Before you move in with someone, you should talk music. Extensively.
Oblisk singer/guitarist Asim Akhtar and bassist Dave Cheal skipped that vital step before becoming roomies last year – so when Cheal joined the Detroit quartet last November, he had no reference point when, Akhtar, charmingly esoteric, told Cheal that he needed to find “the groove” for the band.
A spoon clinks, timorous, against a metal pot in their kitchen. “I’ll get to that interview once I settle this chai,” says Akhtar, as the five of us, with guitarist Nick Baran and drummer Roy Elturk scoot their chairs up to the table.
“This is the real reason I came here,” Elturk says, aside to me, referencing the freshly poured tea.
“If you’ve got just 10% Pakistani in you, you’re going to make chai for your guests,” says Akhtar.
Cheal, the newest member of the band, modest and shrugging, describing himself as just a guy “who moved in with someone who needed a bass player,” discusses his first few rehearsals with the trio – who have played and performed a range of atmospheric-psychedelic rock music as Oblisk for almost eight years – and how he was given the task of excavating the “groove.”
Akhtar and Baran are the dueling guitarists whose shimmering sheens of pedal charged shooting star guitar shreds intertwine in beautifully head-spinning cavalcades of feedback, while Elturk’s tight, pounding drums fit the epitome of propulsion. Needless to say, last year’s Tune in/Tune Out full-length was top heavy on the driving, atmosphero-space rock – thus their enduring inside joke at rehearsals of “the endless search for the groove.”
Cheal proved to be malleable, if only because the longtime guitarist learned the instrument he now holds for his current tenure. Cheal is the third bassist, coming in after Akhtar’s longtime friend Manan Desai, who was filling in first bassist Kyle Babcock.
Desai toured with the band through the summer (a jaunt they earned through the support of their label, Candy Colored Dragon, from Philadelphia) and also helped record portions of the band’s forthcoming full length, Weather Patterns. Cheal became acclimated in the winter, and finished the album, alongside the founding trio, this spring. The release party is hosted in the Pike Room, at the Crofoot, coinciding with momentous Phonophest Wicked Awesome Safari Barbecue, (Yesss!).
“So what can we do to define that groove?” Akhtar repeats the tacit goal of recording. The guitars, billowing, swooning, had to embrace a more aerodynamic tear, along with the drums created a backdrop. “You guys are the core,” Akhtar says to Elturk and Cheal, at the table, “you guys drive it and then (Nick and I)’ll build it up.”
While Cheal found the groove, Elturk felt he “was leading a double life.” He’d moved to North Carolina in May of last year, but devotedly flew back for every show. Before leaving he splurged 10 drum tracks only to feel “out of the loop” by his return for the holidays, where things had been chopped up and re-done, requiring 7 or 8 more fresh takes. After a year of being introduced around NC as “Roy, he looooves Michigan,” the drummer returned a couple weeks ago to the mitten-state he apparently couldn’t shut up about during his time in the south.
Baran, adding his distinguishing touch, contributed more to the songwriting, while Akhtar embraced the reclusive mad-scientist-y tweaking role of mic’ing the hell out of their Ferndale practice space.
“I was a little more attached to this record,” said Baran. “I came in after Tune was already in progress, so Weather Patterns feels more, not to be cheesy, like an Oblisk record to me. Asim obviously wrote most of the songs on Tune, I came in much after that – but this one definitely felt like every one of those songs is an ‘Oblisk-song.’”
Baran described their song formation as “taking one small idea and pushing it to its limits.” But Akhtar admits, there were often times when they had to “strip the hell out of it, and take away all the madness.” While Elturk entered his initial takes picturing “more sonic annihilation blasts,” while also knowing when to dress the backdrop with the beat.
“We were talking about how Tune was a darker record,” said Akhtar after we toast our tea. “This one is a little more colorful.”
Ironically, their practice space (whence they were guided to by fellow psyche-rockers Red China), is a narrow, cluttered room with no traditional lightning, in the corner of a reconstituted storage facility. They chose it over another, larger room. “We’d rather just be in our own zone,” says Akhtar of the comfort in reclusion.
“I’d say (Weather) is more colorful,” says Cheal, “there’s more of an up-tempo feel.”
“The songs are more eclectic,” Baran adds, with Akhtar running through a laundry list of moods and styles they embraced, including “alt-country.”
Propulsion, however, “music to drive to,” will always be a “raw concept of the band,” Akhtar said.
“Well,” a pause, “that’s…you’re riding a horse!”
“Or, you’ve got a slow-dance,” Baran concurs.
“Oblisk gets waltz-y?” I ask, disarrayed.
Baran smiles and nods, “It’s in 6/8 (time).”
The slower, swirling song they’re referencing is, if nothing else, a more bewitching style for the band. Akhtar says, “I couldn’t tell if it was a beautiful, engaging…be with another human being type song or…”
“It’s very haunting” Baran offers.
“Yeah,” Akhtar agrees and, “or…” he finishes, “…like, haunting, accepting disconnection.”
Dream or dirge. Driving or waltzing. It all won’t come to light until July 31st, since the band has not let their friends, nor I, any early listening.
Weather patterns, also serve as an influence to the band – along with the vigor of driving and chai tea. Baran notes the obvious connection of making “atmospheric” music.
“I just realized two years ago,” said Akhtar, “that I finally learned how to appreciate Michigan weather. It’s all sonic versions of weather patterns, I guess. I remember thinking, this album is going to take at least a year (to make), and within a year I thought about the weather, I’m going to experience all these things.”
For Elturk, who spent time away while Akhtar tweaked and mixed only to work his tail off on fresh takes upon each return, is eager to hear this record – which will assuredly be a revelatory experience. For Baran and Akhtar, they’re excited to release a record they both feel strongly about, and to show their friends what they’ve been up for the last year. Cheal remains modest with a more tamed excitement, refraining that he “fell into it.”
“And you’ve done a helluva job,” Baran says before downing his last sip of chai.
The band will tour through August and return for Detroit shows through the autumn.
7/31 - Pike Room - with The Oscillating Fan Club and Friends of Dennis Wilson