Friday, August 27, 2010

A caffeinated chat with Oryx & Crake

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 at 2:22 PM

The myriad members of Oryx & Crake
  • Courtesy Oryx & Crake
  • The myriad members of Oryx & Crake

Here’s a riddle: what do a singing saw, a banjo and a coffee grinder all have in common? Can’t guess? They’re all instruments played by members of Oryx & Crake, a nine-person Atlanta psych-pop collective led by husband-and-wife Ryan Peoples and Rebekah Goode-Peoples. Tomorrow, Sat., Aug. 28, the band celebrates the release of its debut, self-titled album at The Earl, joined by Athens’ Venice Is Sinking and Atlanta’s own Book of Colors.

As they’re both teachers, Ryan and Rebekah were able to meet me for coffee in Oakhurst on a Friday afternoon in July to talk over the espresso machine roar about juggling a band and a family, gathering together talented musicians and the cutting—or, rather, grinding—edge of experimental electronics.

Julia Reidy: So tell me about your musical histories.

Ryan Peoples: Up to this point, the band that I’ve devoted the most attention to was Kiterunner in Savannah. That was where I met our cello player, Matt Jarrard. That was where we were experimenting with playing instruments differently, like he has a cello, but we wanted to make it a little far out, run it through effects and do something different with it. That combination of experimental electronics and a lot of layered harmonies and acoustic instruments, that’s kind of where we came from.
Rebekah Goode-Peoples: There’s nothing to do in Savannah, so we had a lot of time on our hands.

How long did you live in Savannah?

RGP: Three years. We were down there because Ryan was getting his MFA in sound design at SCAD.

How about you?

RGP: [laughs] I like music a lot. I don’t have any kind of musical background, really. I took piano when I was a kid, but I was not a musician. I didn’t play in bands. I just was an avid music lover. But when Ryan and I got together he was always playing guitar and writing stuff, so I just kind of wheedled my way in that way. We started writing together.
RP: You would start writing lyrics when I was playing guitar.
RGP: I’ve always written poetry, but I wasn’t really happy with it, you know? I was looking for a way to kind of push my skill set a little bit with poetry. When he’s first starting to write—it’s kind of adorable—he’ll come up with a melody on the piano or on the guitar, and then he sings, but he sings just nonsense, you now?
RP: Kind of like Sigur Rós, but not that high.
RGP: For me it’s important that I pay attention to his vowel sounds and consonants and I write around the sounds that he’s making. There’s a really natural connection between the sounds and what the song is trying to be about. So even though he’s not really saying anything, he’s saying something. I’ve just started taking on different things as time went on. Keyboard, I was running the drums, and now I’m starting to sing.

How long has this been a band, would you say?

RGP: A year?
RP: It’s hard to say; we just keep multiplying. For a while there, it was maybe three people, and it’s just kind of grown exponentially.
RGP: It was me and Ryan and then Matt Jarrard, who we convinced to move to Atlanta from Savannah because we love him so much. We did the Oryx & Crake name then, but we’d actually recorded the majority of the album before we got back to Atlanta.

How did you collect the members you have now?

RP: A lot of them are our friends. Eric Wildes I’ve known since the second grade and Anna Wildes—she’s amazing. I work with Matt Gilbert at the Art Institute of Atlanta, we’re professors there. Keith [Huff] I went to school with at SCAD, the bass player.
RGP: And Chris [Vanbrackle] we fell in love with; he’s doing other random live percussion. Since we don’t have a drum set, we do everything with electronic drums, we brought him in, and he plays anything. He’s really an amazing utility person, but he does great stuff on percussion. So he’s adding some more organic percussion now, too.
We found him in Savannah.
RP: He was the one Kiterunner fan.

You guys have been playing out a little bit. How have you found that experience? You seem to be a little bit of a different genre than what is sort of dominant right now. What do you find your place in the scene to be?

RP: Maybe what we’ve found is that people are ready for something a little different. Maybe the bands featured in the We Fun movie are a completely different thing. I guess that’s what defined Atlanta, and we didn’t even know that when we used to live here.
RGP: We knew it on some level. I didn’t know what that would mean for us as far as booking shows. I had never ever been interested in the local music scene, and I feel guilty about that now that I know what it means to support one, but growing up here and going out and everything, I never saw local bands.
RP: Well there’s diversity here now. I mean, we come across bands all the time that aren’t inside that kind of punk rock garage thing.

Have there been any bands that have been sort of kindred for you guys?

RGP: We have a lot of friendly bands.
RP: Well there’s Night Driving In Small Towns. They’ve been friends of ours from way back, since we were in Savannah. Some of our members are in other bands. Like Beautiful Little Fools shares a lot of members with us. We play with Blair Crimmins & the Hookers and Jeffrey Bützer more than we have with anybody else.
RGP: The closest person is the third band on our CD release show, Book of Colors. They have viola and violin and lots of random instrumentation, so there’re some similarities there. They’re really good. And I used to teach her! It’s not just about getting booked at The Earl. There are so many small venues now that really new, local upstart bands that nobody’s heard of can get a show and play. People can play Kavarna or WonderRoot, or the Mint Gallery, or Picaflor Studio.

You guys have a family, right? How do you find being in an active band and being a parent at the same time?

RP: Really, really hard.
RGP: Awesome. It’s all of the above.

Challenges?

RP: Obviously playing shows, and having to leave them at home. Her mom lives here in town so that makes it a little bit easier.
RGP: She’s been so kind. We book shows and we have to get mom approval before we agree. She takes the kids on a lot. It’s hard when you think about playing out of town. How would we tour with them? And we have fantasies about going on tour and getting one of my high school students to come on tour with us, that we could basically provide free travel for and then they would look after the kids in the evening so that we could play shows. We’ve seen bands do that.
RP: Sonic Youth does it.
RGP: We want to be like Sonic Youth.

How old are they?

RGP: One-and-a-half and seven. There’s an amazing positive side to it, because even though it makes it really difficult in some ways, it makes it awesome, too, because our kids are surrounded by just great, great people.
RP: Oryx & Crake is very familial.
RGP: They’re not just people that are in a band that’s like a business. We have potlucks. People will help me if I’m sick. It’s a real family. Keith, our bassist, is going to teach Sebastian how to skateboard and Chris is teaching him how to drum, so there’s musicians in and out of the house all day long. There’s always music being made. Our kids have completely grown up with music. Our baby, she was a newborn in the sling at band practice. She’ll sit on the floor with a shaker and shake in time.

What do you envision for this coming year?

RGP: Really work on the next album, right?
RP: Yeah. Really raise the bar from where we are now. We’re proud of this album, but we know we have a lot better in us.
RGP: We’ve learned so much. A lot of this material is kind of old to us now. We recorded it two years ago. It’s not that we’re done with it. We like it. We’ve just been doing it for so long that we really have a clearer vision of what we want.

What else?

RGP: Do you want to talk about what Matt plays? Matt Gilbert? His stuff is really interesting.
RP: So Matt Gilbert is pushing the electronic side of things, and we’re working together on pushing it into new territory. He, in particular, is brilliant at it. He has made a coffee grinder into a MIDI controller, so you turn it and it churns out a beat based on velocity. How fast he spins the grinder actually determines how fast the beats come, even though it’s in time. He’s doing more and more stuff like that. Then he took the hard drive out of a laptop and put it in a wooden casing. It’s like a mini silver record, and he can almost DJ on it. It spins and takes little samples of what’s playing. We’re edging more and more toward having a more true electronic and acoustic mix, which is what I wanted so long ago.
RGP: He’s like the mad professor in our band.

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