I’ve long considered Explosions in the Sky a band that’s just impossible not to like on at least some level. Even without an affinity for instrumental post rock, and it’s understandable if you don’t have that, this is a band that’s seemingly always done it right: record after superb record, show after epic show, tour after growing tour. It’s been a perfect, steady rise from humble beginnings for the pride of Austin, Tex. — one that’s well earned and never taken for granted by the foursome. EITS's Munaf Rayani talks about the new record (Take Care, Take Care, Take Care), his band’s stage philosophies and why the New York Knicks will rise again.
Now that you’re a few months into this tour, how has the reception been for the shows and for the record?
Munaf Rayani: The reception has been quite warm, and even perhaps a little exceeding of our expectations. Things have been going well for us the last few years, especially in regards to the type of music we make. We’re getting to play some great shows, great venues, great spots at festivals, we were on TV once already this year, and the album has been doing really really well. It’s a bit of a surprise and quite exciting that instrumental music can take us this far. All in all, it’s been really great and it seems like it’s getting better and better. We’re now a good two or three months into serious touring, and the shows seem to be getting better and better and going really well. I don’t know how much more we could ask for. This all feels pretty great.
Do you see Take Care, Take Care, Take Care as a logical step in your discography?
MR: It’s definitely the next step. In my opinion, it’s the most mature and most evolved record we’ve made. Some could argue that there are certain songs on other albums that are better than some songs on this album, but as a whole, this was the next step. It fell somewhat elegantly into the timeline. It seems like it’s been a constant move forward, and that’s something we were very conscious of in the writing of this record — to move forward, to mature, to blossom, to allow things to flourish that once perhaps didn’t.
You guys spent two weeks in the studio — which for some people is a short time, but for you guys was actually the longest you’ve ever had for recording, right?
MR: It was an eternity (laughs). We had so much time that we could really explore and re-write and reconfigure and rethink the melodies that we had come [through] the door with. I’m glad we did that and had that kind of time. And it also has a lot to do with who we did the record with. The engineer was John Congleton, who is a great engineer. Lucky for us that we’ve gotten to do what is our third record with him. Not only do we have this professional relationship with him, but we’ve been friends for a long time, so we have an understanding of each other outside of music, and that really helped inside the studio.
So you’ll stick to longer studio times in the future?
MR: I think this was the preferred method in all the records we’ve recorded. This one felt most at ease. We weren’t rushing to get through anything. We weren’t watching the days or the clock. We did all the foundation tracking within the first four days and then had eight to 10 days to really color and accent and let things settle before we fully signed off on it. I think the next record we do, we’ll take at least as much time as we did on Take Care, Take Care, Take Care.
How has the songwriting process changed over the last few records, if it has at all?
MR: We try to be aware — very aware — of what it is we’ve written already, and not to re-write that. On the flip side of that coin, we don’t want to lose who we are. [On this record] we were looking to push the sound, evolve the sound, and look for a variation and a new approach on our music, but our true selves were not to be lost. I feel like no matter how hard you try to be something else or someone else, it’s next to impossible. You are you, and I think that cut through on the album, it’s just that what it took for us to present ourselves again came through in a slightly different blend. So the writing process, while slow and somewhat exhausting, was very fulfilling and exciting. It started off slow, but once the floodgates kind of burst open, we were just pouring out melody after melody after melody.
There are obviously no lyrics to interpret in your music, which brings up the unique challenge of instrumental music as a whole — in the absence of lyrics, how do you go about making sure there is still that basic, emotional connection and identification for the listener to your music?
MR: The core of it is melody. The melody is the lyrics, and that’s what we try to do with any guitar line that we write. We want it to have lyrical quality. Then we’ll surround the melody with coats of composition. If you can get those two things to work in harmony, you can achieve those emotional notes in people. Music has this incredible and unique quality [to do that] if you put the right combination of notes together.
When you’re writing, and when you’re in the studio, do you consider how the songs will translate live?
MR: For many years, we almost exclusively thought like that. This time around, we eased up on those restraints and allowed ourselves to just write these even more elaborate pieces on record with additional melodies and samples and strange sounds. After the fact, after the recording, we started to consider how we would play it live. After some conversations at length and a lot of practicing and re-adjusting, we’ve been able to pull it off. Perhaps our first show back in April was still a little raw, but we seem to have caught a stride by now.
As you think back on the band’s growth, can you pick out instances where you guys have felt that “click” moment, particularly in a live setting?
MR: There probably was no one particular instance or any sort of epiphany, but rather a series of events. As early as 2002, we got to open up for Fugazi, which for us at the time as fairly young kids, opening up for an iconic, legendary band that we all admired was a sort of first checkpoint. We got to see them up close and personal and see what they do to that crowd and feel how powerful their music is, and we tried to absorb all of that and apply it to our own show. Flash forward a number of years later, we opened up for Flaming Lips and it was another one of those checkpoints. Another iconic band that we all admired so much, and we were watching the magic show in front of our eyes. We again just absorbed it as much as we could, and tried to apply it to what we have been doing. By no means are we Fugazi or the Flaming Lips, we are Explosions in the Sky — but it’s not without a pinch and a punch of these ingredients.
And would you agree that, as the value of recorded music seems to be constantly in decline, the live show becomes ever more valuable?
MR: I wholeheartedly agree. Record sales can decline, but even in regards to that, exceptional music will always sell and will always be sought after. Now, that may be fewer and further between, because things are so “go go” and the Internet turns things over so quickly. But the live show — when you go see a band play and they are genuinely moving and lost in the music, then you too will feel that. I feel like we’ve done that by the live show over these last good number of years. When someone comes to watch us, I hope it does evoke some emotion in them or feeling that they are a part of something in the room. It’s definitely a conscious effort on our part to make the live show worthwhile and make it worth the price of admission, and make it worth the effort of going to a venue to see someone play. Over the years, our live show has gotten some more finesse, it’s become more elegant. I hope we’re like older ballplayers whose jump shot looks good because we’ve been shooting it for so long.
Do you have moments where it’s hard to really grasp how far you guys have come in the last decade?
MR: I pinch myself every day. There is always a moment in which we just pause and take stock of our surroundings. How lucky for us that this particular type of music, and the fact that we put the right combination of notes together, allows us to see the world and allows us entry into different rooms — and has people waiting for us with embrace. These things, I think a lot of people dream about. We’re dreaming right now, and I hope we never wake up.
Back to your “jump shot” analogy — I know you’re all big NBA fans. How are you holding up during the lockout?
MR: It’s interesting, ya know. What’s really at stake here? Is it two sides thinking that the other side doesn’t deserve what it actually deserves, or feels entitled to more? When millions of dollars are already being made by everyone involved, who is really suffering here but the fans? I hope the season starts up, though it’s looking a bit grim. Maybe we’ll just have a half season like ‘98-99, when the Knicks and the Spurs met in the Finals.
And I know you’d like a repeat of that — you’re a Knicks guy, right?
MR: Man, I’m a huge Knicks fan. I would love it if they made it to the Finals again. It’ll take a while, another few years. But this drought has been far too long (laughs). Every since the glory of that Finals, it’s been a long decline (laughs). But that’s what it is. Everything in life is cyclical. Once the Knicks were on top of the world, now they’re at the bottom of the valley. They’ll get back to the top, don’t you worry.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for the catch!
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