When speaking with Michael James, one of the guitarists for Explosions in the Sky, you quickly discover that two things are at the forefront of his mind with respect to the band: time and communication. Sometimes things happen quickly and easily, like when you meet someone for the first time and you hit it off. Other times though, things evolve at a glacial pace.
Take, for instance, the time it took the band to record the tracks that make up their latest postrock release, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care.
Released in April, there came a point back in 2009 where the band had to take a break from the writ ing process because it wasn’t going anywhere.
“Usually we can mess around with something, argue about it, put it through 50 different variations and we’ll know what we’re going to do with it all in about a month’s time,” James says. “With this one though, every song took several months for us to really find the place that was good for all of us.”
Enter the concept of communication at this juncture. Without it, you will never reach mutually satisfying ends, but as James notes, this isn’t always the end of the story.
“It’s funny because we all have pretty distinct opinions about music,” he says. “We all have very strong ideas of what we think is good, and the thing that I think can really make music interesting is all of these voices coming together and making a unique sound. It can be really great, but it can also be a double-edged sword.”
Add to this the fact that the band is making the sort of music you rarely hear on the radio — instrumental rock songs that sometimes swell to lengths of more than 10 minutes, and with no lyrics — and the need for good communication becomes paramount.
When the band is trying to create new music they have to make sure they are on the same page about pushing themselves creatively and not just recycling what has worked for them before.
“We’ve been a band for 12 years and we’ve got five albums, an EP, a soundtrack — we’ve written a lot of music together,” James says. “And when you’re known for having a very distinct sound like we are, the concern is always that you don’t want to repeat yourself. You don’t want to write the same songs over and over. As an artist you want to try new things and experiment with new ways of getting your ideas across.”
The trick, of course, is taking the right amount of time to properly communicate whatever message you wish to send to your audience.
“You don’t want to change your sound entirely,” James says. “You don’t want to forget what makes you good as a band and what people like about your band. So it’s kind of about finding a balance between all those things and making yourself happy with growing as an artist and also trying to write music that people will enjoy because at the end of the day that’s what we want. We want to try and reach people with the music.”
The band seems to be doing just that, as evidenced by their album debuting in the top 20 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. Part of the reason, of course, is because people enjoy the music: the guitars, the drums, the atmospherics — it is all done in such an ensnaring, hypnotic sort of way that you either can resist or you can’t. But another reason is likely because the band understands who their audience is and has some sense of what they like and are willing to accept.
“People who really like our music, they’re already listening to 10-minutelong instrumental songs. It’s not like they have to be introduced to that. They’ve already jumped the chasm with us,” he laughs. “So yeah, I think a lot of our fans will certainly be willing and interested hopefully to listen to different sounds and different ideas with us.”
Time and communication have also led to one final thing for the band.
“Having been in a band for so long, every single aspect of the band has changed,” James says. “All of our lives have changed dramatically, and the profile of the band has changed, too. You know, we were great friends 12 years ago, but now we’re pretty much the best friends that people can be. We’re friends with each other’s wives. We work together. We do everything else together, and, of course, that affects how we interact as well. I can’t really think of anything that’s still the same except for the fact that we’re still getting together to write these albums and go on tour and play music together.”