Chemical Elements : March On, Comrade Ready New Album ‘Our Peaceful Atoms’

March On, Comrade are a hell of a band. They’ve been a band since 2015 when indie pop band Ordinary Van disbanded, but a few of the members decided to keep things going. Ryan Holquist, Charles P. Davis, and Chris Leonard started up March On, Comrade with John Ptak and Ben Robinson. They cut a great self-titled album in 2016, and then at the beginning of this year they played the Sums & Differences show with a 12 piece chamber orchestra. They recorded that concert and released it a month later.

In a relatively short amount of time they’ve achieved quite a lot.

But what do they sound like? They travel in post-rock terrain, but they embellish with crystalline pop hooks. Imagine This Will Destroy You, Sigur Ros, Auburn Lull, and the studio curiosity of Brian Wilson all rolled into one comfortable blanket of noise. It’s dense enough for the headiest of space cadets but there’s an air of romanticism that reels in even the casual channel surfer.

The guys took some time over the spring and summer and wrote and recorded their new album, titled Our Peaceful Atoms. They don’t retool their sound more than they hone it in on all the buzzing beauty and pop confections that they’ve created and culled over the last two years. March On, Comrade have made a lean and precise 6-song album that will go well with both existential pondering alone in the dark, and as a background score to conversations and beers.

I spoke to Charlie and Ryan about the Sums & Differences show, the new album, how it came together, and what we have to look forward to in 2018.


J. Hubner: The last time we spoke March On, Comrade were gearing up for the Sums & Differences show at Artslab. For those that don’t know, this was the March On, Comrade with a 12-piece chamber orchestra show. How did the performance end up? Were you all happy with how it turned out? Is it something March On, Comrade would consider doing again?

Charlie Davis: It turned out great! It actually surpassed my expectations. I expected us to have a good turnout but we were the only band on the bill and it was more expensive than a typical local show so for it to actually sell out in advance was amazing. We got terrific feedback on it. I think we’d like to do something like that again but we also don’t just want to do the same show twice so it is a matter of finding the time to come up with a way to do something similar but unique.

Ryan Holquist: It was very rewarding.  It came together really well, and it’s flattering how well-received it was.  We quietly snuck the audio onto Spotify and Bandcamp.  The only down side of the experience is that we set the bar pretty high for ourselves, and now every time we play we want to have an orchestra and video projection.  We didn’t want to record the exact same arrangements, but we were happy to have the same string quartet and percussionist on the new album.  Sums & Differences definitely changed our compositional style, and you can hear those elements a lot more on Our Peaceful Atoms.

J. Hubner: So with “performing live with a chamber orchestra” marked off the band’s bucket list, you guys headed back into writing mode and we are now getting ready for the brand new March On, Comrade album Our Peaceful Atoms. How did the album come together? Where did the band record the record?

Charlie Davis: We had started working on a lot of new song ideas around the time of the Sums and Differences show, and that show really gave us a lot of inspiration moving forward. We wrapped up songwriting in early summer and started recording around July and August. We recorded drums at the rehearsal space of our friend Jon Ross, which sadly just burnt down. The rest was done at our own home studios, primarily John Ptak’s and my own.

Ryan Holquist: A couple of the songs basically finished writing themselves as they were recorded.  We committed to leaving a certain amount of space and replaced some more standard guitar/drums/keyboard parts with other instruments and atmospheric sounds, such as accordion, kalimba, electronic percussion, and effected samples.  We also gave a lot of leeway and freedom to Robert Cheek, who mixed the album.  There’s a huge benefit to having outside ears involved in some capacity, and we knew we could trust Robert’s decisions based on his aesthetic and resume (Band of Horses, Tera Melos, Doombird, By Sunlight).

J. Hubner: Four of the six tracks on Our Peaceful Atoms were performed live for the Sums and Differences performance. Do they differ, if any, from those first live renditions? How long have those tracks been around? Do “Path” and “Lost” go back as well or are those newer songs?

Charlie Davis: Of the new songs we played at Sums and Differences, only one had been played at multiple shows before that so the others were definitely in infancy and have had some tweaks done to them since. Doing that show really showed us how well the orchestral arrangements filled them out, so doing them in a way that would leave room for those elements to be recorded was something we made a conscious decision about. “Path” is one we’ve been working on for awhile and has been played out a couple of times now, while “Lost” has never been played live and is the newest song.

Ryan Holquist: A recording puts things under a microscope, so there’s less need to fill things in with extra strums and drum fills.  A couple of the songs are pretty close to the live arrangements (“Westlake” and “Terra”), but even some of the others we’ve played live have an intentionally different vibe on the album.

Photo by Jen Hancock

 

J. Hubner: Stylistically you guys still balance nicely between post-rock and dream pop. I’m hearing a lot more Auburn Lull than say, This Will Destroy You, especially with the vocals. Maybe neither of them play into the sound (could just be my old dude ears), but you guys have done a great job on Our Peaceful Atoms of creating these expansive songs while still giving them a very modern and inviting lean. You seem to be having the cake and eating it too while offering a slice to everyone else.

Going into this record, what were you guys wanting to achieve this time around? What were some influences and inspirations?

Charlie Davis: I don’t know that we set out to achieve anything specifically but we all wanted to push on the boundaries of the last record and see if we could do something different. We weren’t looking for a genre shift or anything like that, but we didn’t want to make songs that would be confused for anything on the last album. I think we accomplished that. These new songs seem to fit into our live show perfectly but if you listen to the two albums they have some very clear differences.

Ryan Holquist:  I think we’ll always have a desire to keep certain post-rock elements, but we’re not so committed to that genre that we want to ignore appealing melodies or pop-oriented song structures.

J. Hubner:  If you can, could you dissect the creative process with the track “Path”? I’m hearing a lot of electronic flourishes in this tune. How did this track come together? What were some of the artistic inspirations behind the song?

Charlie Davis: Ben was doing some work with a new sampler and came up with this really ear-grabbing beat that sounded like something heavy trudging along. He made a demo that he sent to us that had that beat along with some keys and other electronic elements. We all loved it right away and were actually able to finish that song very quickly. Any band at some point can start to feel a little formulaic in their songwriting and having something that started from a more electronic standpoint was very inspiring and allowed everything else to come about very naturally.

Ryan Holquist: Ben came into the band after most of the songs on the first EP had been written, so he was largely trying to squeeze into the gaps and create atmosphere.  “Path” is a great example of how his contributions have morphed our sound, as is the presence of a lot more piano and prominenet synth parts.  Ben’s chord progression and electro twiddlies from the OP1 made us all think outside our usual boxes for ways to contribute, which bled into our parts and overall approach to some of the other songs.  It’s also pretty obvious that at least a couple of us really love the Valtari album by Sigur Rós…

J. Hubner: “Westlake” reminds me of The Beach Boys. To my ears, Smile is one of the most complex pop albums ever made. “Westlake” has moments that put me in mind of the song “Surf’s Up”. You guys pull off both progressive rock leanings while still making this a beautifully spaced-out pop song. Besnard Lakes do that very well, too. How does pop music play into the writing process in March On, Comrade?

Charlie Davis: We all listen to it in some form or another so I’m sure it finds it’s place in our music. There are a few parts of that song that Ryan would tell you are essentially Genesis tributes, so maybe we get some influence from the pop of other eras as well. Most pop music nowadays is very computer oriented in terms of the songwriting process as well as the instrumentation and arrangements. This album definitely has a larger emphasis on electronic elements that could be found in a lot of pop music while still sounding like a rock band.

Ryan Holquist: Beach Boys, interesting! I wrote most of “Westlake,” and I don’t know that I had any particular vibe in mind for it.  When Robert was mixing it, he warned me that he was going for full-on Fleetwood Mac.  I think I’m the only band member who would count himself as a particular fan of progressive rock, and as Charlie mentioned, I ended up with a subconscious nod to Steve Hackett (Genesis) in my guitar part.  I suppose it’s fair to say that on “Westlake” in particular, we played pop-oriented harmonic content and groove, in a progressive rock arc, with enough space and ambience to qualify as post-rock.

J. Hubner: On December 8th March On, Comrade will be having a CD release show at the Brass Rail. Can you give us some details on that show? Who’s playing with you guys? What sort of merch will be available? Will minds be expanded?

Charlie Davis: We just completed the line-up recently, and we’ll be playing with our friends in Trichotomous Hippopotamus and The Be Colony. We’ve played with both bands before and they’re both amazing bands with their own unique sounds. We’ll be selling whatever is left of our t-shirts, old EP, and of course we’ll have copies of the new album. Since most of the new songs have either not been played live much, or never, we’re hoping everyone will really enjoy them and maybe get some mind expansion from them.

Ryan Holquist: To give you an idea of how much minds will be expanded, Our Peaceful Atoms will be born on the same date as Diego Rivera, Nicki Minaj, Sinead O’Connor, and Ann Coulter.

J. Hubner: Are there any other shows on the books for March On, Comrade you can tell us about?

Charlie Davis: We have a couple other shows on the books at this point. We didn’t get to play out much this last year due to our own scheduling conflicts so I’m hoping we can be a bit more consistent in 2018. Our next show after this will be on January 20 and is a benefit show for a good friend of ours who is trying to raise money for her and her husband to adopt and we have some great bands in store for that one as well.

J. Hubner: We’ve almost put another year behind us. 2017 has been kind of a dumpster fire to say the least, with a few moments of beauty scattered here and there. What do we have to look forward to in 2018?

Ryan Holquist: If we would have known when we first started playing together in 2015 that there would be so much talk about ties to Russia, we might have reconsidered our name!  We are proud to have had no part in the dumpster fire of 2017.

Charlie Davis: It was a very intense year to say the least. I’m hoping it will be an exciting year for Fort Wayne music. I’m sure the veteran bands will continue to put out great music and there are always new bands getting started that amaze us with their creativity. As for March On, Comrade, we have no plans of stopping anytime soon so I’m looking forward to working on new songs, playing shows, and seeing what the five of us can continue to come up with going forward.


Don’t forget to get out to the Brass Rail on December 8th for March On, Comrade’s CD release show for Our Peaceful Atoms. They’ll be playing with Trichotomous Hippopotamus and The Be Colony. And be sure to grab a copy of the CD. If you can’t make it or you are weird about physical media, then just go to https://marchoncomrade.bandcamp.com/album/our-peaceful-atoms and download it on December 8th.

Mogwai : Every Country’s Sun

I had a rough first start with Mogwai. My initial introduction to Mogwai was the Curiosa Festival back in 2004. I thought I was going to be decimated in the spot I stood in the pavilion of the World Music Theater by the sheer volume that emanated from the stage. It was a kind of pained loudness that comes from out-of-control freight trains, hydrogen bomb explosions, and crowd surges at Black Friday sales. It took me six more years before I gave the Scottish post-rock outfit another shot and that shot was their 2008 album The Hawk Is Howling. Turns out, their albums are quite pleasing. Lots of guitar and mood, but not the pained guttural explosions I witnessed years before. I was hooked.

Since 2008, Mogwai have turned out great albums like Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will and Rave Tapes, as well as dabbling in soundtrack work with the likes of Les Revenants, Atomic, and Before The Flood. Mogwai have returned with new album Every Country’s Sun, and it could be their best album in years. They’ve reunited with Rock Action producer Dave Fridmann and their sound is all the better for it. This is the loudest and brashest the band has sounded in a very long time.

Now even though Fridmann has returned to the producing chair, that doesn’t mean Mogwai are all loud and blowing speakers left and right. They are just as known for more contemplative and vast songs that illicit daydreams and big ideas. “Coolverine” is one of those tracks. It opens the album properly, with pensive synth, brittle guitar, and very pronounced drums. It sounds like the calm before the storm. “Party In The Dark” is as uptempo as Mogwai gets, complete with robotic vocals and a driving rhythm section that sounds as much like Bear In Heaven as Scottish post-rockers. “Brain Sweeties” has a overwhelming feel to it. It’s like a behemoth of a song that slowly builds itself up to the sky. It puts me in mind of their excellent “Scotland’s Shame” from The Hawk Is Howling. Songs like this are what keep me coming back. “Crossing The Road Material” shows evidence of Fridmann’s tinkering, as the song feels like it’s being performed about 3 feet in front of you. There’s a dreamy quality here, but still a visceral one as the drums begin to crackle with life before your very ears. “aka 47” is all warm synths and heady atmosphere. Quite engaging stuff.

Elsewhere, “Battered at a Scramble” sounds like early 90s alternative, in-particular Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins with its fuzzy guitar and Chamberlain-approved drums. This is probably the most joyously-rocking track Mogwai have put to tape in years. “Old Poisons” gets even heavier thanks to Fridmann’s sonic magic and guitar noise similar to a Sonic Youth/Polvo love-in. “Every Country’s Sun” closes out the set in epic, grand style.

I don’t quite have the history with Mogwai as a lot of folks, so I feel strange saying this album sounds like the best thing they’ve done in years. There’s a presence here that seems to have been lacking in previous LPs. Their soundtrack work is there to serve a particular story, not necessarily the band’s vision. And the last couple proper Mogwai albums have been more on the atmospheric side, as opposed to being more rock and/or roll. Every Country’s Sun seems to have found a beautiful balance between Hardcore’s indifference, Rave Tapes’ electronic leanings, and the classic guitar-heavy early days. The band sounds loose and open to whatever happens when the tape starts rolling. Dave Fridmann opened Tarbox up for the Glasgow boys to let the amps buzz and the ideas float off one another. Every Country’s Sun sounds like possibilities becoming something more.

8.2 out of 10

 

 

 

Papir : V

The Danish trio Papir have always sounded much larger than you’d expect three guys to sound. With just the guitar/bass/drums rock trio standard set up, these guys make a mountain of sound. At times brash and fuzz-covered, other times dreamy and atmospheric, Nicklas Sørensen, Christoffer Brøchmann Christensen, and Christian Becher Clausen cover terrain as diverse as psych rock, post-rock, and even moments veering on progressive. Their tenure with El Paraiso Records gave our ears classics like Stundum, IIIIV , and their explosive Live At Roadburn that showed they are a force to be reckoned with live. These records set the stage for the trio from Copenhagen to seriously blow minds(and eardrums) for years to come.

Papir have returned from a three year hiatus with a brand new album and a brand new record label. Papir’s V is everything you’d hope from them and more. A double LP that spans over 90 minutes, V is a heady, expansive journey into the cosmos and back. Grab some headphones and a couple beers and get set to take flight.

Papir’s move from the mighty El Paraiso Records to Stickman Records has done nothing to quell the trio’s heady, hazy musical atmospherics. The record is seven songs clocking in over 90 minutes and is easily their most epic set yet. This is their most consistently dreamy collection of songs as well. At times there’s moments of Krautrock repetition(“V.II”), grand moments of blissed-out psychedelia(“V.III”), and epic musical statements(“V.VII”), but nothing ever gets into overdrive here. There are a few moments where Sørensen pushes his amps into overdrive territory, but for the most part this is a groove-driven affair. The rhythm section of Christoffer Brøchmann Christensen and Christian Becher Clausen lay down some solid groove foundations which allow the guitars to float above the proceedings and go where they may.

That’s not to say this isn’t a heavy record.

On the contrary, this album is like looking into some unknown abyss. It’s a beautiful and overwhelming experience. There are moments when everything melts together into one cavernous sound, as if the band are performing in a black hole. I liken it to my experience with vast, open spaces; back when I used to ride rollercoasters and would often go to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio for the non-pharmaceutical thrills. Sitting amidst the gray, ominous waters of Lake Erie, those slow crawls up that first great hill on the Magnum XL-200 were both exhilarating and horrifying. Clear days were okay, but overcast days the lake looked like this endless expanse that would devour you whole in an instant. And at night, the giant ferris wheel sat on what seemed to be the edge of the world. Lights flickered as you were cast up into the night sky to look over into Lake Erie’s beckoning calls. V has moments of that overwhelming vastness.

“V.III” starts out like some great post-rock anthem and then seems to slowly dissipate into that black abyss. “V.IV” is reminiscent of the lighter moments of Stundum. It feels like an early morning buzz as the crisp air hits your lungs and the day unfolds before your eyes. There’s a jazz quality to the drumming here. It’s like Tony Williams getting weird with NEU! in 1973. Opener “V.I” is like a hand guiding you through a technicolor maze. It’s breezy and takes flight many times, with the guitars getting nice and gritty at moments. Nicklas Sørensen seems to be channeling the great Michael Rother at times with his fluid guitar notes. This really is the perfect opener for an epic album like this.

Papir have never come across as a band that feels they need to rush through a song. They start a musical journey and explore like free jazz pioneers did before them. Their music is the wandering kind. You put on headphones, drop the needle, and just go where the music takes you. V is their most expansive set yet, giving us seven worlds to explore and get lost in. And they are beautiful worlds, indeed.

8.4 out of 10

 

Mogwai : Atomic

I have to admit, it took me a while to find my way to Mogwai. Even after seeing them in 2004 during an ear-shattering assault that left a good friend of mine and I stunned and shell shocked at the Curiosa Festival I still just could never bring myself to dig deeper into these Scottish post-rockers. But on a whim in late 2010 I picked up The Hawk Is Howling and everything changed for me. Songs like “Scotland’s Shame”, “Batcat”, and “The Sun Smells Too Loud” took me into Mogwai’s world. Ever since that afternoon in 2004 when my senses were violated by jet engine-volume distortion shrieks and feedback squalls for nearly 10 minutes I assumed these Scottish dudes were the equivalent of artsy noisemakers for noisemaking’s sake. Sonic blustering just to provoke. Turns out I was completely off base.

The Hawk Is Howling, Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will, Rave Tapes, and now their newest, Atomic, are carefully crafted records that are (mostly)instrumental journeys that are equal part pastoral soundscapes and heavy guitar wallop. I know I’m only covering the last 10 years of a nearly 20 year career, but I haven’t delved back into the early days(yet). This is a review of what’s happening now, and for my ears the new Atomic is what is happening right this very moment.

Like most in the post-rock canon, Mogwai were and have remained a mystery to me as a band. There’s no guitar solos, tasty drum fills, or lead singers belting out lovelorn lyrics to rope in the disenfranchised and broken-hearted. They don’t have individual spotlights shining on them one at a time, showcasing their individual bits. They work as one musical organism, building together not separately. In doing this their faces blur, and individuals become cogs in a post-rock machine. While this might sound rather dystopian, I think it works to Mogwai’s advantage. You’re not left with personality’s vying for the listener’s attention, but just the music to soak your head in. I think that’s why I’ve fallen so hard for Mogwai; as well as Explosions In The Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and This Will Destroy You, to name a few.

Mogwai, I think, are made to score stories on a screen. They’ve dabbled in the past with songs in film and working with the Kronos Quartet and Clint Mansell for the soundtrack to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, but they truly shined with their score for the French TV series Les Revenants. On that score the band showed their mastery for nuance and mood, things they’d honed over the years as reigning kings of instrumental rock. Atomic is a re-tooling of the score they created for Mark Cousins’ documentary Atomic, Living In Dread And Promise. Having not seen the film I don’t know how different the album version of these songs are from the film, but in the canon of Mogwai music this record is one of their best.

Like their previous effort, the excellent Rave Tapes, synthesizers play heavily on this album. Not heavy in a way that the music is over-saturated with analog drip, but subtle plucks and dips are surrounded by orchestral richness like on album opener “Ether”. This track sounds like John Williams in outer space, or Howard Shore scoring in a black hole. Pretty soon the guitars soar in to put us smack dab in a Glasgow practice space and ground us back on the home planet. “Bitterness Centrifuge” feels monolithic in its “wall of doom”-like sound. It’s both emboldened by the sonic weight and tipsy in its overwhelming heft. “Little Boy” is subtle but strong, synth-heavy melancholy(melancholy is something these guys have always done well.) “Are You A Dancer” falls even deeper in quiet, maudlin vibes. A beautiful musical work. “Fat Man” is completely haunting and one of Mogwai’s most delicate pieces yet.

Atomic, as an ornament for another’s artistic achievement works beautifully, and on its own stands as a singular artistic statement as well. Like Explosions In The Sky’s wonderful The Wilderness, Atomic pushes the instrumental rock album to a whole other level.

8. 5 out of 10

 

 

 

March On, Comrade : March On, Comrade EP

March On, Comrade rose from the ashes of another local band, Ordinary Van. Usually when the lead singer and main songwritercomrade decides he’s moving on that band usually ends up packing up and calling it a day. Occasionally someone might be brought in to replace said singer and the band continues on with a somewhat different identity. The guys left in Ordinary Van decided to stick together and forge a new identity. That identity was forged with Fort Wayne musicians John Ptak and Ben Robinson. The result is a sound less earth bound and more floating in space. You can call it post-rock if you must, but I like to call it existential post-breakup rock. Music to examine the broken pieces to and understanding why they broke. The self-titled EP from March On, Comrade seems to pull hope from the pit of ones twisted stomach. It’s a grand statement in a small package.

“Pool” opens the EP with an 80s vibe as synths and clean, echoed guitar come together to give the song a Talk Talk meets The Fixx vibe before something happens near the three minute mark and the song takes a melancholy turn. Instruments build upon simple motifs and stack upon each other like classic Sigur Ros. Dark clouds open to blinding light; what was impossible before seems like the next logical step. It’s a big and beautiful instrumental ending. “Archer” seems a more darker affair. It’s filled with quiet angst and calculated sadness. “Prism” sounds like Elbow on a good mood bender. I think Guy Garvey would approve. “Irons” has the vibe of early This Will Destroy You, had they experimented with ethereal vocals for a bit. And closer “Shade” keeps that existential longing vibe going.

March On, Comrade have a real knack for building songs piece by piece in front of our eyes. Unlike some of our post-rock heroes like Explosions in The Sky, Mogwai, This Will Destroy You, and even Sigur Ros, March On, Comrade prove on this EP they don’t need one whole album side for one song to get the point across. March On, Comrade have put together a 5-song EP that makes us excited for what’s coming next from them. It’s a beautiful, sad, and longing kind of album that’s an emotional heavy as well as a musical one.

Explosions in the Sky : The Wilderness

Listening to Explosions in the Sky for me has always been like that lump in your throat moment in a great film. The tragic losses, theexplosions triumphant successes, and the moment when you realize everything is going to be all right despite all the downs you’ve gone through to get there. They soundtrack both figuratively and literally those moments in life when something great is still something questionable, but has the potential for greatness. Albums like Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, All of A Sudden I Miss Everyone, and Take Care, Take Care, Take Care were these emotional bombs. The songs ebbed and flowed and told a non-existent tale of love, loss, redemption, and a life worth living; a life worth saving. They pushed through the field of instrumental bands that came before and after them and always remained true to their sound. And that sound was crystalline, shimmering guitars that could get a dirty jangle going from time to time, as well as bombastic drums that sound just as orchestral as they do rock and roll. As well as their own albums they’ve also delved into the world of film scoring, making beautiful music for two of David Gordon Green’s films, Prince Avalanche and Manglehorn, both of which they worked alongside David Wingo.

So Explosions In the Sky could have continued to make amazing instrumental rock albums that would inspire navel gazing in thousands of wandering souls for years and I’d keep on buying and listening with glee. But instead of doing that, EitS decided to take a few years and reconnect musically, going off and doing side projects like Inventions with Mark T. Smith and Eluvium’s Matthew Cooper, as well as the aforementioned film soundtracks. They’ve returned with The Wilderness, an album that takes the band’s expansive and exploratory sound and works in electronic and more atmospheric textures. It’s the best album they’ve released in years.

“Wilderness” floats along like a dream within a dream. Mark T. Smith’s work in Inventions is present immediately as synth and electronic textures come in and out of the mix. EitS haven’t lost any of their emotional heft, they’ve just given it a new, futuristic sheen. “The Ecstatics” feels like the unveiling of something great. More electronics mixed into the EitS formula make for something quite fantatsic. “Tangle Formations” is carried along by big drums and a lovely piano line. Another sweeping epic that moves the listener to another place and time.

I’ve always been amazed by how big of a sound just four guys could create. All of their albums sounded so symphonic. The Wilderness is no exception. Each track is its own world, and with the added ear candy each listen gives you something new to find. “Logic Of A Dream” is all pomp and circumstance as it starts out then guitar, piano and tribal drums come in with an urgency and rushed contemplation. The track seems to melt into the earth before reforming on a steady drum beat and dream-like melody. “Disintegration Anxiety” is a perfect example of how EitS have revamped and rebuilt their sound from the ground up. It’s a driving track that works in new sounds and vibes into their already great formula. At times “Disintegration Anxiety” sounds like Battles on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It’s a forward-thinking sound. A futuristic vision of EitS. “Losing The Light” feels like floating in space. It’s weightless contemplation. Taking in your surroundings and pushing to understand them.

The Wilderness is an album of self-exploration from beginning to end. “Infinite Orbit” feels like a tumble through the milky way, while “Colors In Space” is gazing into infinity itself. The big questions answered, or just creating more questions. Each track is a journey into the great unknown, whether it be space or ourselves. Explosions in the Sky have never faltered in asking the big questions through music. The Wilderness is some of the biggest questions yet. Repeated listens will give you the answers.

9.1 out 10

 

 

No Ordinary Comrade : A Talk With March On, Comrade

 

by J. Hubner

Photo by Adam Garland

So let’s say you start a band with some of your best pals. You work hard and write some great songs. You play some shows, decide to cut an album and really go for it. Then, right after you give the world the gift of music one of those pals(the pal that does most of the singing and a good portion of writing) moves away. A lot of bands would find it hard to keep the forward motion going and continue on, but none of those bands is Ordinary Van.

Ordinary Van did all of the above, and indeed lost a key voice and good friend in Paul Bates when he moved to the West Coast last year. But instead of packing up the amps and calling it quits, remaining members Ryan Holquist, Charles P. Davis, and Chris Leonard got a new thing going with John Ptak and Ben Robinson. That new thing is March On, Comrade. The guys sat down to talk with me about the band recently.

J. Hubner: So tell me about how March On, Comrade came to be? It seems there’s some similar personnel between March On and Ordinary Van, correct?

Ryan Holquist: Three of the five of us were in Ordinary Van, and when Paul Bates moved to California fairly abruptly, the rest of us decided we’d like to forge on.  John Ptak had been an ancillary member of Ordinary Van on and off.  Between the five of us, we’ve been in five or six of the same bands together for the past 8 years or so. So while the lineup is new, it’s also very much established. Ben is the newest member, and while none of us have been in a band with him before, we’ve all known him personally for years.

Charles Davis: The origin of the band stems directly from Ordinary Van. Paul, for a variety of reasons, moved to California which removed the principle songwriter and vocalist from the band. We had just finished doing a Radiohead show with John Ptak playing bass and had been working on bringing him on as a full time member anyways, so the fact that he was also a great vocalist worked well for us. We wrote and rehearsed for about 6 months as a 4-piece and then brought on Ben to fill everything out.

J. Hubner: With March On, Comrade being Ordinary Van without Paul Bates plus John Ptak and Ben Robinson, where does the sound lie? Is this a continuation of Ordinary Van’s vibe, or are you going in a different direction with the music? March On, Comrade has a post-rock ring to it, which makes me happy. What or who is influencing the direction the band is heading in?

RH: March On Comrade’s sound has some definite similarities to Ordinary Van’s – still ambient, lots of reverb and delay – but is overall a little more dynamically varied and less poppy.  We all have different influences musically, but we’re not hesitant to draw some perhaps obvious inspiration from the post-rock stalwarts like Sigur Rós, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, etc.  Being a drummer first, I’m personally having a great time writing songs and navigating arrangements from a different instrument.  

CD: For the folks that liked Ordinary Van, I think they will find similar things with MOC that they will  gravitate towards. In OV, Paul basically wrote the songs and then presented them to us to fill everything in. The writing in MOC is much more group oriented. One person may present a general idea but everything is basically built up as a group. Our goal musically was to take the direction of OV and push it to much further extremes. The standard post-rock giants definitely serve as influences but we all bring our own musical backgrounds and likes to the table which has helped us write songs that don’t sound exactly like copies of another band.  

Ben Robinson: I recently joined the band when I saw the influences on the what was minimal Facebook page.  Right up my alley, ambient post-rock music with and ethereal flow.  That’s what I look for in a band.

J. Hubner: The material you guys are currently working on, are they new songs you guys as a band have worked up together? Or is their material left from the Ordinary Van time frame? How does the songwriting process work within March On, Comrade? Are you working out songs live or is their one or two main songwriters bringing ideas to the band?

RH: All of our material has been newly fleshed out, beginning in February 2015.  Some of the songs originated from demos that have been laying around since 2008, and others have been written by the group on the spot, sparked by a single riff, chord progression, or even guitar tone.  We do all of the arranging as a group, which is much more rewarding than being handed a fully thought-out recording and essentially learning someone else’s song.  

CD: Everything we’re playing is technically new. During OV, we were essentially playing Paul’s songs, but the rest of us were still writing on our own. I personally had a good half-dozen song ideas hanging around, as did Ryan. So some of the songs we’re playing now came out of things we wrote during OV, but anything we played live or recorded with OV is no longer being played. We all still love those songs, but it is a new group so we’re moving forward with all new material. Given his role in the writing, it definitely would have been weird to play any of those songs without Paul.

marchoncomradeJ. Hubner: March On, Comrade recently had their live debut at the Brass Rail on November 7th. Tell me about the show. Great turnout? You were on a bill with Void Reunion and The Meat Flowers, right? 

Chris Leonard: The first show was incredible. Everything went pretty smoothly and the amount of people crammed in there was nuts. You know you’ve had a good turnout when it’s difficult to move around!

RH: It was a lot of fun to play our first show along with Void Reunion, who were playing their first show.  Our styles aren’t particularly the same, but we both have a good vibe.  It was great to mutually support each other on our new ventures.  We’re also similar in that every member has previously been in other bands that have played shows together.  Same with Meat Flowers, for that matter!  The show was sold out, which is a great and humbling display of support for the music scene in Fort Wayne.

CD: The show is was incredible and we got a lot of great feedback from the people that came out. It was a great experience and let us get a good guage for what we’re doing right, and what we’ll need to work on. Overall, the show sold out, which I had only seen happen a couple of times so it was great to see so many people come to see new bands. Void Reunion was excellent also.

BR: It was my first time at the Brass Rail.  I heard its not normal to sell out there and was really happy and surprised by the turnout.   Everyone enjoyed it and actually listened to the music.  You don’t get that often!

John Ptak: I thought the show went really well. We didn’t really know what to expect for a turnout with most of the bands being relatively new, but we couldn’t have been happier with how things went.  With nobody hearing us before, I was really excited that people seemed to be interested in it.

J. Hubner: How has the overall feedback been from friends and fans? I’m sure there’s expectations to some degree from folks that loved other bands you’ve all been in before. Are they digging the new band and new tunes?

RH: We had been working away in Charlie’s basement, and really only a handful of friends and our girlfriends had heard a couple of sloppy iPhone recordings.  I don’t think anyone had any real specific expectations, but I was humbled by the positive reception.  Our hard work was very politely rewarded; now that we’ve set an expectation, the challenge is to keep the ball rolling and keep the bar set high!

CD: The feedback has been excellent. I think we’ve found a way to write songs that have some hooks, but still push boundaries and challenge a listeners expectations. And it seems like people seem to have an appreciation for that.

J. Hubner: To date, how many songs do you guys have worked out? Are you looking at possible studio time to record? What’s the plan for recording? An EP or full-length? 

CL: We have 5 songs completed at the moment, with a 6th in progress. We’re at a point where if we were to record the 5 songs, we’d probably call it an EP. But if we added a 6th, with the length that post-rock songs tend to be, we could probably call it a full-length. So it’s yet to be decided.

CD: We’re going to start recording in December and the idea now is to record 5 or 6 songs. That would typically be an EP but again, with our song length it will probably have the feel of a short full-length.

RH: We’ve all been in bands who work hard to prepare one 40-minute set’s worth of music, and then just sort of slow down.  I don’t want that to be the case for March On, Comrade.  I think it would be fun to have something new for each show, whether that’s a new song, something new with the light show, an intro, interlude, whatever it is…but something new to keep it interesting for us and the people who see us.

JP: All of us have been in enough bands that have waited a while to record that we’re all on the same page about not making that mistake again.

J. Hubner: As far as other band gigs, is March On, Comrade everyone’s main thing now? Are you guys still dabbling in other bands?

RH: I’m always pretty busy musically, but March On, Comrade is certainly what I’m putting the most work into at the moment.  I’m still playing with 2 Before Noon, and I recently recorded an album of Lee Miles’ new material. But March On, Comrade is new, so it needs the most work, and the positive reception at our first show was very motivating to keep pushing forward even harder.  It’s also the only band I don’t play drums in, so it’s very new and interesting for me.  Jason Davis knows how the story goes…

CD: Ryan still plays in his jazz group, Chris is playing in another post-rock group, although slightly heavier I believe. I fill in for a cover band in the area occasionally and I’m sure John and Ben are working on other things as well. Overall, I think we’d all agree that this is our main focus going forward.

BR: Of course we all work with music on a daily basis so projects come up and we help other bands and musicians out locally when we can.

JP: For me, this is the only band I’ve been working with. That may change at some point, but I’m really enjoying focusing on just one thing instead of juggling multiple bands.

J. Hubner: Now that the band has gotten that first gig out of the way, are you guys filling up the calendar with more shows? Any dates you could share with us?

RH: We’ll be back at the Brass Rail on December 10 with Eric McMiller and the Dashville Sound from New York, along with Barky & Speaker.  We’re also putting together a hell of a bash at CS3 on January 2, where we’ll play with Void Reunion again, as well as Heaven’s Gateway Drugs.

CD: We’re definitely getting more gigs booked. As we continue to write new songs, we want to play them out and get feedback from listeners.

J. Hubner: So what’s the long term goal for March On, Comrade? Where do you see the band in a year? Five years? 

CD: I see this band having some longevity. I expect within the next few months we’ll have an album recorded and we will have a handful of shows under our belt. Our goal is to not fall into a rut and keep playing the same songs every show. We want to keep writing and let the band/music evolve. As long as that happens and no one gets bored, I don’t see any reason why we would stop. Obviously, life happens and sometimes the unexpected can disrupt your plans, but overall we have a really good group of guys who have a lot of history with each other so the foundation is in place for a long term project.

BR:  Rich and famous!  But all joking aside, I really want to make music that relates to people on an emotional level.  Whether it’s lyrics, music, the feel, the speed, everyone reacts and interprets music differently.  I want it to matter.

RH: Just keep swimming.


 

Make sure to check out March On, Comrade at the Brass Rail on December 10th and clear January 2nd for that CS3 show with Void Reunion and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. Seems like a pretty stellar way to kick of 2016. Keep up with the band at https://www.facebook.com/marchoncomrade/?fref=ts.