.
"They were here a year ago for their movie ("The Suburbs") with Spike Jonze, and Win loves basketball, like he plays all the time, and he heard Munaf is a good player, so he called him up and asked him if he wanted to come play," said Hrasky, drummer for the post-rock instrumental band.
Guitarist Michael James jumps in: "Munaf is one of the best players I've ever played with and has this amazing court vision. That helps when you're playing with Win, because I guess all he had to do was keep getting him the ball. Maybe Win just figured it'd be good to have a band to play some hoops with."
Whether it was because of a completely different kind of hoop dreams or not, Tuesday's show and another on Wednesday in Houston are some big steps into the spotlight for the band that's been mostly quiet and out of sight since wrapping up its last tour in 2009.
Tuesday the band released its newest album, "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care," and became a first-column band on the just-released lineup for the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago (which makes it a safe bet for this year's Austin City Limits Festival). Last month, the band sold out New York City's Radio City Music Hall and garnered rapturous reviews.
Hrasky said the Big Apple show was a gamble the band thought long and hard about taking on before deciding it was an opportunity that might not come again, given the fickle nature of the music world.
"We were like, 'This is the fourth show with these (new) songs and we're at Radio City,'\u2009" he said. "It's like, maybe this show shouldn't happen for another four months so we can have some more time playing them. ... We hemmed and hawed for a while. In terms of 'we've arrived' or 'conquered the world,' there's none of that. It was more, 'All right, we did that and we're OK.' I think some self-doubt will always be there, and I think it's a healthy amount."
Reviews of that performance suggest the newer material fits in well live with the band's past output, which has been characterized mainly by slow-build songs that explode into three-guitar fury. "Take Care ..." found the band trying to be consciously "less obvious" (their words) and assembling songs in pieces during the course of almost a year instead of marathon writing stretches together.
The result is a record that's more unsettled, with songs that feel like they'll require perhaps a dozen or more plays for the listener to truly figure out.
"There was something about trying to get the same engagement with the listener without being so obvious," James said. "You want to be restrained and artistic about it, but you want to connect, and so you have to find a way to do both. There were more individual sounds, so then we had to make them fit in the context of the band, and nothing sounds the way it originally did. So it's much more different and also much more difficult, which is why this record took such a long time to come out."
Even after more than six months of completion and weeks at a time spent practicing for live shows, Hrasky sounds like he's still getting to know and become comfortable with his own music.
"Things are definitely a little darker and weirder... a little more unsettling and less obvious with its emotions," he said. "We've tended toward melodrama in the past, and this one is more confusing. On this one, even on the rock parts, even when it's everyone all the way turned up and beating the hell out of everything, which there's plenty of ... we tried to make that more textured and have things like a chorus of scary voices or samples, something to make it scarier."
Upcoming local shows
Opening for Arcade Fire on Tuesday at the Backyard (technically sold out). www.c3concerts.com
Headlining at ACL Live on June 17. $21. www.acl-live.com